The Value Of Wisdom

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It was on Mother’s Day that Prasad lost his mother to COVID-19.

And this was but one of the tsunami of tragedies that hit our nation as the pandemic reared its head again after a lull.

All talk of waves, peaks, plateaus and variants become meaningless when a loved one becomes a statistic, and most of us were overwhelmed as information about deaths kept coming.

As established infrastructure collapsed under the strain of the unprecedented numbers of patients, we came to our own rescue.

The same social media that just a few weeks back was being decried for its policies became the lifeline of thousands, as nameless faceless strangers across the world spent sleepless nights trying to organize oxygen cylinders, ambulances, hospital beds, medicines, doctor consultations… the list is endless.

As I sit to write this, the so-called second wave appears to be ebbing and while the stream of requests for assistance and responses offering help are still making their presence felt on social media, there is a definite lessening of the panic of a couple of weeks back.

As humans, one of the most important survival mechanisms that we have developed is the ability to forget. This is what allows us to move on and continue with life despite the tragedies we endure.

But while this is necessary for us to survive as individuals, as a society, we need to ensure that we learn from what happens, and do not forget; for otherwise, we will be condemned to reliving the same horrors over and over again.

Hindsight is always twenty-twenty so finding fault is always very easy — and when we are faced with a personal trauma, one’s first reaction is to find someone to blame. This is the reason we keep seeing acts of violence being committed on healthcare personnel by attendants of patients.

But who do you blame for a global pandemic?

While the excuse that this was a wholly unprecedented crisis and no country on the earth was prepared for something like this could be accepted for a little while during the first wave, we, as citizens of India, need to accept the blame for the devastation that the second wave has wrought upon us.

Running a family, a company or a nation, when everything is going great, is pretty much straight forward and not difficult. It is when there is a crisis that the leadership is tested, not just for its strength and knowledge, but for its wisdom.

Wisdom is knowledge that has been distilled through time and experience, and there is no shortcut to obtaining it.

All models of governance understand the need for wisdom and factor it into their systems — as a part of the bureaucracy, as advisors, as a House of Elders or other such ways. While the suggestions or advice from these institutions may or may not be followed, it is a very important part of the process to allow generation of opinions as well as a serious consideration of these opinions.

It is when wisdom is not given its due that we as a society have to face what we are now going through.

Almost exactly 100 years ago, the world was hit by a similar pandemic. Thanks to the information available, we knew that there would be multiple waves and that the second wave would be more dangerous than the first.

This is knowledge that was available for everyone, including our leaders.

While other nations took steps to prepare themselves for the forthcoming waves, we celebrated our victory over the virus.

The only way to fight a pandemic like this is through vaccination, and thanks to the work of brilliant scientists across the globe, we have a number of vaccines that were made in an incredibly short time.

We are a population of nearly 1.4 billion people, and it is a matter of simple multiplication to know how many doses of vaccine we will need to inoculate our people.

However, while countries like the USA stockpiled millions of doses of vaccines — even those that were not approved for use in their country, like AstraZeneca (Covishield) — we went about distributing vaccines to other countries.

I am sure our future generations will ask us how the venerable institutions of our democracy could allow events like the Kumbh Mela or the elections in so many states spread across such a long time with absolutely no control of the crowds, slap bang in the middle of a global pandemic. We will not have any answers.

The possibility of these events becoming super spreaders and the probability of further waves of the pandemic must have been discussed at the highest levels of the government, and yet they were allowed to be held.

As rational human beings, we have to discount even a remote possibility that anyone, much less our leaders, would knowingly unleash so much suffering upon an entire nation, regardless of whatever benefits they hoped to gain.

This leaves us with just one alternative – that the lack of wisdom, as well as the lack of humility and willingness to learn from the wisdom of others, worsened an already dangerous situation and created an avoidable catastrophe.

If it wasn’t for these disastrous unwise decisions, maybe, just maybe, Prasad would have been sharing a cake with his mother instead of watching her being cremated.

As a nation we have endured enormous pain and the loss in terms of productive creative lives lost is incalculable.

And we must accept the blame. Each one of us is responsible for the terrible tragedy that we are now a part of, by failing to provide the nation with the leadership it needed to handle the crisis.

One can only hope that we will not forget these lessons and when the time comes, keep the value of wisdom, and the willingness to learn from the wisdom of others in mind before casting our vote.

And more importantly, not get taken in by cunning marketing and learn to differentiate between the appearance of wisdom and true wisdom.

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