To be a helper | Inquirer Opinion

To be a helper

/ 04:04 AM December 25, 2020

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

This line from the late TV host Fred Rogers (a.k.a. Mr. Rogers) is often quoted during times of crisis, and boy, did we have plenty of those in 2020.

This has been a year of incredible tests to the human spirit: typhoons and floods, wildfires, volcanic eruptions, political violence, revelations of massive state corruption, and deaths of well-loved personas. All while the COVID-19 pandemic forced us to distance from each other, avoid social activities, and struggle with our livelihoods—or risk contracting the costly and deadly disease.

Our saving grace this year has been the “helpers,” starting with the frontline nurses, doctors, and health workers who directly battled the novel coronavirus, putting their lives on the line to save the lives of others. We hailed them as heroes.


Everywhere else, we saw various hues of heroism, from scientists who trudged through bureaucratic messes to come up with coronavirus interventions, to local donation drives for victims of natural disasters, to neighborhood acts of generosity toward service workers.

Mr. Rogers’ advice to “look for the helpers” was intended for children in the wake of disasters. Yet those words resonate with us adults, too. It serves as a simple comfort for us when we feel trapped in fear and helplessness. It tells us that there are people who are working toward solutions—people who are making the situation better so that one day, we can all breathe again.

But it shouldn’t end there. Seeing these helpers shouldn’t just comfort us—it should move us to be helpers ourselves.

This year, while most of us have made an effort to be part of the solution, there have also been many who selfishly insisted on their own interests. Anti-maskers who put their personal preference over social responsibility. People who disregard physical distancing protocols just to engage in their usual recreation. People who discredit scientists and doctors, claiming COVID-19 is a hoax or an overblown issue or a global conspiracy just to rationalize their self-centered choice to continue their pre-pandemic habits.


A public park in my city recently lit up with Christmas trees as part of a decades-long tradition. What nobody really hoped to see this year—and what actually occurred—was the horde of visitors who were not wearing masks or physically distancing in the packed circle. This leisure-as-usual attitude persists all over the country, in crowded parks, malls, and beaches where basic safety guidelines are all but ignored.

The Philippines’ coronavirus numbers still haven’t flattened. We had another spike just last Friday: 2,122 new cases, the highest in over a month. We only need to look at our overworked doctors and nurses and our overcrowded hospitals to understand that COVID-19 statistics represent something that’s really happening, something we can’t keep ignoring.


Even with the optimistic outlook on COVID-19 vaccines, we currently can’t let our guard down and contribute to a post-holiday surge of cases. That surge won’t just be a new set of numbers. It will be more people—possibly our own family or friends—needing treatment, or worse, succumbing to the illness. Our sense of responsibility toward others remains crucial.

To be a helper these days means to make tiny sacrifices for people around us. Scratch that—they’re not even sacrifices, they’re just little concessions. Wearing a mask is just a small inconvenience. Forgoing some social gatherings and shoe sales is not going to make a dent on one’s life. It’s the least we can do to contribute to a greater good. We can be a little more creative in celebrating the holidays without raising our chances of becoming virus spreaders.

Mr. Rogers continued his advice: “To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers—so many caring people in this world.”

We—all of us—are supposed to be among those caring people. Let’s not just leave the caring to the frontliners and the neighbors who try to stay home as much as possible. Let’s be helpful, too.

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TAGS: 2020, Coronavirus, COVID-19, crisis, Disaster, health, pandemic, SARS-CoV-2, virus

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