These are precarious times we live in. The outbreak of the COVID-19 virus has presented humanity with challenges that it was woefully unprepared for. From practicing social distancing to being in self – imposed exile – the outbreak of the pandemic has reshaped the way communities interact and develop in the modern-day world and has brought about shifts in cultural and socio-economic narratives on what the post-COVID society should look like.
While we continue to remain in lockdown and gradually begin to unlock with caveats and precautions, the defining trend of the pandemic (apart from sanitizing and wearing face masks) has been the internal dissonance between being productive and finding joy in doing nothing. The entrepreneurial spirit of human beings has adapted to the ‘new normal’ by shifting their lives onto a computer screen – from yoga lessons to academic webinars, the influx of content being disseminated online – and the correlated rise in the target audience being interested to participate in such initiatives has brought to the fore questions that have befuddled many before: Is it okay to be doing nothing while we are dealing with the pandemic? Should I feel guilty for not being productive during a lockdown? Will I be doing a disservice to society and myself if I do not learn or teach myself a new skill during the lockdown?
The answer to all the above questions, to my mind, should be a resounding no. For far too long, the qualitative worth of an individual has been determined by the quantitative value he brings to the table – standard of living, a six-figure salary, kind of house he/she lives in, etc. One would naturally presume therefore that with the onset of the pandemic and the world being locked down, the conversations amongst people would no longer be ‘numbers-centric’. However, what we are witnessing today is far more significant – the self – worth of an individual is being measured by how productive he is being during a lockdown. Learnt how to make Chicken Masala? Ten points to Gryffindor! Lazed around all day and did nothing? To the gallows, you go!
Therefore, amidst the general hubbub of webinars and cooking classes, it is crucial to keep in mind that not doing anything during a pandemic (emphasis on the pandemic) is ABSOLUTELY NORMAL. You do not have an obligation to be productive and make something of your (purported) free time when the world is crumbling around you. If recent events are any indication of the times we live in, it is essential that you indulge in doing things that help you remain at peace mentally – even if that means doing nothing.
Understand that these are extraordinary times we live in. To reference the Justice League, it’s as if the Flash broke the speed barrier and transported us to a different dimension – nothing will ever be the same again. This is why it is important for you to take out time and focus on what really makes you happy. Anxiety, stress, and depression are at an all-time high owing to the pandemic. Countless lives have been lost, livelihoods have been destroyed and our health infrastructure is on the verge of collapse. In such strenuous circumstances, if anybody has the gall to make an argument correlating your self-worth to how productive you have been during the lockdown, know that such an argument is specious at best. You do not owe an explanation to anyone for doing what is best for you – even if that entails taking a step back and assessing the new world you currently live in.
However, be mindful of the fact that being (extra) productive during stressful times is also a way by which people tend to deflect attention from the pressures of the environment they find themselves in, Hence, while you are entitled to do nothing and take your time to process the situation you find yourself in, the people attending webinars and making dishes are also entitled to do what helps them cope with the situation at hand. I have had days where I have been super productive – attending to work calls, participating in webinars, writing articles, and cooking meals – while I have also had days when I did not feel like getting out of the bed and just stayed there curled up like a furball. It took me two days to even get to writing this article!
Point being and I cannot emphasize this enough – these are not normal circumstances. Modes of conduct and appropriate behavioral patterns considered to be usual have to be relooked at, and perhaps with a more sympathetic lens. Everybody has been affected by the pandemic in some way or the other – everybody is trying to make sense of the world they now inhabit. In times such as these, it is essential to foster a community sentiment while at the same time cultivating a sense of ‘aatmanirbhata’ or self-sufficiency. You alone get to decide what makes you happy. And that decision has to be made, independent from the white noise and all the external variables which constantly try to weigh you down.
To quote Lady Gaga, do not ever let a soul in the world tell you that you cannot be exactly who you are. You decide what helps you cope with the virus – even if that necessarily entails doing nothing (albeit while wearing your masks and gloves of course!).