Fear-driven life

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

COVID-19 challenged the very fundamentals on which we have anchored our lifestyle, both individual and collective. We are still in a state of shock and unable to substantially correct whatever weaknesses we have discovered. Naturally, our lives are now fear-driven.

For fear to be the dominant driver of life today, it means our very understanding of what life is had not been very sound, not very solid. In fact, that understanding crumbled before the threat of a runaway virus — crumbled globally, brought nations to their knees.

This could not have been possible unless the very foundation of our collective life was totally unprepared, which also indicates how weak it really was.

However, mankind survives despite millions of COVID-19 infections and hundreds of thousands of deaths. In fact, mankind will survive and outlive the virus even though no known cure or vaccine has been discovered. Even if none will ever be. Yet, the thinking mind is no match to a fearful heart. Statistics favor humanity but statistics are cold, numbers are cold. Until they become names and faces recognizable to us, as in family, neighbor, or friend, statistics lack meaning and value. But when numbers become persons, their importance becomes personal. They fade as statistics and become more meaningful because of our attachment to them.

We are being confronted with another internal conflict we carry most of our lives. We are all familiar with death, and just as familiar with the fact that no one escapes it.

Why, then, did we, we as in the whole humanity, panic before the threat of a virus? Isn’t death an immutable fact and reality? Have we not understood and accepted it as unavoidable all through our thinking life? Yet, the fear of death can upset the security and comfort zones we have built around our lives. And not just our death, but the death of loved ones. Intellectually understood but emotionally unaccepted.

Strange as it may seem, COVID-19 has disrupted humanity less for its power to kill because more deadly plagues had ravaged mankind before. Rather, it was because COVID-19 challenged the arrogance of man, forced us to face the possibility of imminent death, and shocked us with our level of unpreparedness. We were defenseless and totally unwilling to accept death.

Under the threat of massive infection against an untreatable virus, the priorities that framed societal became paralyzed. Those priorities were simply inadequate to drive patterned normalcy with the threatening presence of COVID-19.

Today, however, we are confronted by a greater fear – the fear of staying paralyzed. Feeling forced by circumstance, societies are biting the bullet and designing ways to live with COVID-19 despite its continuing capacity to infect and kill. All are doing so without a grand plan but understanding not doing so would be just as destructive. There are defensive reactions, ways by which work can resume without causing more infections and deaths – but no grand plan.

But for some, COVID-19 is a godsend. It exposed that many of our assumptions have strayed so far from the basics of life, so much so that our world almost caved in. With that, humanity asks deeper questions today after a harrowing experience when food more than money rose as mankind’s greatest requirement.

One friend asked this simple question:

“If nothing happens by chance, so how did we collectively attract the pandemic?”

It is a question we should all ask. After all, human and artificial intelligence combined has been innovating and building physical and digital infrastructures and processes meant for tomorrow. The intentional, not the accidental, define life. Yet, a global accident happened and the whole of humanity is at a loss.

The most fundamental of human requirements – security of life, health, the harmony of relationships, and peace of mind – could not even be covered.

It is now a tug of war between fear and desperation. Caught between these two primal energies, there is no room for aspiration. And here lies our challenge. We say hope, we cry hope. But for hope to be real, there must be basis – real, chewable, digestible. Otherwise, hope is but a flight response, an attempt to escape from a grim reality that brings no inner calm.

One thing I learned exceedingly early is that fear does not depend on logic nor can it easily be swayed by logic. There may be several ways to deal with fear but just telling a person, “Do not be afraid,” will not take away the fear. Unless you represent or possess what can take away that fear.

Leaders and decision-makers who want life to normalize cannot make that happen unless enough of the population overcome their fear and lead active lives outside their homes. They must first study how to deal with fear, how to deconstruct it, then how to motivate and stimulate the imagination beyond it. Or, how to force it if they can by using another fear, like where we are today.

Naturally, government or big business can lead the way at this point. In the land of the blind, the ones who wield power and possess wealth will have to take the lead. Lesser men will not be followed, even if they are experts in their fields. This is a collective emergency and only those at the top of the pyramid can be seen and heard by the people. Hopefully, they will call on experienced psychologists and sociologists because the way forward is to deconstruct fear, not enacting laws or proposing business plans.

Most of all, medical experts must be consulted. In turn, they must consult fellow experts around the world. Only they have some understanding of COVID-19.

What we all can do is to go back to basics, plant more than enough food, and make it accessible to all. We must take care of our communities, organize ourselves for future emergencies, and look out for the weak and helpless among us. We may not be clear about tomorrow, but our togetherness and fortitude of spirit will see us through.

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