To an uncertain future | Inquirer Opinion
Young Blood

To an uncertain future

I caught the tail-end of an argument between two men on the way to work one morning.

“Do you know who I am?” the first man declared arrogantly. “I know the owner of this office! I can have you kicked out if I wanted!”

The other man looked like he was about to cry. “Sorry, sir,” he whispered at the Very Important Person. “It won’t happen again, sir.”

“Who do you work for?” the VIP continued haughtily. “What company is it? Let me call them right now!” He took out his cellphone, and waved it at the other man menacingly.

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I watched the argument unfold in front of me from a (socially acceptable) distance, and wondered if I should intervene. From what I could gather listening to the exchange, the second man had coughed in the vicinity of our friendly neighborhood VIP, and the argument had escalated from there.

The second man was apologizing profusely, obviously afraid of getting into trouble. I thought of stepping in to try to defuse the situation, but decided against it.

I was also afraid of getting into trouble.

The VIP looked like he was out for blood, and it wouldn’t do any good to get caught in the crossfire. So I quietly made my way into the elevator, and tried to push the incident out of my mind.

Whatever happened next, it wasn’t my responsibility to help.

Whatever happened next, it was safer not to get involved.

I didn’t know these people, I didn’t even know who was in the right and who was in the wrong.

Why did I feel like such a coward?

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown, there’s been a lot of confusion and anxiety about the state of the world today, and people are right to be paranoid. Many of us are waiting for a leader: someone to tell us that everything’s going to be OK, and that we’re all going to be fine. A leader who should be firm but also optimistic, someone to reassure and also inspire us to try harder and be better. Many of us have been waiting for quite a long time, and the passing of each week brings us closer to that point where it seems like nobody’s coming.

There’s nobody to tell us what to do — nobody to say “do X” and then if you’re patient and kind and a generally good person, all your fears will evaporate into thin air and everything will be all right. Because everything isn’t going to be all right… not in the near future, anyway.

Over the last few weeks, many have emerged from the dark recesses of lockdown and quarantine to enthrall us with a vision of “the new normal.” But what 99.9 percent have failed to tell us is that this “new normal” is basically a whole lot of suffering. The good news is that we can all get really good at suffering, and it doesn’t involve a weird crash course in masochism (in webinar format via zoom). It starts with you and me and your neighbor John and all of us agreeing on a fundamental fact of life: that that miraculous leader isn’t coming, there’s nobody going to tell us what to do in the middle of this Great Uncertainty, and that maybe it’s high time we all stopped relying on the people above us to make sense of things, and started taking the first steps to lead ourselves.

Over the last few weeks of the lockdown, I’ve thought a lot about what it means for me to be alive right now, and what value I’m giving back with the things I do.

I founded my start-up because I’ve always wanted to create, to build solutions and technology that could be useful to others. I studied machine learning and taught myself to code because I saw it as a skill that would help me become a better creator. At the same time, I taught myself to bake because creating sweets gave me pleasure, it made me happy to build something with my bare hands—to give life to something both beautiful and delicious.

In the face of all the destruction that’s happening today, maybe that’s all it takes: that we commit, in our own way, to create something that will make things a little bit easier for the people around us.

In the midst of the many fears and uncertainties that plague our lives, there is a path forward. It’s a small path that’s easy to miss if you’re not looking carefully, but it’s a path nonetheless. The path ahead is rugged and full of obstacles, and there are a few ravines that look dangerously life-threatening. But that’s fine.

We can always fix that later.

* * *

Kathleen Paige A. Yu, 28, is founder and CEO of Rumarocket Limited.

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TAGS: coronavirus pandemic, coronavirus philippines, Kathleen Paige A. Yu, new normal, Quarantine, uncertain future, Young Blood
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