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How Responsible Are We?

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By Roli S

Responsibility is accepting that you are the cause and the solution. There is a powerful craving in most of us to see ourselves as instruments in the hands of others and thus free ourselves from the responsibility for acts which are prompted by our own questionable inclinations and impulses. That is what has happened – the questionable inclination and impulses of humanity have brought this planet on the verge of a lockdown! Lives are being lost, economies are crumbling and all the hard work of well-intentioned human beings, who had made life of people living on the planet easy and comfortable, is going waste. The planet has been pushed back in its growth pattern by many years! Whether the catastrophe called COVID-19 will turn out to be a boon for the planet and its greedy humans or bring in few devastating effects on the human race, that only time will tell, but amidst this cataclysm, one very simple and basic question has emerged and that is how responsible do we feel for the wellbeing and welfare of the others in our community and in our country? Are we ready to sacrifice our pleasures so that the less fortunate and weak can be saved from a disease that may be life threatening for them though not of their making?
Plenty of information is available in the electronic and print media t about the do’s and don’ts during a pandemic like COVID-19. Updating of the latest numbers of positive COVID 19 infected persons in the country and around the world is done and communicated regularly via news channels. Advertisements by leaders and celebrities to generate awareness about COVID-19 are shared on all the platforms, in fact all necessary measures are being taken by the government, medical personnel and safety staff to contain and treat the infected persons, but amidst all these efforts the question that is of paramount importance is, “How responsible does an individual feel in containing the pandemic within society and the community?”
Social responsibility is an ethical framework and suggests that an entity, be it an organisation or individual, has an obligation to act for the benefit of society at large. This responsibility can be passive, by avoiding engaging in socially harmful acts, or active, by performing activities that directly advance social goals. One of the biggest measures public health officials have urged countries to adopt in order to change the course and halt the spread of the COVID-19 is called ‘social distancing’. Put simply, social distancing involves staying away from other people in order to avoid catching or spreading a virus. It’s a fancy term for avoiding crowds. That could mean working from home rather than catching a train to the office, avoiding concerts or weddings, or skipping that cricket tournament you’ve been training for. For an individual, ‘social distancing’ refers to maintaining enough distance between oneself and another person to reduce the risk of breathing in droplets that are produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. This is the reason why so many concerts, festivals, and international and sports events are suddenly being canceled or postponed all over the world, and why schools are being shut down. Even conferences on coronavirus itself are being scrapped.
In the year 2009, when the H1N1 flu broke out in Mexico, that country’s decision to close schools for 18 days potentially saved thousands of lives. Unlike this current coronavirus, the H1N1 flu strain hit very young people the hardest. Schools were closed. Social gatherings were canceled. Even restaurants were closed. Movie theaters were closed. This gave some time to the Mexican government, to the world also, to prepare for what was coming. The vaccine started to be developed. Everyone started to work on it very quickly. People in Mexico were not ordered to stay at home, but they decided to stay at home, and they tended to do very little social activity during the pandemic flu because it was not clear what was the severity associated with it. They felt responsible for the society and the country thus this checked the pandemic.
At this point, there’s all the hope of “containing” the virus in our country as well, as both South Korea and China have through extensive testing and quarantine orders. It is our social responsibility as individuals that we can collectively work to mitigate the speed and scope of the spread of COVID-19 in our country and try our best to “flatten the epidemic curve” so that not everyone gets sick at once and completely overwhelms the medical system, making it difficult or impossible for people with COVID-19.
As responsible individuals we should take measures, not because we may feel personally at risk, but also because we can help lessen the risk for everyone else. We should prepare not because we are facing a doomsday scenario out of our control, but because we can correct mid-course every aspect of this risk we face as a society. We should prepare because our neighbours need us to prepare — especially our elderly and ill neighbours, our neighbours who work in hospitals, and our neighbours who may not have the means or the time to prepare because of lack of resources.
So, I say this as much to myself as to all us responsible people — we can change our behaviour to lessen the risk we pose to other people. We can follow the rules laid down by the local authorities, we can accept the verdict of quarantines if we have a travel history, peacefully, we can stop running and hiding our identities and travel histories from authorities. Locally, we can limit our travel; work from home if we can. Making sure we don’t pass the virus on to someone who might be more severely impacted by it, is the most important way we can help in this hour of crisis. But we can also channel some of our anxious energy away from watching the constant feed of the hopeless scenarios and reading articles on the internet about COVID19, towards thinking about who in our lives and in our communities will certainly need help or assistance. Who can we talk to now, to plan to help them later? Can we start a group text now with our neighbours to keep up on one another’s health and needs? If we’re someone who’s at high risk, how can we be honest with ourselves and others about it? If we’re able to work from home and draw our normal income, can we commit to paying someone who provides us with a service such as our maid, our beautician, our babysitter, our yoga teacher, even if they have to stay home due to social distancing? If we know someone who might lose their job or see their hours cut back, can we ask them how to help? Can we understand how making the next few months better for as many people as possible and feeling responsible for the society will also, by extension, make it good for us?
Many of us are still thinking of the “gravity” of the coronavirus pandemic within the context of our small circles of friends and family members. And if no one is sick, right now, within that group, we’re interpreting it as an all-clear. Lots of us live in big, impersonal and dispassionate cities; most of us certainly don’t have communities that are tightly knit and varied in terms of age and or as vulnerable in terms of health. But what if we all behaved as if we did?
One cannot hope to build a better world without improving the individuals. To that end, each of us must work for our own improvement and, at the same time, share a general responsibility for all humanity, our particular duty being to aid those for whom we think we can be most useful. By taking responsibility for how we choose to respond to anything or anyone, we’re aligning ourselves with the beautiful dance of life.

(Roli S is an Educator, Teacher Trainer, Author and School Reviewer based in Mumbai)