Starting June 1, the province of Palawan will shift from a General Community Quarantine (GCQ) to a Modified General Community Quarantine (MGCQ). While the differences between these versions of quarantine are not drastic, this transition may be taken by many as a license to wander without restraint and to relish their sorely missed freedom without foresight. This sudden infatuation with one’s freedom is not without precedent. In Manila, when there was a shift to a Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine (MECQ), shopping malls and other establishments that partially opened were flocked by people seemingly overcome by enthusiasm and zeal for their repossessed liberty. Some even took it a step further by resuming their drinking bouts and gossip sessions on the streets.
The cause for great concern, however, is the overlooked fact that regardless of the type of community quarantine, the real possibility of contracting and spreading the dreaded COVID-19 still looms.
While the fervor for freedom shown by those who braved the world beyond their households was admirable and even inspiring, it may be good to examine if such was a responsible, or better yet, correct use of freedom. In order to address this, it becomes necessary to ask: what is freedom?
Karol Wojtyla, the Polish philosopher who later on became Saint John Paul II, tells us that “freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought”.
This is reminiscent of Aquinas’ idea of freedom which, the philosopher George Weigel proposes, is best captured in the phrase “freedom for excellence.”
For St. Thomas Aquinas, freedom “is a means to human excellence, to human happiness,” for ultimately, it entails the “capacity to choose wisely and to act well as a matter of habit.”
This idea of freedom advocated by these two intellectual and spiritual giants suggests that freedom is not the mere absence of restraint and the ability to choose and act in whatever way one wishes. Rather, authentic freedom is habitually choosing what is good, what is true, what is excellent, and what would lead man to flourish. Only in such an exercise of freedom will man be truly happy, and, in the words of St. Iranaeus, become “fully alive”.
The exercise of freedom for excellence in the time of a pandemic is not only a necessity for man’s happiness but is essential to man’s survival. It is crucial that at this time, our choices are directed toward what is good for the individual, with due regard to the community.
It is in this aspect that Harvard Law professor Robert George’s concise explanation of the common good becomes relevant. For Prof. George, whom I had the privilege of studying under in the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton University, the common good is simply “the concrete well-being—the flourishing—of the flesh-and-blood persons constituting the community.”
In sum, when we choose what is good, we are choosing not only the good for ourselves, but also for our neighbors.
When we choose to stay home instead of needlessly going to a mall, we are keeping ourselves and our neighbors safe. When we wear a mask each time we step outside, we are protecting ourselves and our neighbors. When we keep an appropriate distance and observe basic hygiene, we are caring for ourselves and for our neighbors.
The cure for the pandemic may be a long way to go, but the remedy at hand is to be our brother’s keeper and to do to others as we would have them do to us, with the full freedom of charity.
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