By Zaithoon Bin Ahamed
Colombo, May 9 (medium.com): This extended period of lockdown has been a great learning period and very productive for me, personally— more time to read, learning new recipes, attending to some little things in my home that I’d been putting off for a while, and becoming more stoic to better deal with the uncertainties life throws at us now and then.
I had become less of a social media junkie in recent times and dedicated more time to my blog, other forms of personal writing, and more reading. However, social media is a great way to stay connected with friends and family you wouldn’t otherwise be in touch with. Clearly, many people, spanning diverse generations, are on social media these days possibly to while away their new-found free time.
A couple of weeks ago, I received a message from a random person who wanted to verify my personal details to make sure I was someone she had met before. I hastily answered a few questions and then connections from the past were made. Strangely, the same happened again a few days later. This time a former neighbor whom I possibly wouldn’t have recognized if I met in person.
I caught up with both of them and we’re now friends on Facebook. One of the most memorable things we talked about was how we’d gather in someone’s home during a crisis such as this one, and it was usually at my grandparents’ home where I grew up.
We’ve had many insurgencies and disruptions in Sri Lanka since gaining Independence from British rule in 1948. No, I’m not that old, but I do vividly remember a few of these that resulted in closures and curfews. A few calls were made and suddenly there were many more people in our home than there were already living there, and it would be full days of eating, laughing and chatting, and extended outdoor playtime for us kids. The ambarella (also known as June plum) and billing trees (both terribly sour tropical fruits famously pickled with chillie, salt and sugar) were not spared, while the adults had lengthy discussions about the state of the country (depending on what the crisis at that time was) over copious amounts of snacks and tea. There was a chirpy and adventurous old ‘aunty’ who would often courageously climb out of her balcony and down a step ladder we’d lay out on our side of the parapet wall. And there was another lady who would experiment with new twists to traditional Sri Lankan teatime favorites, usually made during the Sinhala & Tamil New Year time, and pass them over gates and walls for tasting.
‘Together’ Is More Powerful
There were walls, but there were no ‘boundaries.’ It was a melting pot of goodness that helped us to cope with adversities together. I don’t know how we might have dealt with a crisis like the prevailing one that demands social distancing though. Yet, I’m sure we would still stayed ‘connected’ in a way that continued to pull at our heartstrings.
Thankfully, today, we have social media and technology to keep those connections alive and real. However, it’s also increasingly become a tool to destroy those communal bonds and create potent distinctions between different communities and spew racism. Some blame political agendas for planting the seeds of hatred and disunity. But have people changed over the years?!
Hatred and intolerance are only extended if people allow them to spread. Unfortunately, while social media can be a powerful tool at this time to bridge gaps, it’s only fanning communal disharmony supported by absurd and baseless theories, even during a global health crisis that certainly doesn’t pick and choose who to infect! It’s sad how petty and small-minded people could be, and above all, how gullible they’ve become to fall prey to ‘agendas.’ Stop and clarify, don’t blindly believe everything you see on social media.
Before COVID-19, most people had lost track of time given their busy schedules, but the greatest blessing it has given us is time to pause, reflect, and think. Use this time wisely to grow relationships (whether professional or personal) and build new rapports. Perhaps, take a moment to learn about different cultures and what makes people tick. Foster compassion and empathy through deeply understanding people, because everyone has a story that you can relate to and learn from.
Diversity Makes You Wholesome
One of the greatest memories growing up was hearty Eid celebrations where our family home was filled with more friends and neighbors than relatives, partaking in the festivities, discussing traditions and learning new things about a different culture. It’s something that I cherish and practice to date. With social distancing, this time around, I miss hosting my friends-like-family for Iftar meals during the ongoing holy month of Ramadan, and visiting them for ‘Avurudu’ (the local New Year that just concluded). I do hope I will at least be able to be a part of the scrumptious annual Christmas dinner hosted by a dear friend that, not only myself, but my family has been a part of for as long as I can remember.
This is the best time to put aside differences and fight this monster together and put the brakes on covert campaigns intended to create barriers and chaos between ethnic groups. And to those social media dragons who continue to breathe hostile fires, try to become better, more informed, open-minded human beings because the effects of racism is far worse than any pandemic!