When my daughter joined a school in Mumbai, one of the first lessons she learnt was ‘share and care’. Children were taught in school how important it was to ‘share’ their tiffin boxes, stationery and other small things which some students may have forgotten to bring in. That way they learnt how to live in a harmonious manner and be humble and helpful – all this simply by learning to share. It had an additional dimension of ‘care’ hidden underneath. If you share something with someone, albeit a small item, you showed that you ‘cared’. These were simple yet powerful principles of living in a community.
I also remember that as we were growing up, community living was very predominant and played a strong role in shaping up our behavior and personality of what we are today. Not only did it allow to take and extend help in the neighbourhood but also ensured that we supported each other up in day-to-day matters. It could be as little as borrowing two potatoes or a lemon as one ran out of it in the kitchen while making a dish or it was as critical as offering help to babysit someone’s children and ensuring they are well attended to while the crèche was dysfunctional for a day or two
These little acts of kindness helped us in bonding together and building a strong community. Community living was as essential means of survival then – in our day-to-day living as well as in the times of crisis (when in most cases in a metro city like Mumbai, the relatives stayed miles away).
Till recently, these acts flourished well even amongst higher societies. No wonder Amazon asks for ‘dropping the parcel in neighborhood’ as an option if it was to arrive in your absence! Go to a bank or a post office or a ticketing counter, one may still find a pen tied up with a small thread to the register, which could be shared by all. The habit of placing an order of a ‘one-by-two soup’ that gets shared between two friends or family too is a common one. And a 'cutting' chai, which is filling just a half-cup, is further shared with a friend, dividing it in two cups! We have also heard of several ‘bonding stories’ that started while travelling together in an Ola or an Uber. In fact, one would have often come across products which are designed in a way to make them ‘easy to share’ – be it a KitKat or a hand wash. On festivals, we shared our happiness and festivities by sharing a plate of sweets with our friends and neighbours. Certain communities share a plate of meal together especially on social events. Some great brands weaved their stories around the concept of ‘sharing’ – e.g. ‘Share-a-Coke’ campaign which was not too back in history!
‘Sharing’ is such a habit across mankind that social media used it in their favour by calling the act of posting or forwarding any information or pictures or content as ‘sharing to’ others.
Another valuable learning that we have as a part of growing up is ‘touching’. A ‘touch’ which carries warmth, assurance and love. One which also carries a lot of care and concern. A toddler understands the value of touch, and even craves of it, and tries to extract it from you! We have seen a lot of marketing and advertising campaigns around ‘touch’ in the past. The entire Vicks campaign has portrayed the ‘warmth’ and ‘care’ via touch therapy in the past. The AIDS campaign endorsed by actor Shabana Azmi was aimed to spread love and care for the AIDS victim and bust the myth that AIDS spreads via touching the carrier. Mother Teresa did it all through her life for the underprivileged section. Amma from Kerala hugs her followers to bless them!
In fact, it is proven that a lot of healing can happen with touch – the entire Reiki therapy is based on ‘touch and heal’.
And then comes Covid-19. It has changed our way of living. Our habits, our behavior, our lifestyle, everything! They say it is here to stay. It will be the ‘new normal’. Yes, it will be a new normal but it has disrupted the rhythm of our lives. The way we eat, drink, travel, greet, purchase – all will change, all is changing… already! ‘Social distancing’ has become a way of life now! There is a loss of trust in accepting anything from others. One is always on the guard and conscious even while interacting with others. It has become difficult to make eye contact while conversing with people because one is not behaving in one’s true, genuine self! We have been slamming doors to neighbours or moving away even from known people – all to avoid contact and maintain social distancing.
So, does it mean that all our learnings of ‘share to show care’ and ‘touch to help heal’ is no longer to be preached to our next generation? Is it that we shall no longer greet our loved ones with a warm hug as we meet them? Is it that we shall never touch another person no matter how much pain he/ she may be in? Cannot be that way! While we all stay in a virtual world today, we still long for a touch, love and care. It may be a matter of attuning and training our reflexes differently.
Going forward, there could be new viruses some of which may come and stay while others may go away. But that should not stop us from imbibing in our next generation the wonderful values that we have learnt through our lives.
Though we may want to dimensionalise them in some way so they evolve as we go along tackling these during newer times to come!
In a virtual world, there is a need to talk more about ‘intangibles’ than ‘tangibles’!
Sharing – need not be physical! Sounds weird, but we may need to dimensionalise sharing in different ways. Sharing could be extended to ‘helping’ and not just sharing of ‘items’ but sharing the ‘load’, the ‘stress’, the ‘fear’ and the ‘happiness’; the ‘achievements’ and ‘joy’. Ariel talks about ‘sharing the workload alike across genders’. Some other categories such as chocolates, confectionery, ice creams, fast food items could talk about sharing joy and festivities while categories such as appliances, RTE/RTC food, cooking items and brands, cleaning agents could build in ‘sharing’ in terms of bringing in equality across genders in our society and households.
‘Touch’ needs to be more in the heart than on skin! Brands need to ‘touch’ consumers more and more! The brand propositions with high emotive pay-offs would be much appreciated than mere lower price or better efficacy. This could be true even from some very basic and functional categories (e.g. brooms, mops and staples, sanitisers). Consumers tomorrow will be starved of this aspect in their lives in times to come. Hence any amount of ‘relevant emotive connect’ will be looked out for.
As we move on to the newer definitions of ‘share with a lot of care’ and ‘touch to heal hearts’ our original lessons will always continue to exist albeit with a lot of caution and with ‘sanitised hands’. A virtual world may not replace the physical touch completely, ever!
As I wind down this write-up, my daughter who is now 13, shouts out to me and explains how Covid-19 could actually be of help to us is many ways! Apart from saving travel time and fuel and saving planet earth from pollution, who knows Covid-19 may help to reduce molestations, rapes and murders! It could help in reducing thefts too! It has definitely brought families together – physically, mentally and emotionally – to help them survive in these tough times!
Looks like the dark cloud of Covid-19 does indeed have a silver lining!
The author is executive director, UU (Qualitative Research), Ipsos India.