Covid Challenge 2.0: Time for Society to Rise to the Occasion

THE nature of pain and tragedy is such that only its victim feels the real brunt. The rest can perhaps just relate to a victim’s pain or empathize with it.   The old Kashmiri adage,’ only the one upon who the ember falls feels pain’ is as apt as can be. This has a searing resonance in times as calamitous as these, where Covid 2.0 has struck with a vengeance. Under and in these extraordinary times, it is imperative and incumbent upon society to rise to the occasion.

What does this mean?

Parsed and pared to essence, it means attempting to feel the pain of others as one’s own. By way of a digression here, it must be pointed out the Covid 19 and its mutant variants are totally and absolutely non-discriminatory:  the rich, the poor, the healthy or the ailing ad so on are all vulnerable to this blighted pandemic.  But, of course, when, God willing, the gale of this pandemic will be over, there will be both survivors and victims. Under these conditions and scenario, at the risk of repetition, to underscore and reinforce the point, our society, instead of turning inward in a measure of a selfish focus on survival of the self must dig deep into its collective reservoirs of resilience and care for others , draw on empathy as the central redeeming focus and feature , with more vehemence, under conditions of the pandemic.

Broadly speaking and yet again , by way of a digression, we, as a society have, over time, gyrated to  a crude, vulgar and warped form of capitalism- a capitalism that would be unrecognizable in the lands where it originated. (This is not to suggest the author’s absolute aversion to capitalism: in relative terms, and bound within a moral framework, capital and its abundance, distributed mor or less equally ( and with equity)to the extent it can be, capital can have  a redemptory impact, in economic terms).  This should neither be confused with socialism or with its economic extreme: conspicuous consumption- a bane and blight that our society has, over time, become afflicted with. The nature of conspicuous consumption in Kashmir like capitalism here flows from a social dynamic, more or less, where conspicuous consumption, serves to elevate prestige and pride( both false and meretricious) to its garish consumers.

Consider an illustrative example here. The typical Kashmiri , all other things held equal and other variables considered, focuses his life’s energy to the duo of owning a palatial house and extravagant weddings( nowadays one or two motor vehicles are thrown in the mix). This obsession besides breeding moral corruption also becomes the breeding ground of other toxic social evils. As a consequence, broadly society and its moral compass becomes the victim and the less privileged suffer. One social blight of this is zero sum selfishness that puts paid and gives short shrift to what was once a hall mark of our society: empathy.

But, the times we are going through, are extraordinary: these call for an extraordinary push by society to recover and reclaim this noble ideal of empathy, defined here in narrow terms as , ‘the ability to feel others’ pain as one’s own’. This ideal is one that is also emphasized in vigorous by our religion.

In practice, what would empathy in Covid 2.0 times mean?

Among other things,  because of the economic hardship that this bout of the pandemic will exact , especially on the vulnerable segments of society, empathy would mean curtailing not just conspicuous consumption(which would be , in any case, difficult under the conditions) , curtail our consumption- individually and collectively- think of those who live by the day, who will lose livelihoods and whose savings will either take  massive dip or vanish. It means reaching out to these victims of the pandemic, quietly, so that their dignity is maintained , and helping them and their children , to ward off economic and financial pain, effectively helping them survive. Many, it must be said, will be victims of this pandemic and many , out of shame and embarrassment will not ask for financial help. But, our collective and individual empathy must factor this into our consideration and reach out, preferably quietly but if need be a collective response might even be warranted.

This is not charity. It is a duty of compassion that we owe not to the victims of the pandemic but to ourselves. We have empathy in us. It has been somewhat obscured by a degree of selfishness and self centredness.  The very nature of Covid 2.0 calls for rediscovering our empathetic nature, and rise to the occasion. It is said that adversity is a tough task master. It can either bring the best or the worst in societies and individuals.  We must also remember that , ‘ this too shall pass’ but from the ashes of this adversity, we , as a society, must rise to the occasion and help those who need it.

Views expressed in the article are the author's own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer 

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Wajahat Qazi

Masters with Distinction in International Relations from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. Worked as Associate Editor of Kashmir Observer.

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