Reflecting on the importance of working together, summoning the best aspects of humanity; love, kindness and social intelligence in dealing with times of crisis, as the COVID-19 pandemic brings to surface anxiety, pain, and sorrow all across the globe.
A call came through this morning, from a friend with whom I am regularly in touch. The conversation was unremarkable, save for that inescapable tinge of sadness colouring our every exchange.
“Hey, so, day four of social distancing - how are you?”
“Things are okay.”
“Are you sure?”
“I don’t know….”
“What do you mean?”
“A little down, I guess. In general.”
“Oh. [Pauses] I know what you mean, love. Me too."
These days, just hearing the word ‘positive’ takes the mind on a dark and anxious journey. Even for the proportionally unaffected, such as us islanders, there is an unexplainable feeling of emptiness, that ebbs and flows throughout the day. And it is only natural, given the present state of affairs not only in Maldives, but across the globe.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought our perpetually active, ever-buzzing world to a rather humble, trepid standstill. No matter where you find yourself, atmospheres are fraught with worry and fear, veering toward negativity, the paranoia alone enough to drain ones’ limited, fast-depleting energy reserves.
Whatever emotions that are coursing through your mind right now, as you read this, no matter how you’ve been reacting to this situation - know that your feelings are valid and your reaction is justified.
We are living in unprecedented times. Never before in recorded history, have human beings faced a pandemic of such epic proportions. No part of the world remains untouched.
As Maldivians, we live in some of the most secluded atolls in the world, and yet our lives too, have been turned upside down.
So, take some time to feel the gravity of this moment. Free your soul from the confines of worldly expectations and social niceties. These precious minutes are for you, and you alone.
Inhale a deep, cleansing breath and hold it for a few seconds. Blow it out, gently through your mouth. Now repeat, just because you can.
You, will get through this. *Breathe* We, will get through this. *Breathe*
Right, next let the “I will survive” soundtrack play on full blast in your head ---- Aha, gotcha! Wait, wait, please don’t slam your screen or close this window, humour (even the bad sort) is an important and valuable coping mechanism. And a very ‘Maldivian’ one at that too.
Are you still here? *Whew* - Okay, alright, thank you for giving this article a second chance! I promise, no more curveballs.
But you did something important there. As silly as it may seem, you offered patience, demonstrating a willingness to spend time and energy on a piece of someone else's art. In doing so, you were kind, caring even. And that is exactly the sort of spirit that we, as a nation, need to foster in these times.
Even in an archipelago as scattered as our Maldives, the truth is, ‘no man is an island’. Human beings need each other - it is inherent, indisputable and rooted to the very core of our existence. Since the beginning of time, our families, communities, societies, nations, as a race, we have all survived by working together.
Yet the danger we face today necessitates that we stay apart, isolated from one another, without access to usual support systems and in far too many cases, separated by circumstance from the ones we love the most.
How do we overcome pain, when no person is exempt from it? The nature of this disease, as with devastation of any nature, is that it preys on the most vulnerable among us. Our elderly, the little ones, and those who have already experienced much suffering. And, add to the equation it requires each one of us to stay apart to ensure the survival of all.
Nevertheless, with every country in the world taking unprecedented measures to mitigate the risk of infection and eliminate the spread of the virus, there are more concerns than that of health alone, although that is without a doubt, the priority.
With the world reeling from this crisis and Maldives’ tourism industry grinding to an unceremonious halt, economic repercussions are set to be intense, to say the least. Tough calls will need to be made, and the fall out will affect every single Maldivian. Despite the state’s initial denial of the financial outcome, another real and relevant question is, how long and how far will the global economic recession lay out?
Tough pill to swallow, that. But take a sip of your water. Another deep breath. All is not lost, yet.
As we’ve discussed, the lives of everyone, poor or rich, old or young will be affected in some way, whichever part of the world you are from, or wherever it is you call home. Disease, poverty, famine, stress, fatigue… In this context at least, these things do not discriminate. It is vital therefore to understand that this is a shared experience, and we are all going through it together.
And that is why, making a conscious, concerted effort and ushering in joy, love and kindness into our lives, by embodying the very facets of humanity that make us all deserving of a better tomorrow, is more important today than ever before.
Well, there are several answers to that very loaded question. The first is, by being present and taking note; of what you are going through as well as those around you. Perhaps ask yourself, what can I do to feel better? How can I improve the lives of those around me? Empathy doesn’t come naturally to everyone, and that's okay. Being mindful of your own needs as well as that of others is something that most people need to actively work on.
If you're happy and content staying at home with the kids, that’s wonderful. Appreciate and value this opportunity. If it’s driving you absolutely insane - that’s perfectly alright too. The circumstances that surround each individual is different, as are the nuances that play into who you are and how you feel.
When you come across a parent or guardian who is overworked and in need of a break, whereas you have time and energy on your hands, this is a fantastic time to reach out and help. Whether you choose to babysit, offer to take a chore off their hands, help provide a meal for them - it doesn’t matter. Oftentimes, remotely is good enough too; reading a book on skype, playing virtual games with kids, even helping them with homework - we live in a world that offers possibilities in multitudes.
Sharing a space with multiple people, as is commonplace in Male’ city - one of the most congested areas in the world, becomes that much more complicated when everyone is confined to it at the same time. As challenging as it certainly will be, one has to rely on kindness, patience and faith, to come out of this with one's sanity intact.
Should you be fortunate to have a healthcare professional in your family or among your circle of friends, please take every chance to check in with them. If there is a way to ease their efforts, whether it is by making sure that they have a quiet, relaxing place to rest after a shift, or a warm meal when they come home, do understand that the toll on their body and mind is sure to be more than ever before and respond in kind.
In addition to simple things like simmering down one’s temper by reminding yourself that everyone’s on edge and prone to mishaps, there are also other social ills to look out for. It is key, in many of these scenarios, that we take on an initiative and not wait to be told what to do. Is there someone mistreating another, and taking advantage of dire times? Do your civic duty and report the crime, reach out and help, empower victims and become a voice for the voiceless.
And if you ever find yourself in doubt, not knowing where to begin or what to do, remember that asking the people in question what sort of help would be the most meaningful to them, is always a wise place to begin.
Eat well, exercise and meditate - it is a good start to being mindful and loving to oneself. Do yourself a favour and follow the rules set out by experts at WHO and HPA, do your part to social distance, and flatten the curve.
Even if you’re working at home, take time to unwind afterwards. If you have a virtual office space, make an effort to talk to your peers and ask them about their day as you usually would. Engage, laugh and discuss matters - it may prove to be as healing for you as it is for them.
Do keep in mind that being kind and loving towards others can have a direct and positive impact on your own wellbeing. In harsh situations, making decisions that you may later come to regret, could become the source of further stress down the line. For all these reasons and a hundred more, it is imperative that we do everything in our power to become the very best version of ourselves. As it stands there are many, many things we can do for ourselves, and for our loved ones, if one is just willing to try.
I have always called myself ‘a work in progress’, a concept I find has become that much more relevant today. Every day I learn new things about who I am, in ways that I had never conceived - and I am sure you do too. One only needs to open one’s heart and mind, the possibilities for shared connections and mutually assured happiness are endless.
If there has ever been an opportune time, worthy of exercising one’s full capacity for empathy, and where it is imperative that leaders or people in power such as parliament members, business owners, landlords, employers, and so forth, ‘turn over every stone’ in the interest of doing what is best for the people - then surely, it is now.
But, since we do not hold such influence over anyone but ourselves, I offer this perspective. Look inward, exercise the power you have within and be the best person you can be. If we are lucky, we will be that one light in someone’s life during dark times. It is alright if that person is ourselves. We are blessed if that person is someone we love.
And if such goodwill just happens to have a ripple effect that spreads happiness and positive change across the country, or even the world - then we will be heroes, every one of us.
I’ll leave you with these timeless words,
"Sometimes in our lives we all have pain, we all have sorrow. But if we are wise, we know that there's always tomorrow". Bill Withers, ‘Lean On Me’ (July 4, 1938 - March 30, 2020).