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Pandemic Virtual Living: Human Compassion and Empathy!

The moment we come to know of a COVID-19 positive case in a building or in a housing society we tell ourselves to be more careful and avoid all human contacts as much as possible. We hardly bother to think about the infected person, his/her family and the problems they must be facing. At the most we ask about the age of the person: if s/he turns out to be an elderly person, we, in much younger age-groups, feel a kind of relief or if that person had a host of co-morbidity, we, at lesser risks, feel another kind of relief surging in. Is this a deadly extension of the nuclear-family living standards of modern times? Or is this going to be the culminating point of a digital or virtual living hastened by the Coronavirus pandemic? The basic preventive approach to this highly contagious disease has been to avoid physical human contacts with individuals or groups or crowds, and slowly, coughing and sneezing started scaring us stiff: we get mortally worried if someone in a lift or in a passage or being just nearby does one of those very human actions. From a health perspective there is nothing wrong in that; we are advised to observe all such norms of social distancing and hygiene; and therein lies the problem we are worried about. We tend now to stave off all humans except for our members of family and kin, and don’t care a hoot on any humane issues.

Even getting infected by the fast-spreading virus was looked upon as some kind of a criminal act, leading often to furious objections to having infected persons in the same building and sadly, to inhuman obstructions in regard to the cremation rites of a dead patient. Families have also been getting used to having a member dying in the hospital, and allowing local authorities cremate the person without the participation of the family; or remotely located members of a family staying put in their homes ever after one of their closest members dies at a different place, due to COVID or any other illness. From a technical point of view again, there is nothing seriously wrong in having these stoic responses. However, authorities in various countries had to issue advisories to people to not consider infected people as criminals or to not obstruct funeral rites.

We are getting used to being totally immersed in our cell phones, laptops, desktops and all other forms of virtual living. We keep on scrutinizing our mobile or computer or television screens, and working from homes, participating in all virtual meetings and conferences. For socializing with our near and dear ones, well, there is the social media. Again, this new normal living is a must if we want to defeat the virus. The point of concern here is that even personal telephone calls are getting lesser and lesser: well, I’ve messaged him/her and chatted with him/her, why then to call, we think. Besides, we are already used to not having social gathering or parties or anything of that sort.

Although we have been depending almost exclusively on online shopping we cannot help going to the supermarkets and possibly malls that are allowed to reopen, for an occasional must-need physical shopping. Once in there, we look upon fellow-customers as unwelcome physical obstacles: in a craze to maintain a safe distance, we get intolerant if anyone comes closer than we think right; masked and hands sanitized, we act like robots moving around in programmed mechanics; deprived of the traditional handshake or an informal embrace we seem to have lost all ability how to greet fellow human beings; and once we have all our required rations stacked in cars or otherwise we feel complete and victorious. Technically again, we cannot find faults with such approaches to counter the pandemic spread.

A senior citizen has narrated an alarming experience. That evening he had to urgently visit the local grocery shop for a personal purchase, and he had to cross the busy highway to accomplish his mission. At the pedestrian crossing the traffic signal was not working, and there were no traffic policemen either to manage; it was altogether a different matter why that very important signal was left unattended. The elderly person waited and waited at the crossing, with a group of other men and women. The vehicles kept on whizzing past despite his continuous waving with his tiring hands. And when, finally, the vehicles slowed down a little, youngsters in their bikes made hay by achieving their short-cut crossings, almost brushing aside the pedestrians. His experience was even worse while returning, and crossing the hurdle again. A fellow pedestrian complained bitterly to him about the nonchalant, brutish and zombie-like behaviour of the car owners or drivers, refusing to inculcate any lessons from the biggest crisis that ever confronted humanity.

Are we, in fact, losing all our human values of compassion, empathy and emotions in this new frenzied virtual existence? Or as we said is this the culminating point thanks to the pandemic?

In the beginning stage of the pandemic there had been a lot of examples set by NGOs, organizations and even individuals in feeding the hungry jobless people and in providing shelters to the homeless. There had also been a spree of donation campaigns for noble humane causes. However, the bonhomie slowly eased off, possibly because of the fact that people could not go on donating forever as many of them ceased having regular income while million others lost their salaried jobs. Except for the limited haves all other have-nots have become severely suffocated and depressed with their pent-up emotions growing within the four walls. The social-cultural-economic deprivation worsened the scenario. Besides, what are those supposed to do with no access even to a virtual living?

Since the COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented crisis for humanity the long-term consequences are bound to be huge. If ever we went back to the old normal the moot question would be how people reacted to other people then! An unending saga of social-cultural-economic aloofness could spell a real doom as far as normal human emotions, compassion and empathy or sympathy are concerned. In the meantime, we must keep the spirit of hope alive and must keep the values of the fraternity of humankind very dear and aflame in our hearts.