The Price of Total Disengagement

Disregard Your Neighbors’ Woes at Your Own Peril

Water and air, the two essential fluids on which all life depends, have become global garbage cans — Jacques Cousteau

I write this story from Sydney, Australia. My service apartment sits in the heart of Sydney’s Central Business District (CBD) — a short walk from the iconic Queen Victoria Building (QVB) shopping centre. I have been living in Sydney, Australia for a total of 175 days (a little less than six months). During that time, my travels took me to one more country — Aotearoa (or New Zealand in popular culture). Over the span of those days, I read about tourists dying in New Zealand’s North Island because of a volcano eruption (Whitaker/Whale Isand eruption), millions of species impacted and people rendered homeless by bushfires that ravaged Australia and escalated the natural disaster to a global disaster. Now, as I plan to board a plane to Mumbai, I cannot help but imagine how returning to one of the most polluted cities on the planet will feel like. Don’t get me wrong — I am and will continue to remain a proud ‘Mumbaikar’ (ex-citizen and eternal lover of Mumbai).However, when smog blankets out the blue sky, I am left with nothing but a throbbing heartache.

What can I do? Perhaps, nothing. I should be totally disengaged, just stick to the problems in my personal life, stay away from reading the news or learning the facts behind global environmental challenges and basically lighten up by watching Netflix disregarding the absolute horror of real life movie playing out in the world outside. Perhaps, I can write about my heartache in the hope that not everybody is disengaged with the plight of their neighbors. Better still, I can contribute financially, monitor my own activities to reduce my own footprint of pollution and try to gather support for action over inaction. In any case, I believe total disengagement is a recipe for doom. I am trying to cajole you to agree.

What IS Total Disengagement?

I can, with a guilty conscience the size of this planet, explain what total disengagement is. I am friends with a cardiologist (a heart doctor that probably knows more about heartache than any other individual on the planet). She is 75 but looks and actually is fitter than many 50 year olds her age. One of the secrets to her good health she told me is that she minimizes reading, watching or consuming news in any shape or form. She has been an absolute success in every aspect of her life. I took her advice but just took it to the extreme. I got totally disengaged with the rest of the world and stopped watching news altogether. I felt an immense sense of happiness — the negative could not hurt my mind if I don’t focus on it. It felt like a digital detox of the best variety. I also stopped watching my Twitter feeds constantly and dropped out of Facebook for a while. I realized what a beautiful physical world we have when the digital world occupies no space in our lives (mind you, I consumed most of my news digitally unlike my dad who still likes the smell of physical paper).

I can tell you total disengagmement is as blissful as ignorance because they are one and the same thing. How do you acknowledge there is a problem if you don’t even know one exists. Suddenly, I started focusing on the vivid colors of leaves on trees, the breeze ruffling those leaves and the beautiful singing of birds perched on branches. I started playing more, swimming more and I was out and about more often. Suddenly, I felt like the earth will last an eternity and so will I. The news was much hullabaloo about nothing. What a blissful and contended feeling.

However, in reality — disengagement allowed me to not focus on how precious and fragile the gifts of Mother Nature can be. We can be viruses consuming natures bounty or develop a symbiotic relationship with most things on earth. We can do this by developing closed loop systems where the output of one system (waste) can be recycled and used for other purposes so that the balance of nature is preserved.

My disengagement allowed me the leisure of disregarding my parasitic behavior on this planet. Ironically, a selfishly satisfying experience.

Engagement and Execution

Execution is key to most things in life. It is not enough to read, to plan and then to discusss. We need to implement solutions. There are three very simple and small things I did to start executing.

One remarkable documentary I recently watched was titled ‘2040’. This documentary has ingenious solutions to many of the worlds problems. I am not saying ‘watching’ is action but for me it was the start of the end of my disengagement. I was the captain of science projects every year in my school’s science fair. Amongst other things, two of my most impactful science projects were on spreading awareness about the depletion of the Ozone layer and the benefits of solar housing. As I continued to age, I continued to be embroiled in personal struggles and my engagement with the worlds’ problems kept falling until I enjoyed my total disengagement for a long time. This documentary rekindled my love affair to finding solutions to the worlds’ problems.

Secondly, I also donated to the Australian red cross and shared my thoughts on social media feeds while I was in Sydney. Once again, my donation is like a drop in the ocean but it feels like a big deal to me. All of our collective actions can make a significant difference. I have not championed any petitions on social media or done any thing that had a significant impact on a massive scale. But, I started by doing a little. Insignificant to many but a start to me.

Lastly, I penned down this short story in the hope that many share my anguish and want to do ‘something’. I believe everyone can in their own special way. Mine just happens to be writing. I don’t think I have done enough. In fact, I think I have not even scratched the surface. However, I think my acknowledgement of a problem is a great start. I intend to be engaged and to continue executing.

The Eternal Paucity of Time

Don’t we all complain that we don’t have time to bother about others problems. If this becomes a collective lament, will the world have any time left on its way to total destruction?

Then again, what do I know? My mindset swings like a pendulum on a daily basis guiding my efforts from total inaction to unfocused hyper activity. Then I get intense spurts of guilt — one of which has forced me to pen down this sordid saga of a tormented mind. I am sure there are millions out there who are not only actively engaged but have decided to make their neighbors problem their own. In doing so, they have consciously embraced the ancient Hindu concept of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (a Sanskrit phrase found in Hindu texts such as the Maha Upanishad, which means “the world is one family”).

My only urge to all of you reading the ramblings of a tormented soul is to not allow yourselves to become one. Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote that there is success is knowing even one soul has breathed easier because you have lived. I surely think your actions can be directed, on a daily basis, to such nobler pursuits. You don’t have to agree but I thank you if you read my story till the end. If you did, I believe there is hope. For you and for me.

Writer @ The Intersection of Finance, Tech & Humanity. Stories of a Global Language: “Money”. Contributor @ Startup Grind, HackerNoon, HBR. Twitter@akothari_mba

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