Much has been written about the spread of Covid and how this pandemic has altered the political economy of the globe, including the resultant social struggles and other impacts.
In this article, we would like to focus on a basic but important life value and philosophy that many have taken for granted. It is simply the act of giving and its sustenance.
We have learned from our parents, teachers and elders that the act of giving, an act of kindness towards others, is a good deed. Alas, this simple philosophy of life has lost much of its shine, and society seems more inclined towards accumulation and material gains than valuing the act of giving to others.
In rural society, the act of giving is a norm, well entrenched in their daily lives. Rural folks share their harvests and give to their relatives and neighbours when they have extra, often without hesitation. This is a way of life.
We are not romanticising rural life over urban living. Rural societies also have their fair share of disputes, conflicts, competition and land grabs. But the act of giving is not an alien practice: it is simply a way of life.
When the pandemic hit the globe, many lost their jobs and even their lives. Lifestyles were altered.
Fortunately, welfare organisations, government agencies, private institutions and individuals stepped up to distribute aid and organise welfare programmes for the needy. Unfortunately, the help was sometimes not enough to meet the recipients’ needs.
For us, it has been an uplifting experience to work with a team of friends to provide contributions to the frontline health workers during the pandemic. With our limited ability, we distributed vegetarian lunches to these frontline workers, hospital administration staff, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, cleaners and security guards.
We started this effort about a year ago when the first lockdown was lifted. Our efforts were not as regular as hoped because of subsequent lockdowns and the intensity of the pandemic. As soon as the lockdown was lifted, we continued the effort.
Initially, we had doubts about the efficacy of giving out free lunches. We also questioned the sustainability of the act of giving. How far could we go to continue giving and would it become something that was unimportant as time passed?
Within a year of irregular distribution of food to frontline health workers, we realised these doubts were unfounded. From our conversations with the people we encountered, we noted that as time passed, people seemed to take for granted the important services that medical staff rendered.
This can be seen in the anecdotal evidence that the distribution of free food by the public has reduced. We have no data to find out the reasons for the reduction. It could be due to a lack of funds or the increased anxiety of exposing oneself.
We are not suggesting that medical staff are complaining nor that one is obligated to reach out to them. As a group, we are simply glad we have been able to continue giving until today. This has touched the medical and other related staff who see their work and services recognised and appreciated.
The pandemic has been around for close to two years and people are learning how to live with it. A consequence of the ‘new normal’ seems to be that people are taking for granted certain matters including the sacrifices made by frontline health workers.
We seem to have forgotten that while we struggle to live life in the new normal, to learn and adapt to new lifestyles, medical staff have to continue fighting relentlessly against the pandemic.
These staff have juggled their limited medical resources to manage the spikes in Covid cases. They have also had to navigate and negotiate through the chaos of politics brought on by the elites during this critical period.
The public seem to have ignored or normalised the extra work and added pressure these health workers faced in their battle.
The Covid pandemic has made us realise that the act of giving is essential: it is a universal value that we must promote regardless of location, social background, class, religion, ethnicity, gender or age.
We must sustain the act of giving until it becomes a norm in daily life. In Karl Marx’s communism, ultimately, society would evolve into a classless mode because without the bourgeoisie and the state, society as a whole would tend to give according to ability, to take according to needs.
But more than that, we give because we do not forget the other’s efforts. We give not only during a time of crisis such as the pandemic; we give as it is a normal part of daily living.
Soon Chuan Yean, an Aliran member, is a lecturer at a local university while Lim Swee Jung works in a local hospital