"May this pandemic, in all its drudgery and pain, teach us to be good and inspire us even more to be truly human."
Over the weekend, I delivered an opening talk to an online audience of more than a thousand young participants of the Positive Impact on Nation Change (PINC) Congress organized by JCI Makati under the leadership of President Lawrence Tan. I began by asking a question: “Have you ever wondered what makes us human different from other sentient beings?”
Then came my ready reply. The three things that, in my mind, make us different from other sentient beings are our ability to share stories, to sing songs and lastly, to search for solutions.
First, what makes us humans unique is our ability to share stories. Our memories are often stored and usually retold in the form of stories. The best way to relate our aspirations are best contextualized through our own narratives. Each of the stories we share is more than a retelling of our past experiences. It is in fact a window into our own, in most cases, intimate perspective of things. That is why sharing our stories is a powerful way not only to inform others of our past deeds, but more significantly to inspire others to take future action.
Second is our skill to sing songs. Our human capacity to sing songs—and together weave sounds and rhythm into music—tells us so much about our innate ability to deal with the changing cadence of life. Life is not meant to be just existence. The inner meaning of life is to be lived out in its many ups and downs as well as its countless twists and turns. It comes no surprise therefore that there seems to be a song for each of our varied human emotions. There are songs that speak of heartbreaks and grief, in the same way that there are music that express triumph and joy.
Third is our innate capacity to search for solutions. Every life-changing invention or intellectual breakthrough began with one thing – a problem waiting to be solved. Every scientific concept or political strategy was a product of man’s continuing search for a much deeper understanding of himself and the world around him. That is why man never really stops learning. Finding better and improved ways of relating with the world—including overcoming challenges and difficulties that come in the way—is very much a part of who we are as humans.
Our stories, songs and solutions affirm our unique and natural capacity as humans to do good. Each of our stories, songs and solutions relate not only to the most human of our emotions. They also appeal to our yearning for self-worth and self-efficacy. Man’s own nature, for example, is to preserve and improve himself. As it is often said, not even the worst criminal would wish harm to his own family.
From a wider perspective, this also speaks a lot of our society’s capacity for collective goodness. Inasmuch as man is innately inclined to what is good, so is our society attuned toward improving itself. Therefore, our politics, economy and culture are all attuned toward bringing the best out of our humanity.
Sadly, however, this truth about humanity has been mindlessly forgotten by today’s society. There has become an eager capacity to compete, and an inordinate drive to consume. We mistake growth for what we have, rather than who we have become. We forget that humanity’s greatest strength is not in our power to divide and conquer, but rather in our ability to connect with and complement each other. As a result, we have become the distortion of the society that we are meant to be. We want to be heard, but we refuse to listen. We are quick to correct the corrupt acts of others, but we fail to admit our own share of wrongs. In the end, our own urge to compete and consume blinds us from living out our innate nature to be good.
In many ways, this coronavirus crisis has become a timely opportunity for us to discover our inner capacity for goodness. Over time we have become too naïve about sticking to rules that we have begun to think that success will come only to the strong-willed and the shrewd. But this coronavirus pandemic has not only put at risk the health and safety of millions. It has likewise exposed the frailty of the institutions that we once thought to be stable and secure.
Little have we realized that this pandemic has also changed the way we look at things. Politicians are now being measured by way of what they have thus accomplished, rather than the simple magnitude of their power. Our economy is now being fueled by our needs, rather than the economic players shaping our wants. The culture of our world is slowly being devoid by the vulgar and profane to give way to more enduring values such as faith, family and friendship.
There is a lot of talk about the new normal in the way we do things. I hope that this pandemic also leads to a new way of being us. When this pandemic is finally over, may our stories we share be that of success and hope. May our songs be tunes of selflessness and solidarity. May our solutions be that of renewal and growth. May this pandemic, in all its drudgery and pain, teach us to be good, and inspire us even more to be truly human.