We Are The Choices We Make

My wife said “People are now getting used to life without barbers and beauticians.” My response was, “How are barbers and beauticians getting used to this?” This short exchange triggered a chain of thought which made me think about how changing thinking patterns would shape the post COVID world. Based on the content of various articles and blogs that one reads, everyone seems to agree that the world, as we know it, is likely to change in many ways.

Rules of the world change when there is a serious disruption which causes a change in the thinking of a large section of the population. If one reflects, this change in thinking could be either one that gets initiated from outside – in or one that emanates from within. Let me try and draw out the difference here. During the second world war, most of the world had witnessed the grave consequences of a man’s insatiable ambition fuelled by an unjust legacy of the earlier war, the comatose conscience of a nation and the dithering political establishment in the democratic world. This led to the establishment of strong international and national institutions to challenge the authority of a strong leader or a rogue nation. People, who experienced this tragedy of astronomical proportions, were determined that something remotely similar would never come to pass. The world changed because people changed their thinking – strong leaders with equally strong institutions to ensure the right balance of power. This change forced a change in the way the common man conducted his day to day business. This was institutionalized by the political establishment, and though the political class acts on the mandate of the population it remains an indirect medium of change. If you contrast this to the change the world witnessed during the #Metoo movement was clearly a more direct reflection of the way a significant portion of the population felt about the way women were treated and this then drove the changes in legislation and its interpretation. 

When we look at our current trauma related to COVID-19 and the changes that are anticipated in the post COVID-19 situation, it would be relevant to draw the lines of distinction between the source of the changes that we will undoubtedly witness. Governments around the world will put in place legislation or guidelines related to personal hygiene, social engagement, mobility between regions and countries, medical testing and others. Businesses – large and small – will scramble to respond to the twin dangers of employee safety and changes in economic landscape driven by recession and change in consumer habits. For the common man these are changes that will be thrust upon him – willingly or otherwise. Outside-in.

Here, I am more concerned about the changes that are inside-out. 

The changes that come about in each one of us are self-instigated. We would change our thinking and hence, our behavior in a way that each one of us believes is in the best interests of ourselves and our families. Some of these are purely intuitive. Given that the future will become more uncertain, most of us will tend to make decisions that take us towards perceived safety. We will spend less and save more. Conspicuous consumption would look far less important than what it does today. Luxury goods including jewelry, cars and accessories may not get a share of our imagination and wallet. Big fat Indian weddings could be relegated to the wish-lists rather than must-haves albeit due to the fear of socially engaging with a large community, with the fear of the viral infection looming overhead. Given the high uncertainty over a safe quarantine free return involved in international travel, it would be classified as an adventure sport for the risk-taking, adrenalin junkies …. And many more such decisions which would be life-changing. I submit that these decisions would not overload our cognitive processing capabilities as these would fall under the primeval fight or flight category. Further, once the threat perception recedes into the background, there is a likelihood of us reverting – admittedly slowly and not to the same extent – to our pre COVID-19 lifestyle.

I believe, there are, however, topics one needs to consider which need a clear vision that comes through reflection and introspection which can have a far-reaching influence over the way we shape ourselves and, in the process, ourselves. The current lockdown and work from home environment has given us a unique opportunity to pause and think. The words of William Davies ring in my ears – “A poor life this if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare” … this was our reality before the lockdown and now we do have the time to “stand and stare”. Time to reflect deeply on our life choices, time to reflect on the legacy we leave for our children. Time to contemplate changes. Time to decide. I can only try and help with questions.

What is important for us? We have our millions in the bank but what did we really need to live in the past weeks? Did our millions get us more than what the hundreds fetched the poor? What were the moments of joy that we experienced in the past few days and how can we experience these more and more? 

The clean air that filled our lungs and gave us clarity of vision over miles, … how can we experience this as a routine rather than a momentous occasion? Is there a way where we can make this a reality to be experienced and enjoyed every day? The rivers that have been cleaned with the forced shutdown of economic activity – what can we do to keep this pristineness even after we resume economic activity? 

We yearn for our mobility – our walks in the park, our drives to the hills, our trips to meet loved ones, and on business. Mobility that we took for granted. Can we now treasure this freedom when we do get it back and enjoy it with restraint and reverence?

Choices…in the end, that it boils down to choices. Do we make a choice to revert to our life decisions – maybe not immediately but slowly and surely eventually? Or do we choose to live differently? Do we choose to let go of our paradigms and embrace thinking that challenges our past beliefs courageously? Do we choose to live life in a balanced way or do we choose to continue in our hedonistic pursuit of material chattels rather than accumulation of memories? Our choices will decide if we treat this disruption as a mere road bump or a major event that gives us a great opportunity to reset our life choices that could have far-reaching impact on the way we treat our fellow human beings, our plants, our rivers, our mountains, our planet and what legacy we leave for our children. We are the choices we make.