Sunset on Indian Ocean (amjad saleem 2008)

So there it is, we come to the end of 2020. To say that it has been a memorable year is perhaps an understatement. It is certainly one for the history books and once in a life time, where the globalisation of fragility was completely experienced and understood. For the first time in a long time, we globally collectively felt that connection, with some one else in the other part of the world. That connection of not being able to move out freely and having to physically distance. We truly felt that connection, when we heard stories of people dealing with loved ones who were sick or having zoom calls interrupted. We connected in ways that perhaps was not thought of before and we got personal insights into people’s homes; the pictures they hung on the walls, their sofas or kitchens, the books they read or even an insight into their personalities through the virtual backgrounds they used.

Yet in as much as the COVID-19 pandemic connected us, it also divided us and exposed those divisions in society for all to see. It showed us the horrible divisions between those who have, who could afford a separate space in their homes, and those who had to share with others. It showed us those who were digitally accessible and excluded those who did not have access to sustainable connection. It showed the real plight of the vulnerable and excluded in our societies, those hidden away and out of sight, who have carried the burden of this pandemic. Whether it is being on the front lines of service providers as bus drivers or cleaners or medical staff or living in under privileged housing, not being able to physically distance, not understanding the communication being shared about the pandemic, many of those who have been disproportionately been affected by the pandemic have been the faith and ethnic minorities. In some cases, the intersectionality with age, gender and disability means that those who are elderly, female, disabled and from a minority are worst affected. In many cases, ethnic and religious minorities, have been unfairly blamed for the cause and spread of the disease.

In all of that we were left with the need to change and adopt. Adopt to a new way of working; adopt to a new way of engaging with our families; adopt to a new way of worship; change how we looked at the concept of time and space. As faith leaders, we have had to embrace new ways of reaching out to our congregations as the hierarchy for religious dialogue has become flattened with a zoom call. We have had to think how we create virtually the same spirit that existed in person. We have also learnt to the things we could not change.

For many of us as managers and leaders, we have had to take on additional responsibilities on top of being coaches, guides, managers, leaders and mentors. We have had to take on the added responsibility of being the carers, the inspirers, the listeners and the motivators. We have had to be patient, we have had to be more compassionate, we have had to be more flexible, we have had to be more human. As we faced challenges for screen time, and face to face time with family, as we dealt with the tragedy of being away from loved ones, we have learnt to empathise with our team members who do this on a daily basis often without help. We learned that it is ok not to be ok, and it is ok to say that and express that. We have become patient with the phrase ‘sorry I have to deal with the kids now’ or ‘I can not put on the camera as I am working out of the kitchen’

Despite all these changes and challenges, the uncertainties, the sadness of the loss of life and the restrictions on movement, 2020 remains a year of learning and growth. For me this has meant:

Patience

Learning patience. Understanding the Serenity prayer when you pray for serenity and courage to be aware of what can be changed. If anything 2020 has taught me that resilience comes from patience. In the Qur’an we are reminded consistently around the need to build patience. In fact in Chapter 103, we are reminded that Man is at loss except those who amongst other things enjoin on each other the mutual teachings of patience. We are so used to things working at the click of the button that we have lost that ability to be in the moment and enjoy that space. We have forgotten to enjoy the journey and be content in acknowledging that we do not know what we do not know. We have to learn to be patient, with each other, with the process, with ourselves. We do not need to continuously achieve and do everything. Sometimes, we just need to stop. We need to listen to the wind, to the birds and to the people. We need to talk and hear their voices. We need to be inclusive and accessible and meet people where they are and not where we want them to be.

Spiritual Reset

Getting a Spiritual Reset. This year we have had to worship differently and discover new ways of keeping in touch with our spirituality. For many faith leaders, they are now on duty and on line consistently more than ever. There is hardly time for them to switch off or reset. Who motivates the motivators is a key concern of mine. So there is a need to find a safe space for dialogue, reflection, learning and sharing from an inter and intra faith perspective. Likewise for many of us in our own individual spiritual journeys, we need those spaces and those inspirations to help us. This year more than ever, I feel blessed not to have learnt and engaged in my spiritual traditions but also in talking to people from other faiths, learnt and appreciated some of their spiritual traditions that inspire them. In talking to them of their faith and their understanding of God, I have come to appreciate my own individual spiritual journey. How can I sustain my spiritual upliftment? you have to learn to get it from all sources whilst keeping true to your principles. seeking knowledge means you are open to different tools to help you with your journey

Company

Relishing the Company. Because of the physical distancing, we have come to appreciate those relationships that we had and couldn’t meet this year. In our busy lives, it is those that we share our lives with on a daily basis that we take for granted and we segment time for them. The pandemic has given a new appreciation of your partner, in terms of their likes and dislikes and your kids. There is a realisation that out beyond the technologies there is a field where your kids and partner just want to play, to imagine, to draw, to read, to have a movie night, to cook together, to shop together, to laugh, to have spontaneous fun. This is worth more than the scheduled holidays or the organised events. It is those 10 mins in a day that add some energy to you and lets those who you love know you are there for them. You will discover characteristics and traits that you didn’t see and you will appreciate the flaws and strengths of your loved ones. This pandemic has also meant more frequent calls with loved ones in other countries, which has been great to understand that a monthly conversation is worth it despite the fact that you don’t particularly like that cousin. For me, it has meant having those daily or once in two days conversations with my parents even if it is for 10 mins. I haven’t seen them in close to 2 years and since they live in a different country to me, I know it will be a while since we meet. So even if we talk about the weather, it is this need for them to know that I am there and for me to hear their voices.

The journey

Enjoying the journey. We have gotten so used to thinking about what next, the next job, the next country to holiday in, the next gig. We haven’t really got time to enjoy the journey. We don’t see the wood from the trees. Picture a train ride in the picturesque swiss country side. Instead of looking at the window at the lovely lac leman, we are focussed on what is happening in the other part of the world. We watch tv but read the latest face book updates. We are never really present. COVID taught us to be present, to slow down, to relax and take in the moment. We were not able to go any where, we were not able to do much, we were not able to plan for the future, so we took in the moment.

Gratitude

Being Grateful. I learnt that though we were suffering from the lockdown, I was in a better position than others. I had a steady job, in comparative safety, able to work and contribute, bring in the monthly pay check, put food on the table and ensure life continues as much as normal. This is something to be so grateful for given others have not been so lucky. So be grateful for what we have right now. In that gratitude is the opportunity to help others in whatever small way, by giving in charity, helping and mentoring others, listening to people, talking to them and being there for them emotionally. To cherish the gratitude has meant also giving back, and learning new skills. Using this opportunity not to feel down but to see how you can learn and improve.

Now I appreciate that one can be cynical about this and say that I speak from a position of privilege which I totally accept. However this is the current reality in which I am in and these are the lessons and reflections that I want to share with you. I hope they are useful.

For 2021, I hope we learn and keep these reflections in the back of our mind as we move forward to be better humans, to be better with our families, with each other and with the environment. The pandemic has taught us the human life is vulnerable and no one is indispensable, so no one should think of themselves as superior because of their age, gender, faith, ethnicity, colour, social status. So as we get back to a new post covid normalcy, let us shed our arrogance of ego, our quest for competition and destruction and come back to a new compassionate perspective.

is an analyst writing on decolonisation,peacebuilding,humanitarian,interfaith,Islam, Sri Lanka & other issues of interest. Have a PhD on ethno politics