Silver linings

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    ‘In my eyes, in fact, the most important silver lining in all of these is the chance for us to look towards 2022 with the experience of 2020 in our hearts and minds.’

    MONTHS ago, Sen. Pia Cayetano was savaged on social media after she was reported to have said she “welcomed” the onset of the coronavirus. It was an unfortunate event, she said, but it “opens our eyes and gives us that window of opportunity to provide necessary funding attention and efforts that our healthcare deserves.”

    The onslaught on social media followed after a reporter painted Cayetano as welcoming the pandemic which, the reporter said, “has already crippled the economy, killed hundreds of Filipinos and left thousands hungry and jobless.”

    If I haven’t known the senadora for over 30 years now I may have been incited to also heap opprobrium on her. But knowing her better than most (with the exception of her family, her loyal staff and closest friends) I knew what she was trying to say, and I knew that it was just her phrasing that was problematic.

    She is not one of those in government whose turn of phrase speaks 100% of their intent.

    So much so that spokesmen stumble over each other trying to say that what was said was not what was meant. For Cayetano, unfortunate as the pandemic was, it was welcome because it opened our eyes. Welcome, because it’s here, it’s a fact, and we just need to deal with it the right way – including paying proper attention to our healthcare.

    This point is made more stark with the developments at PhilHealth that, according to its president, not even Superman can solve.

    But back to Sen. Pia’s point. How many of us – in our attempt to cope with a pandemic which at times seems beyond coping – have stopped to think about life in general and our own in particular in ways we would not have been compelled to do if not for COVID-19?

    How many of us have not taken time to examine our lives, in the privacy of our thoughts, maybe just as we are about to go to bed or after we wake up, grateful to live another day?

    How many of us have not used this occasion to identify what really matter in our lives – people, property, dreams and ambitions even – and in the process come to terms with the good fortune we already have but have hardly noticed?

    And how many of us have not come to the point of doing 180-degree turns on things we were hell-bent on doing or pursuing or achieving before the pandemic struck – but now realize what we thought we really wanted to have or even to be is not essential to our sense of fulfillment and contentment and over-all happiness?

    This is what we should continue doing, or start doing if we haven’t yet, while the world is on “time out” as it seeks to get a grip on this novel coronavirus. It’s a chance to ask ourselves what truly matter to us, to understand what are of value to us, and in the process to understand who we truly are.

    And I mean this both on a personal (family, work, business, etc.) as well as a community level (as a citizen most importantly). When we are confronted with how fragile life can be in a way that is so total and encompassing because everyone is at risk, we better take the opportunity granted to be clear about what matters to us and what we need to do to make sure we do not find ourselves in a similar situation in the future.

    For Sen. Pia, it was a welcome opportunity to focus proper attention on healthcare – a matter close to her heart but which most of us take for granted until the point in time when a personal crisis forces us to confront the weaknesses of our healthcare system. Indeed, when politicians promised a system of universal health care, we all cheered. But very few really have tried to understand how this would work, especially on matters of funding and implementation, which are at the heart of such a system. We want to be a Sweden – but can we?

    For me, other than some personal resolutions on health matters, I’m more focused on my community commitments. I feel that as I reach senior citizen status it is time I pay attention more to what I can do to help others, because I think I’ve done a good job so far helping myself.

    And that’s why I see some silver linings in this crisis, one of which is allowing us as citizens to focus on ourselves as part of a bigger community. How we as a community led by our government have handled the crisis is a lesson-in-progress. It hopefully wakes us up to the importance of trust in society, especially trust in people in authority, a function of putting the right or capable people in the right or proper places. It hopefully tells us that when we are confronted with a pandemic like COVID – which, unfortunately, won’t be the last of it – we should know how and how not to respond: meaning, switching to a science-based mode than to a command-and-control approach, one that is anchored on data rather than politics. In Singapore, for example, the brains behind the country’s COVID approach are the doctors and scientists who grappled with the SARS outbreak a few years back; here? And think about it: if, despite the science-based approach, Singapore still had to struggle with keeping the virus in check, how can we expect any better from our own muddled actions, what I have tagged #LaggingHanda?

    In my eyes, in fact, the most important silver lining in all of these is the chance for us to look towards 2022 with the experience of 2020 in our hearts and minds. “Tal pueblo, talgobierno,” said Jose Rizal, and yes indeed we get the government we deserve. So do we deserve more of the same? Or shouldn’t we always strive to be better?

    Keep this in mind: because the silver lining is simply a chance or an opportunity, it is a chance or an opportunity we have to grab – because if we don’t, we lose it until the next pandemic comes around.

    And I will bet that no one is really in the mood to welcome another one any time in our lifetimes, yes?

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