To be afraid of something that might harm or kill you is a natural human emotion. The fear of dying, the fear of getting harmed, the fear of the unknown and, for some of us, the fear of flying or undergoing a major surgery—these are some of the fears that we go through in life.
Whenever our life is in danger or our personal welfare is at stake, we become fearful. Our normal reaction is to run away and escape from the thing that might cause us harm. If there is a predator like a bear or a tiger near us, for example, we become afraid and we flee so that we could escape from being harmed. In an encounter between man and a dangerous predator, we know that we will most likely suffer harm, even get killed, if we do not retreat.
Fear is a strong human emotion that alerts us to potential danger or harm. So, it is a trait that is useful to man for his safety and survival. But not everything that we are afraid of is dangerous or harmful. For example, some of us are afraid of the dark, but darkness by itself is harmless. Darkness is simply the absence of light. Because we cannot see in the dark, however, some of us fear that there may be something dangerous lurking out there that could harm us. Thus what causes us to be afraid is not the darkness itself, but the harm that might happen to us under cover of darkness. We sometimes call this a fear of the unknown. We are afraid that a predator might be lying in wait in the dark to harm us. Most of the time, however, it is just our active imagination alerting us to potential danger because our sense of sight is greatly diminished when there is no light.
Another kind of fear that we encounter is that of natural disasters. If a hurricane is headed to your area, for example, you become fearful if the storm is a powerful one, say, a Category 4 or 5 typhoon. Because if the storm hits your area, your house could get destroyed and your family would have no shelter. There may also be no running water or power for days or weeks afterwards. And you or a family member could get hurt or lose your life during a storm. To alleviate our fear of natural disasters, we usually take precaution to ensure that we would be safe during a storm. If your area is prone to flooding, for example, you might decide to leave your house and go to higher ground.
But what can you do when your life is clearly in danger, and it appears that you might not survive? For example, what could you do when you are on a ship that is sinking during a heavy storm at sea? What could you do you when you are a passenger on an airplane that has lost power and has started to go down? What can you do in such life-threatening situation? In catastrophic situations, there is really nothing you can do. You simply accept the fact that you would probably die. And you most likely might say a prayer and put your life in God’s hand; and if you don’t believe in God, you simply accept your fate.
Notwithstanding our fear of predators or situations that endanger our life, many of us are fortunate to be able to live a long life. For some of us, unfortunately, we would die before we reach old age—from health issues like cancer, kidney failure due to diabetes, or a massive heart attack. Some of us might also die before old age—from fatal automobile accidents, from devastating natural disasters, or from intentional or accidental homicide. Having said that, however, most of us do not really know when we are going to die. Indeed, we live our life each day not thinking of death. Death is usually the farthest thing on our mind when we are young and healthy. Our fear of death arises only when our life is seriously threatened.
One of the best examples of human life being seriously threatened has been the COVID-19 pandemic. For at least two years, the entire world was literally paralyzed by the coronavirus pandemic. It has been one of the most serious public health crises that has occurred in over a century. This pandemic swiftly infected several hundred million people throughout the world and killed several million in the process. And as of today, this disease is still around, although with less intensity. This deadly virus tormented all of mankind. Its death toll on humanity has been horrific. COVID-19 and its aggressive mutations baffled medical scientists, virologists, and infectious disease experts, not to mention the disease’s fearful and psychological effect on the general public.
From its original appearance in late 2019 to its more deadly mutations afterwards, COVID-19 caused so much fear and trepidation around the world. Surprisingly and very strangely, however, many of us carried on as if we were immune to this deadly virus. Such strange and unusual reaction to one of the deadliest viruses that plagued man over the past century has been truly baffling because such attitude toward (or disbelief in) the virus does not make any sense whatsoever. Millions of people died from this deadly pestilence, yet a substantial number of people also believed and acted as if the vaccine that was developed to stop the virus is even more dangerous than the virus itself.
To make matters worse, each time we get the impression that the coronavirus was receding, it regenerated itself into a more potent and deadly mutation. First, it was the delta variant that caused us so much alarm. Later, the omicron variant, with its harmful features and characteristics, appeared and haunted us. Each subsequent mutation renewed our fear that daily life will not return to normal. The CNMI had to close its door to tourism for over two years. It was not until this year—2022—that it seems safe to slowly but cautiously return to some degree of normalcy. Only recently was the world able to “hold at bay” the deadly coronavirus, or so it appears.
Many of us have complied with the public health measures to get vaccinated, to wear a face mask, to maintain a safe distance from others, and to wash our hands religiously. But the public health authorities have continued to urge those who do not believe in the virus or do not want to be vaccinated, to seriously reconsider their unbending position or belief. These individuals need to understand that it is only by following public health protocols and getting vaccinated could they protect not only themselves from the virus, but also those around them—especially their family and loved ones.
But to this day, there are still some of us who continue to assert that the coronavirus is a hoax, notwithstanding the undeniable fact that millions of people have already died from the disease. Contrary to common sense and the findings of infectious disease experts, many people have even claimed, without any factual basis, that the vaccine is more dangerous than the virus itself. When faced with the choice between taking the vaccine or not, these individuals apparently prefer taking the risk of catching the virus and possibly dying, rather than getting vaccinated. Such unusual behavior toward the coronavirus—a truly harmful predator—has indeed been “mind-boggling” (for lack of a better word) because it is irrational for man—when faced with a deadly predator, such as a tiger, a bear or the coronavirus—to not run away. It simply does not make any sense. The fact that the virus cannot be seen with the human eye does not make it any less dangerous or harmful. Indeed, one could argue that the virus is more deadly than a tiger, bear, or lion because the virus is invisible but still are deadly predators from whom we should escape. The coronavirus is more dangerous from because it is airborne, invisible, and moves fluidly.
As I noted at the beginning of this essay, man is imbued with the emotional trait to be afraid when he encounters a predator that would harm him or endanger his life. Our emotion to fear tells us to run away from danger. With respect to COVID-19, however, our emotion to be afraid, apparently, has not been functioning for many of us. When we have a mindset that believes that the vaccine that was developed, and not the virus, will kill us, it is time to ask ourselves: Have we begun to lose our faculty to be rational? Have we reached a point in human development where our ability to be rational has begun to malfunction? It appears to be that way for quite a few of us. But I truly hope that I am wrong about this; and that the vaccine doubters and unbelievers would not have the same mindset again when we encounter another viral pandemic in the future.
Jose S. Dela Cruz (Special to the Saipan Tribune)
Jose S. Dela Cruz is a former chief justice of the CNMI Supreme Court.