[Column] Reset to default?

Students partying wildly, staff hurrying back to the office. Columnist Vishal Onkhar hopes for more caution, for the sake of public well-being.

Vishal Onkhar: “Rembrandt’s forays into Indian drawing techniques might have guided his hand in The Jewish Bride, a copy of which hangs in the hallways of 3mE.” (Photo: Sam Rentmeester)

At long last, after one and a half years (ludicrous!) of crawling head-first through the murky waters of this plague, it appears there is finally light at the end of the tunnel. Society is plainly anxious to break free from its iron shackles and revel in the golden rays of the summer sun. Perhaps along the shimmering sands of the Mediterranean, beneath azure skies and scattered with olive trees, where it is ever warm and the ocean has no memory of corona …

One could be forgiven for mistaking the above sentiment for the climax of The Shawshank Redemption. But just as Andy Dufresne never reprised his role as a banker, so must we ponder whether it is prudent to return entirely to our old ways of life. For assuredly, in some aspects of our routines – ones that were until recently curtailed by the Government, we will now verge on excess. A case in point is this season’s parties and festivals being touted by students as the wildest in years! As another instance, concerns are being voiced about dating devolving into a vapid exercise due to an unprecedented thirst for instant physical gratification. These behaviours are in accordance with the German philosopher Hegel’s notion of a ‘dialectic’ – the human propensity to overcompensate for a past shortcoming by swinging from one extreme to another (akin to a pendulum), before ultimately arriving at a balanced reconciliation between the opposing sides.

‘A swift return to the office grind can trigger burnout’

And this overindulgence in seemingly innocuous pursuits can have serious ramifications for public well-being. Lavish spending on entertainment, garments, eateries, pubs, and vacations in a bid to ‘make up for lost time’ can lead to severely depleted savings, not to mention take an acute toll on the environment, owing to an all-round surge in consumption. Jubilation upon the lifting of corona sanctions can breed callous disregard for health and safety, and contribute to the proliferation of other epidemics such as the flu, narcotics, alcohol, and venereal disease. Moreover, the sudden onslaught and sheer volume of social interaction in the wake of months of seclusion can prove gruelling for even the most extrovert among us, and induce needless stress. Finally, a swift and heavy-handed return to the office grind can stymie productivity, sap employee morale, and trigger burnout.

Thus, rather than succumb to our haste to resuscitate society and floor the throttle of our economy, we would do well to cool our heels and retain shards of wisdom from the pandemic. Judicious expenditure, like when money was dear in the midst of lockdown, is one consideration, what with threats of a looming recession. Donning masks and remaining home whenever indisposed to curb the spread of disease is another proposition. As is showing regard for the personal space of others. And perhaps even the outright flexibility to work four days a week and in a location of one’s choosing. In the end, it appears there may indeed be merit in exercising restraint as we steer out of the fog of this crisis, bearing valuable lessons to grant us safe passage through the uncharted waters of the future.

Vishal Onkhar is from Chennai, India and pursuing his PhD in Vehicle Engineering at TU Delft. He is an avid player of chess and video games, but he also harbours a special interest for reading and writing fantasy fiction. He doesn’t drink coffee but good music and film have the same effect on him.

Columnist Vishal Onkhar

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