Coronavirus – Reminding Us of Our Shared Humanity, Our Imminent Mortality, and Why Our Choice Still Matters?

Our Shared Humanity

The outbreak of the new Coronavirus (SARS-COV-2) has brought a crisis unlike any other in recent history. This could be the first crisis after World War 2 to impact the entire human population.

If nothing else, this outbreak is a reminder of our shared humanity. This virus has not distinguished between race, religion, skin color or nationality as it has crossed borders and infected millions.

This reminds us all that we are all together in our fight for survival on this planet. Ironically, this pandemic has distracted us from infighting and showed us how meaningless our arguments, conflicts and wars are.

Yet, there is nothing new about it. It is the same old story which our species has witnessed many times in the past. Though this is the first time in history that such a pandemic has struck after a gap of almost a century. Isn’t that something to feel good about?

History Repeats Itself

When an unknown disease strikes and leaves people sick and dead in no time, the way we humans react has not changed. We panic. Doctors are baffled as health systems crumble under pressure. Fear helps rumours and conspiracy theories spread.

By the time governments (or kingdoms in earlier times) realise what is happening, steps taken are already too few and too late. Some succeed, others not so much. Criticism of decisions abound. Events are cancelled. Travel is restricted. People stay at home because of fears – both real and imagined. Trade vanishes and economies plunge.

This has been as true today as it was during the Spanish Flu of 1918, or the Antonine Plague of 165, or the Bubonic Plague (Black Death) from 1346, the London Plague of 1665, or several cholera pandemics in the 18th and 19th centuries.

As the current pandemic (COVID-19) spreads, we must also be aware of our blessings compared to the past. Never before in human history have we known so much about diseases, viruses and bacteria; about the human body and treatments, medicines and vaccination. And that makes us better prepared than we ever have been to tackle a pandemic like this.

When disaster struck in earlier pandemics, we were left to the whims of godmen and quacks, who described diseases as a curse from the gods and prescribed treatments ranging from animal sacrifice to bloodletting, which often did more harm than good.

If we compare that to the kind of specialised care we receive today in our hospitals equipped with highly skilled doctors, and machines like ventilators, ECMOs, etc; we should really be counting our blessings.

Is This The Worst Crises of My Life?

Is This The Worst Crises of My Life?

Our Imminent Mortality

This pandemic also reminds us where we are all headed – towards death. No one, irrespective of where we live or what religion or race we belong to, is spared from our shared destination.

While we know a lot about our bodies and the world now, this crisis is a reminder that there is still a lot which is outside our control. We can’t take our health systems, our medical knowledge, and our bodies for granted – for the unknown natural disaster or a new virus can strike anytime.

Being aware of how little we actually control in our lives and how easily all that we crave and desire can be swept away can give us a new perspective on life, a perspective which can shape each decision and action we take from now on.

It would be a terrible waste if we only experience the worst of humanity in this crisis – the fear, the hatred, the panic, the anxiety, and the selfishness; and ignore the other side of the coin – which is how a crisis like this also bring virtues of kindness, service, courage, humility and companionship to the surface.

We Have A Choice

When this crisis is over, and it will be soon, the world will not waste time to resume all the economic activity. We will get busy with our jobs and other trivial stuff we used to do before it.

This crisis will leave us wounded yet wise, hopeful yet cautious, and perhaps most importantly – helpless yet also empowered to see and make the brave choices when we have to.

The choice to look beyond the valleys of fear and darkness; and up towards the peaks of hope and light.

The choice to go deeper than our fear and anxiety of the unknown; and to see through the light at the end of the tunnel.

The choice to think for ourselves critically and rationally; and to ignore the rumours, naysayers and the fear mongers.

The choice to ignore those making noise and breaking things; and to join those who are making attempts to repair things.

The choice to decide whom to give our attention – to the media which sensationalise and is toxic for our mental health, or to the rare few who enrich us with facts, hope and a pathway for moving ahead despite of how difficult that path might be.

References :-

Five Things We are Not Teaching Our Children

We live in a world today where we have luxuries available which has never been available for any previous generation. Today we can travel to any part of the world within a matter of hours (and not months), we can talk and interact with our friends and family real time anywhere on the planet, and that too free over the internet. We live in a world where information about any topic is readily available on our handheld device or computer. We have GPS in our phones and in our vehicles and can never get lost. Companies have employees working in different countries and time zones collaboratively. Globalization is truly upon us.

With our children and next generation growing up in environments where they get access to a laptop and smartphone before they access books, where they get access to video games before learning what sports and games really are, don’t you think our children are missing some very important life skills which all previous generations had the opportunity to experience? In an ever busy and fast paced world where everybody is running, don’t you think we are missing out on life? Below are five skills which I think our younger generation is being deprived of :-

1. Simple Living and Self Sustainable Communities
While we have the latest cars and metro systems in our cities today, and can get pre-cooked food home delivered free to our homes, which is ready to eat after a few seconds in the microwave, aren’t we depriving our children of basic human activities like walking amidst nature (be it a park or a road) or the thrill of growing our own vegetables and then the excitement of the art of cooking with different masalas and ingredients. In the modern world, we have turned many such arts (cooking, walking, gardening) into just products available over the shelf. But can we also buy the lessons and values one gets doing these simple activities?

Life is simple. It was never meant to be globalized. We have commercialized our lives in the wave of consumerism like never before. Man doesn’t need more than water and fresh fruits and vegetables to survive, yet why our definition of drinking has more of Coke, Pepsi, Budweiser instead of just plain water? Why our definition of eating involves going out to a fast food joint and gulping on that latest pizza or burger? For kids growing up in this environment, aren’t they missing the values of self-help, sharing and community. Globalisation has brought a lot of good and prosperity in this world, but there is a world possible without it, and our kids need to know that.

Isn't something eery about this pic?

Isn’t something eery about this pic?

2. Our Ancient Treasures of Knowledge
Coming to our education systems and the kind of knowledge we are giving our students, we have the best in class international schools with air conditioned rooms and global syllabus available today to ‘better’ prepare them for the ‘changing’ world. While we teach all about modern mathematics, technology, science and all about which careers to pick and what businesses to join, what happened to our ancient treasures of knowledge which I feel could form a very strong backbone for whatever careers they choose? The ancient treasures of our religion, of our society, the different mythological tales and the invaluable lessons in them. Why are we not teaching the treasure of wisdom found in our Vedas, Gitas, Qurans and Bibles to our children?

3. Dignity of Self and All
We live in a fast paced world and society where stepping over others is as common as passing people on the street or at work without even having the time to say ‘hi’. How many of us have people around us with whom we work and interact daily (our co-workers, grocery shop-keepers, maids, neighbors) but hardly know anything about their lives? Stepping over others in the race to be successful is considered fair, and big scandals and scams are reported everywhere, from politics to business. The same is true for us – we are riddled with stress, worry and depression over a small loss in business or money. What happened to the value of dignity of a human being? Are we teaching our children (and ourselves) that we are not defined by our money or possessions, and that while they may be important, an abundance of them doesn’t make us any richer or better than any other human being? And in the same vein, the lack of man made stuff like money, status and possessions does not take away anybody else’s dignity and make them smaller or less privileged than those who have them?

4. Creativity
In this world of cut copy paste where everything is available ready made and pre-packaged, the future generation is missing out on the art of assembling things together and creating something new and useful. Rather the consumerism society we live in today focuses more on use and throw. The art of creativity, of thinking of a hundred new ideas and then having fun while trying them out is what makes us prepare our muscles for the tough times, but the question we need to ask is – Is our younger generation learning this skill?

5. Discipline
I think we are giving our children all the wrong ideas of which rules to follow and which not (not by telling them, but by the experience they have). By growing up in a capitalist economy where everyone is in a race to get ahead, we have all seen the numerous scandals, and the ever prevailing corruption in our day to day activities. By living our lives in a certain way, perhaps we are not setting the right example for our future generations to lead their lives in a disciplined way. We are not teaching them what their rights are, and how to fight for them in a dignified manner rather than taking the easy way out.

Top Four Lessons Learned from the Pick a Fight Journey so far

It has been almost 10 months now since Pick a Fight came into being, and it has been a pretty amazing journey so far. Starting very small working with just a few NGOs in Bangalore and doing a few events, we have now seen three events in Delhi in the last few months. There have been many lessons learned along the way, and I am sure many more are yet to be discovered as we have plans to go pan-India in the year ahead. Here are the top four lessons, in the broader sense, that I have personally taken from the journey so far.

All Human Beings are Equal
After seeing the amazing work being done by numerous NGOs and the great people behind them, and even many individuals who are fighting for their chosen causes alone, I have realized that they are not any different than any one of us. I totally believe in this quote by Napoleon Hill – “What the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve”. Each one of us, and yes, each one of us, can achieve what we can dream. There is no human bigger than any other human, and in the same vein, there is none small than another. A social leader is no better (in potential) than a criminal. There is none any more good than anyone else, and neither is there anyone bad. We were all born equal, and we all die equal.

A pic from a picnic Pick a Fight organized to the Delhi Zoo for kids of NGO Protsahan

A pic from a picnic Pick a Fight organized to the Delhi Zoo for kids of NGO Protsahan

Empowerment is Needed, not Help
You must already be asking – If everyone is equal, why do some produce results and some don’t? Well, there are two aspects to this question which need answering. Let me elaborate –
a) Results are a matter of Perception
What you see as results might be very different from what any other person sees it as? You might believe in social activism and see its protagonists as examples. Another person might regard business leadership and results as the only good result that there is. While others might see art (writing, painting, movies) as the real expression of human potential and some others might see achievements in the sporting arena as worthwhile. So the first thing to understand when you feel, think or say that person XYZ is not producing results is that they are not producing results by YOUR definition of results. They might be producing results by their own or by others definition of it.
b) What is Empowerment?
If everyone is equal and capable of doing amazing things, the only thing needed is empowerment, and not any support, help or aid. Words like support, help and aid, by definition makes the receiver smaller than the giver in some aspect. While charity is good and no doubt needed (for fire-fighting), it doesn’t provide any long term solution. Instead aid has the negative effect of making the receiver dependent on future help from the giver. Empowerment is, in contrast, making the other person realize their own potential and that they are not any less than anybody else in the world. In fact, I would say that we can’t really give someone anything they already have, and the potential to produce amazing results falls in that category. What empowerment does, and what its role is to show people the path and taking away their mind and skill blocks which might be preventing them from realizing their full potential as a human being. Let me repeat for clarification, empowerment is more about taking the perceived barriers away, rather than helping or giving someone something.

Actions and Consequences
When people realize their potential and the amazing things they can do, they will invariably take risks and play bigger games in life. Now, when you expand your playing field and take on bigger challenges, you are bound to face some hurdles or failures (if I may call them so). These hurdles are the real test of your greatness, and you must see them not as pointers to you being weak or incapable, but as a consequences of the bigger game you are playing. It is a part of the game, and since you have chosen your actions, you must accept the consequences of it with full responsibility too. In short, you should change the meaning of hurdles in your dictionary as – ‘one step closer in the direction you are heading‘.

Having fun and being happy is the most important
When I say above – ‘one step closer’, it doesn’t mean that you tie your happiness to some end result. We can, and must have goals, but we should never tie our happiness to the result of those goals. Whether we reach the destination or not, it doesn’t matter (in terms of happiness). We should learn to be happy NOW, because that is the only moment we ever have. In fact, I would say that it is the happiness in people which produces great results, rather than the other way round.

Giving for Charity and Philanthropy, and the role Technology can play in it

Giving, or philanthropy, is nothing new. It has been going on for ages. People, institutions and governments have been donating money and resources to their families and their communities since thousands of years. But today, as we move into the 21st century, we are more connected with each other than ever before in the history of mankind. Through technology solutions like the internet, mobile phones and other connected devices, the whole world is more united than it ever was.

The topic of this article is to discuss and debate the role technology will play in giving and philanthropy in the coming decades. There have already been some examples of how technology can help connect people from different parts of the world and promote giving in unique ways that wasn’t possible even 20 years ago. Kiva, DonorsChoose and Kickstarter are just a few of the examples who have come up in developed countries like the US and the UK and connected donors from these countries to small entrepreneurs in countries like Mexico, India, China and from Africa.

One difference which we can credit technology for is moving giving from a local to a global landscape. Traditionally, giving and philanthropy has been limited to your local communities. But now it is possible for you to be earning a handsome income living in New York while supporting three projects in Brazil, India and Kenya, all at the same time. See this amazing visualization of what happens when 620,000 lenders fund 615,000 entrepreneurs, students and other microfinance borrowers around the world.

See the below video to see how Kiva works

Apart from dedicated giving networks and organizations like Kiva, the advent of social networking and smart phones have helped in spreading information and news about various giving opportunities around the world. They have been effective in spreading these news like wildfire where traditional media would not have been effective, and have also managed to raise large amounts of money by getting small contributions from individuals like you and me.

In the developing world, where smart phones and internet are still not readily available, it has not stopped people from devising new and innovative ways to develop technological solutions using just sms and phone calls. SMS has been used to gather people together and spreading news about an event to a large number of people. SMS based solutions, like a farmer turning ON and OFF his tubewell, just by sending an SMS rather than walking 5km in his field, are also making a big value addition in the lives of people.

How crowd-funding works?

How crowd-funding works?

Even with all that, I would say that we have just seen the tip of the iceberg in using technology to facilitate giving. There are a lot of imaginative ideas being developed as I write this article. For example, PlayMob, a tech company launched its GiverBoard platform designed for charities and game developers, linking them to design giving opportunities within the game itself. And it is not asking gamers to give donations, but has linked charity with buying products within the game itself that supports a good cause.

Going into the 21st century, it would be interesting to see new innovative and disruptive attempts to create networks and platforms for doing good, and not just by providing a technology solution to fundraising. If we are able to inculcate giving and doing good into our daily activities rather than creating separate fundraising platforms, it would connect a lot more people, generate a lot more money and resources, and make businesses and people feel good about the business and transactions they are doing.

I am waiting to hear news about such disruptive solutions popping up in different parts of the world in the coming decades. I am waiting for not just the Giving world to change for the better, but also for the time when our daily activities leave us feeling good and grateful for our contribution.

Is the Innovation ladder leaning against the right wall?

Innovation is defined as the creation of better or more effective products, technologies or ideas that makes life easier for its customers and solves a problem in the process. Innovation is the buzz word these days in business circles and the use of technology in designing innovative solutions across different sectors has never been more pronounced before.

If you see innovation discussions happening these days, most people will list the iPhone and the iPad, Facebook, the Sony Walkman and other technology related stuff on the top of their list. While such innovations have captured the media attention and earned a lot of money and market share for the respective companies behind them, there is another kind of innovation happening in the world. This new kind of innovation is happening in developing countries, even in villages, but it is not being covered by media, not being distributed across markets and countries, and not being talked about as much as iPad and other similar products.

While the first kind of innovation is mostly happening for business reasons and are focussing on making life more comfortable for its users (and not necessarily solving any critical problems), the second kind of innovation is happening mostly sporadically but for solving serious problems like hunger and poverty. In the first scenario, life would have continued for people as usual even if the innovation hasn’t happened (albeit in a less efficient way) while in the second scenario, there would have been serious issues of disease, health and death (and they have been) in the absence of the said innovation.

An example of the second kind of innovation is a simple Tippy Tap, which is a low cost, low tech, low water usage device to promote hand washing with soap. While most of the world talk about solving problems like accessing emails on the go, do we realize that 3.5 million children under the age of 5 die each year of diarrheal and respiratory infections, with 1000 deaths in India daily. Do not think I have put an extra zero, there are indeed thousand deaths daily. Now that is a real problem, purely avoidable just by washing hands with soap, and Tippy Tap intends to solve this problem. Now you decide what is a bigger, or better, or more needed innovation. (See how to build a Tippy Tap)

Are we solving the right problems?

Are we solving the right problems?

While we can always term the iPad, Facebook and other such technological innovations as innovations, they don’t solve any big or critical problems. You can call them innovations as a new approach to markets but not for problem solving. They focus on the opportunity and the market size, but NOT on any real problem. If we look more, most of the time real problem solvers are not from the business sector but they could be local people, academicians, social workers or just plain anybody. While the only innovation highlighted by the media has been done by businessmen. Now I don’t think anybody believes only businessmen can innovate!

I am in no way trying to discredit technological innovations, as the Sony Walkman revolutionized the music industry by allowing people to carry music on the go. But nobody complaint about the need of a portable music player, and it did not solve any problem. Similarly, Amazon did not solve any problem. People had been shopping offline for ages, and nobody complained. Yet Amazon changed the way shopping is done forever, and there are 100s of Amazon clones coming up everyday. Users never asked for a social network before Facebook, neither did they ask for online video sharing or a service to tweet what they were doing every second. But all these are hugely successful products now.

Mahatama Gandhi said that “I will give you a talisman. Whenever you are in doubt, or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man [woman] whom you may have seen, and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him [her]. Will he [she] gain anything by it? Will it restore him [her] to a control over his [her] own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to swaraj [freedom] for the hungry and spiritually starving millions? Then you will find your doubts and your self melt away.” If we follow his simple words in our day to day actions, we will see real innovation.

The question I am asking here is that either all the commercial innovation happening is not innovation at all, and if they are, is the innovation ladder is leading against the wrong wall as of now? As most of the problem solvers or real innovators are not from the business world, we  need to provide them with skills straining, investment and venture capital help, advice about R&D and intellectual property rights, and the right guidance to be able to scale their innovative solutions so that they make a dent to a ‘real‘ problem.