The only way forward is to focus on what we share in common and delegate the differences—that had so taken over the foreground of the media—to the back of the bus.
The Covid-19 pandemic, for all the trauma it has created/is creating, does have the collateral value that (more or less) everybody in the world now knows what spiritual leaders of all stripes have been saying forever—we are all in this together. The only way forward is to focus on what we share in common and delegate the differences—that had so taken over the foreground of the media—to the back of the bus.
There is infinity of stories anywhere you look telling how people are helping each other, engaging with their hearts and creating smiles even during terrible misfortune. The truth, of course, is that has always been the case—people have been supporting each other forever; but, likely because it’s easier to make a buck from negative stories, media has been pushing mostly bad news for decades. (I remember when I lived in New York, I heard that the highest paid person at the New York Post—a sensationalist tabloid—came in about two hours before the afternoon edition hit the streets with the singular job of ‘killing’ the headline, i.e. to find a headline even more grotesque and horrifying. He was amazing at his job; my favourite was ‘Headless Body in Topless Bar’.)
By contrast, today there are several media organisations focused on good news—check out thebetterindia.com, for instance. I remember 30 years ago when I tried to start a ‘good news’ paper with a journalist friend, the deepest scanning of the wire services came up with nada, nothing—actually three positive stories in two weeks. Today, social media, which I believe is finally living up to its star billing, is full of heart-warming, positive and, importantly, funny stories.
To be sure, there are some negative voices, some screamingly so. And, given, that our brains are hard-wired to respond to negative stimuli more quickly and more intensely than to positive ones, these charlatans appear to be in the ascendancy. The truth, though, is that at any given point in time far more good things happen than bad; there is far more joy than despair; far more wonder than disappointment. And, importantly, as wonderfully articulated by David Brooks in the New York Times, the “dehumanization (that the polarization industry has been trying to push) has always been a bit of a mirage.
A new study from the group Beyond Conflict shows that Republicans and Democrats substantially exaggerate how much the other side dislikes and disagrees with them. The pandemic has been a massive humanizing force—allowing us to see each other on a level much deeper than politics—see the fragility, the fear and the courage.”
And, of course, you (Atul, amongst everyone else) have the singular responsibility to (a) believe that the world post-Corona will be fairer, stronger, lovelier, and (b) do your bit. The minimum bit is to count your own blessings, help in every way you can and pass on ‘only’ good stories.
If you wish to raise the bar, here is another suggestion. On your birthday, wear a note pinned to your shirt saying, “It’s my birthday.” This happened to me for the first time many years ago when my kids gave me a birthday gift of a weekend in Goa with my wife; I was so excited that I couldn’t stop talking about it—I told the dhobi who came to the door, the liftman, everybody I met. My wife, amused (and perhaps a bit exasperated) wrote a note saying “It’s my birthday” and pinned it to my shirt, like I was a small boy going to school. It was fantastic.
Dozens of people I didn’t know came up and wished me; Jet Airways (remember them) gave me a gift; but by far the most important impact was on the hundreds of people I passed (at the airport, on the flight, in Goa), who may have been too shy to come up to me, but who all had a smile on their faces. It’s a natural reaction—if you are in a restaurant (remember those) and there is a birthday celebration at a neighbouring table, you may join in the song but at the very least you will get a little smile in your heart.
Imagine a world, then, where everybody wears “It’s my birthday” note on their birthdays. Each of us would pass a few, a dozen or more birthdays every day of our lives. And each of us would be that little bit happier from it. So, go for it—it’s not that difficult (however shy you are), and, if you can see how much it moves the needle of world joy, you will realise it is a small price to pay.
So, remember, the mantra is love, joy and silliness. And, you are uniquely qualified.
The author is CEO, Mecklai Financial. Views are personal