While we are doing our best to surmount the current health and economy entwined challenges, it is best to ponder on surmounting the patterns of life/attitude/money making that we have carried out in pre-COVID times and emerge truly healthy not only in body but mind and spirit as well
– Pic by Shehan Gunasekara
By Suryamithra Vishwa
Health and economy dominates global discussion in these current times clouded by pandemic fears, with the global threat continuing relentless.
Confronted with death, people seem desperate to live. Of course many die of many other lifestyle diseases as usual, such as obesity, diabetes, cancer … and it is these weakened body states that are attacked most by COVID-19.
The bottom-line is that the pandemic has created more consciousness of human mortality. It is seemingly making people question their health based decisions/lifestyle patterns and diet in everyday life.
Of course this is excellent. It is wonderful that people want to live long and healthy.
What will be even more wonderful is if we all learn how to live a life that is truly happy.
This living life to full happiness and full fruition is a daily experiment by itself that we all can do; and in this experiment we will learn that selfish acquiring of happiness is short lived. We will learn that if we manage some level of (genuine) selflessness in our everyday tasks that it will actually make us more happy and in the long term successful (because the good Karma – whether we look at it from a religious or secular dimension, is definitely going to catch up with us). This is a forever evolving lesson.
This writer who pens these lines is just elementary but evolving student of attempting genuine happiness. There are many in this country and the world who have mastered this art of leading a full, beautiful, purpose driven, successful life that blooms afresh everyday with new zest and enthusiasm, because it is lived beyond the self. Therefore a long life that is healthy and able makes absolute sense because more people than yourself will benefit.
Yet, is this how most humans live? Especially Western so-called advanced nations whose multinational companies dominate the world and wreck unimaginable havoc on the planet, poisoning it, depleting it of its resources and turning into a heartless ‘industry’ everything from food to medicine. Are the businesses that are fashioned by these entities shaped for greater good or merely greater profit at all cost; whether that cost is deadly for this earth, the eco-systems and humans. Businesses as with anything else, say politics, are run by humans. If humans change these systems change.
Last week in an interview with the founder of a reputed and leading Sri Lankan business known for social service that includes full scholarships for its staff, promotion of forestry/medicinal plants/traditional herbs/plants of Sri Lanka and centres for differently abled children, the reaction to COVID was far different to what we usually read these days.
Now 90 years of age, having built his company from scratch to be widely recognised globally, he has seen many ups and downs that have impacted the local and international economy. He believes that COVID-19 could be interpreted as natural retribution for the imbalanced way that profits have been earned by large foreign multinational companies who have only thought of money and not people and that those who will survive this pandemic created economic disaster, especially in developing countries such as Sri Lanka, will be the ordinary people.
One of the most beautiful things in life is to meet inspirational people who live by ethics for its own sake and not for social show. This helps create a beautiful cycle in life so that instead of being vicious it becomes a vivacious cycle; because when you persevere and not give up on humane based values, life will serve joy regardless of the odds, regardless of any challenge that fate will throw at you. This is a salient truth that we can experience, if we throw away our scepticism
The crux of what he summed up was that the world economy as we know it will totally change. That economic super powers will be brought to their knees. The following is as he explained;
“We see this change in the economic structure happening. People are beginning to buy direct from the farmers, from the village level producers, whatever the product. Farmers and other village based entrepreneurs are becoming empowered. The role and power held by companies and middlemen who reaped profit by crushing the poor are receding. Yes, people are losing their jobs, but they are taking new action to start family based businesses. This will catch on.”
He pointed out that if the government and the banks take sensible action to support these entrepreneurs and the innovation based small businesses (especially in the health sector) that the COVID-19 phase may bring forth, that it will be a great resurgence towards economic equality that we had only theorised about in the past.
He referred to the daily examples we see at present in Sri Lanka where husbands and wives who may have held office jobs starting small home based businesses.
In this backdrop he further notes; “I see this as a positive thing. These people will survive. The ordinary people will survive. The global economy will become one based on need and not greed.”
Given that this pandemic is one among many other challenges the world has faced, say the Great Depression, the greatest economic debacle of the 1930s in the United States, life teaches us that everything ebbs and flows and humans are time and time again tested by nature and given the choice of starting anew. It is said that how we face challenging times, especially in relation to others, will show us who we truly are.
Discussing the current global economy with another Lankan pioneer, in the field of batik; who has been in the industry for about four decades, was explaining how he has not retrenched a single employee, although his business is seriously impacted. Now at 81 years of age, he is proud that he had never deprived people of their jobs even in past times in Sri Lanka when economy was in dire straits.
Instead he has always found ways of keeping afloat. He believes that God has helped him because he has never been unjust to his staff. Currently his strategy is selling elaborately designed 2,500 priced high quality batik clothing for Rs. 500.
Below are his comments.
“I have run this shop and my factories for over 40 years. I did not expand beyond three branches. I kept the business within limits me and family could manage so as to allow me to spend quality time with my children and grandchildren. I am now selling these clothes below production cost but my priority right now is to pay my staff. I remind myself daily when I pray to God, that my staff made money for me when the economy was good. Now I am responsible to my conscience and God to look after my employees. These employees made us immense profits. Now the times are bad; we are badly hit – it’s very bad, but we cannot throw our people who on the streets. I will be a criminal if I take their jobs away from them,” he opined.
One of the most beautiful things in life is to meet inspirational people who live by ethics for its own sake and not for social show. This helps create a beautiful cycle in life so that instead of being vicious it becomes a vivacious cycle; because when you persevere and not give up on humane based values, life will serve joy regardless of the odds, regardless of any challenge that fate will throw at you. This is a salient truth that we can experience, if we throw away our scepticism.
Meanwhile, in a similar vein as the above examples this writer would like to point out the following.
A rice and curry eatery chain that has branches all over Sri Lanka and popular as a lunch packet is priced as low as Rs. 80, and patronised by those from all walks of life, especially those who do not daily earn enough to afford cooked food beyond around Rs. 100 or maximum Rs. 150.
This place had not increased their prices despite the difficulty faced by the post-COVID-19 rising cost of living. Not only were they not increasing their prices even marginally (the way some high profile restaurants have done) but this eatery absolutely refuses to charge extra for giving a curry or two extra for any person who asks for such. What is significant is that when the customer offers to pay extra, even pressuring the casher to accept it, the person handling the money refuses the extra charge.
It is likely that for a person who spends the whole day in hard labour such as reconstructing our roads, this meal may be the only one he can afford for the whole day. And such acts of kindness done in a consistent way when many people are struggling financially, is the sort that keeps the karmic cycle in good order.
In stark contrast, this writer had the post-COVID-19 lockdown experience of a rather upmarket restaurant doubling the usual charge for an extra curry and reducing the portions that they serve. Needless to say a lot of regular customers had dropped away and the energy within the restaurant had totally changed as the customers instead of leaving happy, were arguing and leaving in a disgruntled fashion vowing never to return. Naturally they will influence their friends.
Finally this writer would like to conclude with the adage that money cannot buy happiness. Much as we are sometimes tempted to believe that it can, it cannot.
The following example bears testimony to it. Last year a businessman friend was narrating how an acquaintance of his, who is from a family of millionaires and had made his own financial success, in about three companies he had floated internationally, had been desperately trying to end his life. With some millions or billions (I have lost track of the numbers) stashed in the bank this individual, in his mid-forties, was begging his friends for a loaded pistol because he saw no purpose in living.
Soon after this story was told to me, my first thought was how much of lives this business tycoon could have changed if he had used his money in a manner that gave himself meaning. How many children he could have supported for education, how many shacks that passes off for homes he could have changed into proper houses, how many minor irrigation projects he could have done for farmers in areas such as Anuradhapura, jobs he could have created. However to do this he would have needed to introspect and be aware and sensitive to the realities around him. Failure to do so made him only focus on himself and finally when he realised that money did not give him happiness he was desperately attempting death.
The book ‘Man’s search for Meaning’ published in 1946 by Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl shows how he totally changed his pre-Nazi psychoanalysis theories after facing what transpired in the torture chambers of Hitler, and studying how those who went out of their way to do good even (at great risk and no reward) found themselves protected by circumstances that almost miraculously unfolded.
Therefore, while we are doing our best to surmount the current health and economy entwined challenges, it is best to ponder on surmounting the patterns of life/attitude/money making that we have carried out in pre-COVID times and emerge truly healthy not only in body but mind and spirit as well. Thereby we will be setting a base for a happy and resilient attitude to face life with, however bleak the particular phase of it appears.