The call of conscience
HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE - Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) - January 19, 2020 - 12:00am

Has it ever happened to you that you find yourself challenged physically, emotionally, intellectually, morally and spiritually?

The last few weeks have been brutal.

There are the deadly fires in Australia that have destroyed a huge portion of this beautiful country causing the death of more than 20 people and 1.3 billion animals. In Indonesia, there are the savage floods that have wiped out more than a hundred people, and many communities from the face of the earth. And yes, the environmental destruction all around the world is happening, and every day brings in new horrific stories. 

Yes, many feel the gloom and doom every day, everywhere. And it's not just the environment that is contributing to hopelessness.

Dictators everywhere are destroying democratic societies. The Trumps, Bolsonaros, Dutertes and Xi Jinpings of the world rule with impunity and delusion. Fake news and trolls are corrupting the minds of people everywhere, driving them to violence, hate and incivility.

Powerful countries are recklessly pushing each other to the brink of a shooting war. Full-blown hostilities may be unleashed soon, which could start a real world war.

Here in the Philippines, there is the real threat of the Taal explosion, which according to experts, is imminent and can be highly destructive, even deadly. The magnitude of evacuations ongoing right now to safe grounds is unprecedented. The government, through its own fault, slashed the calamity funds from the national budget and so is crippled to deal with this unprecedented human and ecological crisis. Its response has shown a lack of coherence, coordination and even compassion. Luckily, civil society is filling some of the void.

And let us not forget that by April, there will be a severe water shortage that will affect a huge number of people in Metro Manila.  Unless we have strong rains very soon, this is an inevitability.

There is much to be anxious about. The modern world's state of affairs seems to be in crisis everywhere. What can be done? Many people do not know. Worse, many of them do not even care.

Sometimes I wonder why I allow myself to feel the suffering of people I do not even know. Why do I care about the refugees who die while escaping persecution? Why do I feel the need to help others? Why do I make it my business to speak out against injustice?  Why am I moved or triggered by misogyny, racism, climate destroyers and deniers? Why do I care about ignorance, poverty, and the well-being of strangers? Why do I even worry about people who do not care?

Last week, the Supreme Court rejected with finality the proposed right to marry among the LGBT citizens of this country. I felt a big disappointment as I thought of gay friends who love other people and are ready to commit themselves to life-long relationships. What a letdown it must be for them. When you think about it, love is love no matter which part of the rainbow you live in.

Some people will easily dismiss or even condemn me for being a bleeding liberal democrat who espouses and fights for these kinds of causes. And I am guilty as charged. And I also know how my views trigger certain people to react negatively. The world is so polarized.

I mourn the loss of biodiversity, the majestic forests, the billions of animals who perished in the fires, human lives. I also shed tears for the degradation of living standards, clean air, and the deadly onset of climate change happening everywhere. The persecution of people and the denial of their human rights to express themselves, to love, to live their lives among peaceful communities and a society that delivers social justice is unconscionable. My heart breaks as young people suffer and lose hope because of mental illnesses like depression and anxiety.

The loss affects me in all ways and manners. The lack of respect and dignity in the way leaders of society regard their constituents appalls me deeply.

All these take their toll on many levels: I feel physically tired fighting, arguing, getting emotional over moral, spiritual, intellectual arguments with people.

Between good vs. evil, right vs. wrong, virtue vs. evil, knowledge vs. ignorance, sustainability vs. greed, one can't readily be sure what people will choose. It seems the world has gone mad and has turned its values upside down.

Another question I occasionally ask myself is why many people have not given up the fight? Why do Aussie firefighters continue to risk their lives every day to douse the fires when, often enough, the fires return bigger than ever? Why do human rights lawyers fight for people who are persecuted, detained, tortured or killed when these types of clients hardly have the means to pay for legal services? It seems they willingly put themselves in danger. Why do volunteers spend their time and money trying to pack relief goods to deliver to evacuees when they know it is impossible to feed everyone on a daily basis especially for an extended period of time?

The answer, I have learned, is simple. They would feel worse if they did not. It is the nature of a heightened conscience to rise up to question, confront and challenge what it sees to be wrong. The sense of duty can be so strong that it cannot live with itself if it denies the call to action. Especially when the situation seems almost impossible, the call to do something, anything becomes too loud to ignore. To act is imperative.

I remember seeing a video of a real-life situation where this young man shows up every morning at a beach to pick up star-fishes that nature had washed to shore. He picks up as many as he can and throws them back to the sea daily. When asked why he was doing what he was doing considering that even if he saves some, hundreds more will die, he answered, “It matters to this one,” as he picks up one and throws it back to the sea.

People of conscience believe in the importance of all undertakings, whether they’re big or small. Every effort counts especially when you know little things can build up to the last straw, or contribute to reaching the tipping point that can turn a situation around. 

Unfortunately, it matters just as great when people choose to ignore and deny a problem and do nothing. 

As for me, I would rather be on the side of those who fight for compassionate change than those who are too scared or lazy to do anything, or too apathetic to even curse the darkness.

LGBT TAAL VOLCANO
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