Inside our catharsis

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

Source : Image by RIBI Image Library via Wikimedia Commons

Writing an article for a weekly column should not be difficult if one has been doing it for twenty years like me. Still, there are times when I want to write more than once, and others when not at all.

Writing is not my career, nor is it an income source. Yet, if it were not meaningful, I would have stopped long ago.

In my fifties, I saw the world and life differently. Even then, it was already awesome, and my personal experiences created a life that I thought was worth sharing. The writing was, and is, one way of sharing what I saw, what I felt, what I observed, and then understanding that grew with time. My experiences were as varied as my interests and the circumstances that life afforded me to be present in.

Like the pandemic, we are all inside the pandemic, one real, pulsating commonality we are all experiencing. Being common to all, it must naturally elicit common effects and lessons. At the same time, each of us, with our unique individuality, will have many different responses and learnings.

Personal dramas have been the content of many great stories. Mine had not been that radically different, so my story had never been the core of what I wanted to share. But in the ordinary is found the common thread of a people and a country. More than what differentiated my life from others, I always wanted to highlight what was the same. Many of us are defined by what we have in common, and that is important to me. And why a unique view of what is the same is then worth sharing – another way of looking at things, so to speak.

Like the pandemic, we are all inside the pandemic, one real, pulsating commonality we are all experiencing. Being common to all, it must naturally elicit common effects and lessons. At the same time, each of us, with our unique individuality, will have many different responses and learnings. We are in the same class with the same teacher, but our grades will be different. Our grades reflect just how well we responded, just how much we learned.

The pandemic is not over. I can even say that the more difficult and painful lessons are yet to come. A force so compelling and dominant can only be cathartic. I have used the term “catharsis” quite often, and some have asked for a more definitive description. Here is one of the most accepted:

“Catharsis is the process of releasing, and thereby providing relief from, strong or repressed emotions. Catharsis is an emotional release linked to a need to relieve unconscious conflicts.”

“Many parts of the world are in turmoil. On the surface, they do not seem to be connected to the pandemic. We must realize that the pandemic made the world standstill. Then, it made the world tremble in fear. There was nothing that was not impacted by the pandemic.”

Catharsis has mostly been thought of as personal, as an individual. I use it here for the collective because the pandemic, although it impacts individuals, is unusual because it has a greater impact on the whole. A global pandemic drives the world into catharsis, plain and simple. Its consequences have been, at the minimum, disruptive. To many, they have been fatal. Many business enterprises have collapsed, never to open again. Many political fortunes, too, have ended or will soon end in disastrous circumstances.

Many parts of the world are in turmoil. On the surface, they do not seem to be connected to the pandemic. We must realize that the pandemic made the world standstill. Then, it made the world tremble in fear. There was nothing that was not impacted by the pandemic. The fear and confusion sown by Covid-19 did not just shake normalcy; it buried it forever. Everybody knows the old normal is gone. It is only a matter of building a new normal that is still a large mystery to us.

What about the Philippines and the Filipino people? We know we are not exempt from the impact of the pandemic. Our economy has taken a battering that it never expected and can become the worst in our history. I cannot say just how bad because we are still caught inside the pandemic quicksand, and many businesses are simply trying to stay alive. A few managed to achieve some growth despite the worst of circumstances. While it broke down many traditional norms, the pandemic also propelled some new opportunities – like digital and online businesses. Still, overall, it has been depressing.

If catharsis involves long-repressed emotions, and we speak of emotions from many Filipinos, I immediately recognize poverty and hunger. Poverty has been with us for so long that we who are not poor take many things for granted. In fact, it is not unusual to blame the poor for their poverty, laziness as the favorite reason given. Many forget our poverty is not a result of failure by the poor – they were born poor and had never known how it was to be not poor.

The poverty of many is accompanied by hunger, and this had worsened during the pandemic. I hope that those who hold positions of authority will realize that poverty and hunger have been painful crosses that tens of millions of poor Filipinos have carried in their lives. The pandemic can surely trigger a catharsis from them, a catharsis that will not be pleasant even for us.

“The poverty of many is accompanied by hunger, and this had worsened during the pandemic. I hope that those who hold positions of authority will realize that poverty and hunger have been painful crosses that tens of millions of poor Filipinos have carried in their lives.”

It is not as though poverty and hunger are the only sources of agony inside great numbers of Filipinos. How long has the communist insurgency been going on? How many thousands of lives have been sacrificed in the name of revolution and counter-revolution? How long has the Muslim-Christian conflict festered in our history and the hundreds of thousands of lives lost? While, thankfully, a peace accord is in place with a bold experiment on autonomous governance, a new monster in terrorism is threatening the land.

I will not even focus on China except to say that the fundamental distrust of China is finding provocation by China’s arrogant takeover of Philippine territory. Add on the frustration of a pandemic that continues to debilitate us, and I can sense that Filipinos are ripe for an emotional outburst against China.

The only way to ease the pent-up resentments long repressed in the psyche of many Filipinos is to first recognize and acknowledge them with objectivity. Then, we decide to help one another solve them. Are we still capable of doing that?

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