Beyond Helplessness in a Crisis

I don’t have to say what everyone knows. We are in the midst of a huge crisis. Is Covid the biggest crisis facing us, this decade, this century, for the last 100 years… it does not matter. Crises don’t have to be ranked in order to qualify them.

I don’t also want to get into a discussion on responsibility allocation for the situation we find ourselves in. Like we know for most complex situations, there is never one correct answer and surely, there’s never going to be an answer that everyone agrees with. Anyway, time (karma) often takes care of fixing responsibility.

What I do want to bring up is the question of helplessness. In just the last few days, several people have said that they feel like “escaping” or hiding from the reality of what is around. Many are feeling guilty that they are “OK” while others aren’t. And quite a few are thinking about their responsibility towards helping others who are struggling in various ways.

Here are my evolving thoughts on the matter…

  1. It is ok to feel helpless and sad. An article in the New York Times called this feeling of being joyless and aimless as “languishing”. I suppose the absence of things that normally gave us a sense of being (socially) active can make one feel joyless. Those who are ‘working’ from home and have their calendars filled with virtual meetings might get some moments to wonder what’s the purpose of it all. I believe a majority of professionals employed in the corporate world are going through the process of languishing.
  2. On the other hand, the vegetable vendor in my residential complex who had a shack on the pavement a year ago, I don’t see him languishing. In the last 12 months, he has taken over three stores in the shopping strip and is constantly on the move, 7-days a week, for all the hours that the cops will allow him. Every morning, I see determination in his eyes. Just an observation.
  3. As always, most corporates and their employees have stepped up to meet the gaps that we have in our public infrastructure and capabilities. Many smart people have created websites & databases to help the discovery of scarce resources; some innovators have built quick solutions to tide over the lack of institutional capacity. Reinforcing the view that a thriving environment of innovation and wealth creation is far more valuable to a nation than socialism controlled by bureaucracy. (Of course, in the midst of all this, some moron had the bright idea that we must nationalise vaccination manufacturing!)
  4. Even as a few have made a purposeful difference, a huge number of capable folks don’t know what they should do. They are not involved in providing emergency services; neither are they part of any volunteering group. They are going about their daily chores, surviving each day, apparently not doing anything for those who are less fortunate. Should they feel like they are selfish people, useless to the rest of the world? This doubt also probably contributes to the joyless/aimless feeling.
  5. You are not “useless” if you do your regular thing. It is the regular things that keep us all going. Imagine if those managing our electricity grids or the cellular network or the food factories felt like languishing and walked off. If the supply chain folks decide to take a few days’ break, we would all be languishing in the true sense, without milk, food and other stuff. By doing your job, you are contributing to the economy. By taking care of your family, you are keeping them safe and healthy. By chatting with your friends, you are uplifting their spirits. By watching cricket matches every evening and ordering the occasional pizza, you are helping yourself and everyone else.
  6. Stop feeling guilty that you are just going on with your life. Surely, if you can contribute with your creativity or enterprise or empathy, you must. If you can donate some money to help the efforts of others, you must. And it’s OK if you can’t do either. Stay at home, be happy, be healthy… you are helping the cause by not adding to the stress on the system. Also, it is OK to seek help from professionals (therapists) if you are unable to cope with it. Or write an article.
  7. Last week, the website of the word’s most valuable company messed up and crashed when they took pre-orders for a new bunch of products. Forecasting and preparing for unknown, peak events is not easy, even for those seemingly unconstrained by resources. Just another observation.

What do you think?

How are you dealing with the crisis?

Any suggestions on overcoming the helplessness of any crisis?

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