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Introduction and examples of learning from crisis

  • Aristotle Onassis counselled, “It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light.” So, even as we, along with millions of our fellow citizens, observe the curfew while under a lockdown, this hiatus offers a rare opportunity to reflect and take the long view.
  • The way human society behaves after a crisis can vary significantly.
  • Germany’s abiding obsession with fiscal discipline and aversion to inflation, even today, can be traced to lessons learned during the 1920s, when that country experienced devastating hyperinflation.
  • The 9/11 attacks, and India’s own tragedy of 26/11, fundamentally altered our perspectives on safety in public spaces, and we have come to accept intrusive security checks as a price we must pay.

Will the COVID-19 pandemic change the way we behave?

  • If there can be any enduring takeaway from the social and economic cost imposed by COVID-19, it must be that our much-vaunted modern and technologically sophisticated society can be humbled by nature operating at its most microscopic scale.
  • At this scale, the speed of replication and proliferation is astounding and, within a few weeks from its first manifestation, the virus has brought a globally connected economy to a standstill, and endangered the lives of total strangers across all continents.
  • At the same time, almost silently, at the other end of the scale, a slow but perceptible escalation of climate calamities, including more severe storms, more destructive forest fires and faster melting of glaciers, indicate a carbon-emissions-triggered crisis where nature in reacting on a macro scale.
  • The sobering conclusion is that our armoury is inadequate to deal with either end of nature’s scale of intervention.

What can we, as a society do?

  • To start with, it would help to shed some of the chutzpah that we have allowed ourselves to adopt through the 20th century — that we can develop technologies to overcome nature and re-shape our environment.
  • There is no doubt progress in science and technology has served humanity well over centuries and they will continue to be called upon to serve society for centuries to come.
  • What we will need, however, is an outlook that seeks to harness our knowledge of science to work in harmony with nature, rather than attempt to bulldoze it.


  • In all of this, nature seems to expect of us a certain economy of consumption and gentleness of impact.
  • A human society that is sympathetic to and in harmony with our environment, and where human beings listen to and nurture their selves, may be an enduring recipe for a safer future.
  • India has a long heritage of nurturing one’s inner self — yoga and meditation have been adopted globally as secular exercises for a more robust constitution.
  • India also has a long tradition of dealing with frugality as a virtue and can easily relate to what in ancient Greece was revered as gaia — dealing with the earth as our mother.
  • These can be timeless lessons as human society seeks closer harmony with nature, to take us on to a safer trajectory in a post COVID-19 world.
December 2023