By Dr. Jun Ynares, M.D.
“Papa, are you scared?”
That was my daughter’s question which she asked me a few days ago. She had heard about the explosion that rocked a concert venue in Manchester, England, just after renowned singer Ariana Grande had performed.
It turns out my pre-teen daughter knows Ariana from the many Disney programs she had watched on television. She was worried that the singer may have been hurt in the incident. She later found out the artist was safe. My daughter’s worry then turned to the many young girls her age who were at the concert and who were hurt, killed, and terrified.
She expressed her concern that the Manchester blast is part of another worldwide terror attack. She wanted to find out if I shared her feelings.
“Maybe, I am a little frightened but not really scared,” I told her.
It was the best answer a father could give at that moment, I thought.
I could not lie to her and tell her that the incident had no effect on me. That would be inauthentic. I have always believed that our children need to know that their parents are human beings and subject to the same emotions they feel – including fear.
“What do you mean, Papa?” my daughter asked. She wanted me to explain the difference between being “just a little frightened” and being “scared.”
I do not exactly know what the technical differences are between the two. I attempted to explain “in layman’s terms.” I said:
“Well, ‘just being a little frightened’ means the incident got me scared for just a very short moment. You see, when one becomes an adult, one still gets to feel scared but the time one stays scared becomes shorter and shorter. You see, you can decide whether or not you will stay scared because of someone or something that happened.”
It appears my daughter liked my attempt at definitions.
She asked me the same question, with a little modification, a few days ago. This was right after she heard the news that armed groups had taken over Marawi City, causing its residents – including children her age – to evacuate.
“Papa, are you a little bit frightened?” she asked.
“Yes, I am a little bit frightened but I am not terrified,” I answered. She paused momentarily. She caught the word “terrified” and I was sure she would ask me to define and to differentiate.
I jumped into the explanation before she got to ask the question.
“Here’s the difference,” I began. “You see, being terrified means to be very, very frightened,” I continued. “That’s what terrorists want to happen to us – to be terrified,” I added.
“What happens if become terrified?” she got to ask her question.
“Three things. You fight; you flee; or you freeze. Those are the very same things animals do when they are terrified, remember? They bite or claw back – that means they fight. Or, they quickly run away – that means they flee.
Now, remember what happens when our car come across a cat that’s going from one side of the street to the other? They stop and stare at the headlight. They are terrified, so they freeze.”
“Is that what terrorists want us to do – fight, flee, or freeze?” she asked again. I expected the question.
“Exactly. When we fight back, the trouble gets bigger. When we run away, they will say we got defeated. When we freeze in fear, they get to do anything they want to us.”
“So, what do we do?” she wanted to complete the learning moment.
“Well, first, we got to think and think hard about what’s the right thing and what’s the best thing to do,” I answered.
I thought that was a good answer. The first thing that terror damages is our ability to think. Terror cripples our thinking faculties. By getting ourselves to think hard when confronted by terror takes that terror’s power over us.
I believe our national leadership has done just that.
It has refused to be crippled by terror. I trust that our national leadership has thought hard about what the right things and the best things are that the country must do in the face of terror.
For our part, the best thing and the right thing to do is to support peace.
There are active and passive ways to do that. Among them: not spreading materials that compound the confusion and that aggravate the public’s collective fear.
This is not the time to heckle or jeer at the government. We can point out gaps and errors, but in a constructive manner. We have to help the national leadership stay focused on the goals that matter. We must not distract them with unnecessary kibitzing.
We can pray for peace. We can pray that peace reign in our hearts and for that peace to radiate to our countrymen in Marawi City and the rest of Mindanao.
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