Published: 01st May 2020
Is robust optimism one of the primary elements needed to help us deal with the current pandemic?
Monteiro weighs in on what can help us see through COVID-19. Optimism with a nice and heavy dose of presence of mind perhaps? He enunciates through stories
The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown
HP Lovecraft (1890-1937)
American writer of weird and horror fiction
These days, the pandemics are fashionably designated like COVID-19. Down the centuries there were, apart from wars, mass killers which went under the omnibus term of ‘plague’ or Bubonic plague or prefixed by the name of the country where it originated or did the most damage. And I will start with an ancient plague-related tale.
A sadhu was travelling to Benaras and on the way, broke the journey to have rest and refreshments in a wayside inn. The inn-keeper, by way of polite conversation, asked the sadhu where he was headed. His reply: “I am going to Benaras to kill 50 people by the plague.”
After 15 days, the sadhu on his return journey halted at the same inn and its keeper asked him if he succeeded in his mission. The sadhu replied: “500 people died — 50 by plague and the rest by fear of plague’’.
It is easy to dismiss this as an ancient tale with no foundation in truth. But the Hindi saying Jo Dara, Woh Mara (he who panics is dead) is not without foundation. Even in the case of the latest pandemic which is killing by the thousands, many have died of fear of Corona yet to be confirmed after a series of tests or of hearing news of their near and dear ones hosting the disease.
So, robust optimism is critical in facing the pandemic and even the animal kingdom provides instances of optimism winning and pessimism sinking to death. For instance, two frogs fell into a glass of milk which was half full. They could not jump out as the liquid didn’t give them firm support to jump out. One of the two gave up and sank to the bottom — dead. Its bodily secretions and the churning of the milk by the optimistic frog’s frolics formed curds and finally resulted in a ball of butter floating. The optimistic frog now climbed on the ball of butter and jumped out of the glass and lived happily ever after.
I will conclude with two clusters of lines from Milton’s Paradise Lost:
“The mind is its own place and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”
“All is not lost, the unconquerable will…And the courage never to submit or yield.”
This could apply to exams which are now in uncertain zones. Will students ever get to experience exams like we once knew them or will they change entirely?