Stepping up or stepping out | Inquirer Opinion

Stepping up or stepping out

/ 01:00 AM September 25, 2020

It is a frequent paradox in life to be asked so much of us when we have so little, to demand courage of us when we have so much fear, to feel for others when we need to be cared for. But paradoxes are what accentuate life, not for drama or adornment, but especially for tempering the steel in us.

Many have said, including me, that Covid-19 is forcing us to look out for the other as much as looking out for ourselves. The fear of infection is a two-way street; worse, it can be a revolving door. When this power of this virus is not so much its probability of death but its guarantee of transmissibility, it is not anymore a matter of me but one of we.


Never in my living memory has the Philippines experienced and endured a national calamity of this intensity. I only have the story of my parents and relatives about their harrowing experience during the Japanese occupation in the 1940s. They resisted Japanese rule and had to flee to the mountains, being hunted down and sometimes doing the hunting themselves. Though the storytellers were sharing firsthand experiences, it nevertheless remained a story that I could not go through myself.

Today is different. Today is my time, our time, and today will be the substance of stories that future Filipinos will be told about in their time. That is why, for this Filipino who continues to learn the value of history more as I age, today is a story where I play a part, a story I can make better or worse by how I act. Today is also for every Filipino each with a role. The way each plays that role will help shape the collective story of our people, one that history will record and pass on.


Adversity is not an anomaly. It is a critical factor is shaping our character, in refining our soul. Without adversity, evolution would lose its power. Adversity is not there to harass us. It is there to give us thought for reflection, not about the trials of others and how they endured, but about ours and how we cope. And, quite importantly, adversity must contain a promise, a reward, for any job well done.

When calamities strike, adversity follows. In fact, without adversity, there is no calamity. The degree of adversity following a calamity defines its destructive impact. That is how we are defining and measuring Covid-19 today. It is the worst of calamities, like a war. It does not happen for a day, for a week. It unfolds slowly and does not show us a clear path out of it.

Calamities, because they are measured by the degree of difficulty they cause on humans, are not felt the same way by everybody. Calamities are external forces that are received in proportion by the strengths or weaknesses of people experiencing them. And while there is an evenness about the nature of a calamity, there is a great unevenness with how people experience and cope with it.

The rich and the poor, and everyone between them, are the objects impacted by a calamity. We all react personally and we all react collectively. The strong person, the more prepared person, the more disciplined person, will confront the calamity with a greater degree of confidence. And the opposite is true as well, horribly true. The weak, the ill-prepared, the undisciplined will be like straw in the tempest, tossed and battered with little defenses.

Yet, the strong and the weak are all in this calamity together. Ironically, the strong cannot live by themselves when the environment has more of the weak in it. The strong only cope better, less threatened, less affected. The strong, in a collective engagement with a calamity, cannot retain their advantage even the weak completely collapse. Without necessarily intending to, the weak cushion the impact of a calamity on the strong. The greater the number of the weak, the greater their capacity to slow down the impact to the rich.

The intrinsic justice in life demands a role for everyone and everyone’s role impacts everybody else. We may see the great more and completely miss the weak, but that is temporary. When existence gives a role to everyone, existence demands everyone to play their role. While society after society may live by different standards, the rules of existence are constant and even to all, like gravity, like death. And these rules teach us about the limits of the strength of one as they emphasize the power of the whole.

I am writing about my views on what many will think to be philosophical. True but more. I speak about a philosophy that is being rolled out in our lives with greater visibility today. That is what calamities induce, what adversity provokes, that we see better what we usually pay little attention to. And to pay less heed to what used to occupy us the most.


After six months of Covid-19 the calamity that has brought sustained adversity to all of us, what do we see with greater clarity, and what do we value less?

The rich and the poor, and all in between, we cope together and all at the same time. The calamity and the adversity demand great personal responses and even greater collective action. Those who have great confidence must share this with those who fear the most. Those who have greater knowledge must teach those who have the least. Those who have great power must aid those who are the weakest.

In the greater scheme of things, we survive together as one people or we disintegrate into tribes scrambling on our own. I do not have to explain what disintegration is, what dog-eat-dog is. In some places in the world today are graphic examples of wholesale suffering by those in their disintegration.

In the midst of a calamity, in the experience of adversity, do we step up, or do we step out?

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TAGS: Calamities, COVID-19, health crisis, History, national calamity, pandemic
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