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Soneva founder on exploring good fortune from this global pandemic

Business Life 03-06-2020

In the first of a three-part editorial series, we take words of wisdom from Founder of Soneva Group, Sonu Shivdasani, on what we can learn from this crisis to collaboraute as a world and solve global warming.

There is a looming crisis that will unfortunately not end, and which will just get worse.

I have been fortunate enough to have experienced many crises’ during my lifetime. My choice of the word ‘fortunate’ is deliberate. The Chinese word for crisis is two characters: ‘danger’ and ‘opportunity’. According to Lao Tzu, the Chinese writer and philosopher, ‘Good fortune has its roots in disaster’. Over the years, I have come to understand these words and have realised that these crises’ are opportunities to learn, grow and develop. Certainly, we have no control over the hand that we are dealt, but we have total control on how we play it.

I have realised that if we consider a crisis in a positive way, we can always find an opportunity to learn and develop and make our lives more enriching as a result.

Let me share a recent personal experience. In October 2018, I was diagnosed with stage 4 Lymphoma. The doctor asked me whether I understood the gravity of the situation. I maintained a brave face and just focused on documenting what he said and thinking of further questions that I would need answers to. However, once I had left the clinic, and was comfortably seated in the taxi home, I could not hold it anymore and broke into tears.

The first three weeks after the diagnosis was a difficult time. There was a lot of uncertainty. I felt that the ground had been removed from below me. However, this ‘Cancer Crisis’ gave me the opportunity to pause on everything else.  I emerged from these traumatic three weeks with a clear action plan, and was considerably wiser about health and wellness.

When my doctor declared that I was in remission, I realise that I had gone through a six-stage grief cycle. The psychologist George Kohlrieser depicts this so well in his book Hostage at the Table: 1. Start an attachment; 2. Create a bond; 3. The bond/attachment ends for reasons; 4. One is pained by the loss/grief; 5. One forgives the situation; 6. One starts again.

The memory of when I first learnt of my predicament is still vivid. When I reflect on that day, I wonder what I was crying about. Was it the fear of death, or was it another loss?

Now, 18 months later, I realise that I was crying about the loss of the status quo. My usual reality of how I would live, eat, and generally exist, was undermined by this illness, and would never return. During those three weeks, I grieved the loss of my usual daily reality. I realised how my lifestyle and the way I lived needed to change.

I eventually accepted my new reality and forgave this loss. I created a new bond with this new reality and this new way of living. I gave up past guilty pleasures such as a love of red meat, ice cream and sweets in general. I extended the time in the gym from 30 minutes to an hour three times a week. I was stricter about creating breaks in my life. I reduced my traveling and also started to practice intermittent fasting. I started to enjoy my new lifestyle and diet and became attached to it. In a way, I created a new bond with my new reality and thus overcame this grief.

To some extent, many of us in the midst of the current Coronavirus crisis are adjusting to a new reality and going through a similar grief cycle. There is a hollow emptiness, an uncomfortable feeling. We miss our daily routine that we can no longer enjoy because of this lockdown. We grieve the loss of the way we used to be.

Climate change – the crisis that will never end and only get worse.

The current global health emergency will end, but this will not be the case for the Planet. Global warming will effect each and every one of us, and highlights our interconnectedness.

Climate experts believe that we are near a tipping point of no return. Some believe we have already passed it. We already have 400 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere. Even if we reduced our carbon emissions considerably and followed the targets established in Paris in 2016, we will still hit 500 parts per million.

Even if we slammed on the brakes and turned around, we would not be able to because nature would continue the global warming process.

The warming planet has already killed more people than the current global pandemic. In 2003, the European heatwave killed as many as 35,000 Europeans. In 2010, 55,000 people died from a Russian heatwave, with 700 people dying in Moscow each day from the heat. In the 2016 heatwave that besieged the Middle East, temperatures in Iraq broke 100ºF (37.7º C) in May, 110ºF (43.3º C) in June, and 120ºF (48.8º C) in July. Temperatures seldom dropped below 100ºF, and only at night.

We survive in a very fragile ecosystem that we are undermining. Our actions to date have already caused more death, misery and disaster than COVID-19 ever will.

This pandemic will end, but the important question is whether the bond we have with the way we live and our daily reality has been sufficiently broken, and whether we can attach ourselves to a new reality and a new way of doing things; or if we will just go back to our old ways.

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