Dear MC College Students,
I extend the MC administration’s warm welcome to all as we begin the new Academic Year, in the midst of a lingering pandemic. We are glad that you are back “home” at Miriam College. And for the newcomers, we want to welcome you to your new “home.” How we wish we could all meet in person and celebrate one another’s presence!
The usual excitement over a new school year is overcome by anxiety. We are all anxious for many reasons: our physical and mental well-being, a reduced family income, a loss of employment of someone in our family. And in relation to our school, we are anxious if we could find our way around our virtual campus, the Knoller. The faculty and the administrators are also anxious over how you, our students, will handle a new learning environment, and how you will cope with a new way of making friends and “experiencing” college life.
In this worrisome period, we have a great woman’s inspiration to lessen our fears and anxieties. She wrote: “Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so we may fear less.” This woman was Madame Marie S. Curie, from Poland, the first woman to win the Nobel Prize (for physics) and the first scientist to win two Nobel Prizes (another for chemistry).
Part One: The Importance of Emotional Resilience
Following Madame Curie’s advice, we need to understand future possibilities not as predictions or forecasts, but rather as maps of possibilities that we can use to act on, to exercise our free choice and to direct our future. For this welcome letter, let me focus on two matters as guides for the new academic year: the importance of emotional resilience and the power of choice.
There is one major psychological factor that can affect one’s chance to succeed: emotional resilience and its companion, emotional maturity. These are usually measured by the EQ (Emotional Quotient) which many say is more important than IQ (Intelligence Quotient) in meeting the challenges -- big and small -- of living.
In the face of our fears and current stresses, let yourself seriously strive to build your emotional resilience and maturity thus improving your EQ. One historian and scientist, Dr. Yuval Harari, said that learning a lot of academic disciplines and knowing many areas of knowledge is important as the world grows in complexity and uncertainty. But he said that developing emotional resilience is the most important of all disciplines because the future will bring a lot of unexpected changes or drastic disruptions like what we are experiencing now, and worse. He emphasized that an individual will survive and thrive only if she/he has emotional resilience.
For the past 12 years, and even before the anticipated pandemic hit us, economic and political analysts have been describing the environment in which we have been living as a VUCA world: V for vulnerability, U for uncertainty, C for complexity, and A for ambiguity (in ethical matters). Because of the VUCA around us, businesses and organizations continue to working on developing their agility in adapting to quick changes. All employees are told to continue studying so that they could easily adapt to new job demands. In short, all—people, organizations, businesses—are all vulnerable to becoming “obsolete” if they do not change with Change.
There are two forces driving VUCA: warming climate and technology. A pandemic was predicted and warned about 16 years ago due to climate change and the emergence of new viruses such as the SARS, the bird flu, and the ebola virus. Governments were advised to stockpile on personal protective equipment, masks, and anti-viral medicines. But the warnings of epidemiologists were drowned out by successful medical interventions that limited these aforementioned epidemics and almost eradicated them within a region. But despite these successes a number of epidemiologists, public health leaders, scientists working on animal-transmitted diseases continued to warn, “No, the worst is yet to come!” Now one of the worst did come! Other pandemics are expected to occur as animals, whose habitats have been disturbed by human activity (deforestation), will move closer to human habitat and transmit their viruses.
As travel became global, the faster spread of pandemics became possible. In 2019, the year Covid 19 was transmitted to humans, there were 1.5 billion tourist arrivals globally. Travel is the super- spreader of pandemics.
Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, there was already a steady rise in anxiety, depression, self-hurt, and suicides among teen-agers but more so among girls-- globally. Among the girls, the trend rose by 70% from 2011 to 2016, worldwide (25% for the boys). These data were taken from hospital and clinic admissions. The common cause, according to social psychologists, is social media which grew exponentially during this period. Unfortunately, young women and girls are more into social media where they compare themselves with others or are intimidated by fellow girls, while boys are into video games. Social media, a phenomenon that has influenced the way we think, behave, and consume products and services, has ushered in another kind of job: influencers. Now with the pandemic, the level of anxiety and depression has become worse as the older ones (with sudden unemployment) are now affected.
It is therefore with earnestness that I advise teachers to be supportive of students by providing emotional support for their students so that their stress will not be compounded by a fear of failure or committing an error. Students need not be afraid to make mistakes in class and to understand that there are times when failure happens, (as any scientist would tell you when it comes to experiment.). It is in the classroom and in a school setting where we can see that rising again is possible after a big mistake. It has been said that resilience cannot be built unless one has experienced “failure.” They go together. Learning how to handle failure and to forgive our own failures strengthens our character. It is like learning how to bike by trying again and again after a series of falls. One witty quote advised: “Make lemonade out of your lemons!”
Part Two: The Power of Choice
In being vulnerable to sudden shocks in the environment, it is therefore essential to one’s survival that she/he develops emotional resilience in a world of growing uncertainty. It is also important that an individual considers making her/his choices seriously. There are situations where we have no choice except to accept the circumstances we were born into.
But Life gives us various opportunities to expand our choices, and one of these is through education. Education develops our mind, our soul, our character. It gives us a set of skills—to be able to do a job, to analyze data, to connect the dots, to think outside the box and without a box, to understand another human being, to learn how to handle relationships, to get out of a problem, to get through a dilemma, to evaluate events, etc. Meanwhile, the world has grown more interconnected through the internet and various social media. Complexity crept in. And therefore we will often find ourselves facing complex and ambiguous situations. This is notable in the personal and political areas. In this interconnected and globalized world, the concept of VUCA finds its expression.
Each day we face choices. In your case, your choice revolves around your home and your academic work. Should you spend at least an hour a day helping in house chores? Should you study harder or just coast along? Should you take an unrelated subject that you find interesting or should you just stick to the minimum requirements? Should you expand your own world of knowledge or just go along your group’s decisions? Should you take a part-time job to help the family? Or try a double major so you can shift jobs easily?
Often we make choices based on what is practical and expedient. I remember meeting the executive of a global cigarette company many years ago. He was proudly talking about the expansion of their business in the Philippines. I casually asked him, “Do you use your product?” He could not reply. So I asked a second question, “If you do not use your product, why promote its use?” My question made him feel uneasy. He was compensated well, but his product (cigarettes) is medically proven to be harmful. In such cases, we have the power to choose: get very good money but in exchange we contribute to other persons’ possible health problems? Get jobs and do activities aligned with your core principles and higher values. Through this, you will find peace of mind in the midst of VUCA. And you help bring peace around you.
As a unique individual facing a world of VUCA, exercise your options with prudence. Pray over your choices. Be very mindful of the power of your choice. A small choice today will influence another choice tomorrow.
Meanwhile, let us also be mindful of the difficult choices and circumstances of others. Be mindful always that we are all journeying in the same boat in a world of vulnerability, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. Let us always, always, remember this: do whatever it takes to HONOR the difficult JOURNEY of another, as we would like them to honor our own journey. In doing so, we become part of humanity in a very meaningful way.
With warmest wishes for an EDventurous and productive academic year.
AMBASSADOR LAURA Q. DEL ROSARIO, M.A., M.Ed.