Christmas and the Lessons of 2018

Published 9:05 PM, December 25, 2018
Updated 7:29 PM, December 30, 2019

Editor's Note: This newsletter was first sent on December 23, 2018 on Brave New World.

It’s the morning before Christmas day, and in an informal survey on Twitter on Sunday, December 23, more than 80% of those who responded said they wanted to know how I felt, how Rappler is doing, and what 2019 looks like.

How do I feel?

Just now, after staring at the photo of me on the cover, I finally read the paper issue (held in my hand, flipping the pages) of Time Magazine’s Person of the Year.

Mixed feelings.

  • Resolute: we know first-hand that journalism is in trouble not just in the Philippines but all around the world. Looks like things may get worse before they get better.
  • Humbled: to be included among some of the most courageous journalists I know who have suffered so much more.
  • Afraid: it’s tough to fight against such vast power.
  • Proud: to work with “the manangs,” Glenda Gloria, Chay Hofilena, Beth Frondoso, and, a whole new generation of courageous, talented, untiring Rapplers who #HoldTheLine every day.
  • Thankful: to all of those who have supported us, empowered us, and helped to bring our battle to a global stage.

Christmas is a time of: Faith. Hope. Love.

2018 has been a time of: Anger. Fear. Hate.

I couldn’t help but bring them all together. (Must Read: #AnimatED: Christmas in a sea of sadness)

Here are my 3 lessons from 2018:

  1. Love conquers Hate. While hate is easy to incite, you play to the worst of human nature. It’s a scorched-earth policy to use hate, and a path to hell for any leader. Sure, it seems easy to use hate to destroy, but you can never build with hate. So a government that uses the worst of our humanity will at some point find that turned against it.

Every religion we know shows us that, right? Jesus Christ, the Prophet Mohammed, Buddha …

Love takes longer, but love always wins. Especially during a time that requires massive collaboration to deal with global problems. We need to work together - not against each other, and the leader that can unite will always beat the leader that pounds on the fracture lines of society to incite hate.

In Rappler’s journey, we refuse to spew hate (no matter how easy on social media). We stand steadfast that we are not against the government. We want President Duterte and his administration to do well because where they lead, our nations go. Yet, we continue doing our job of pointing out the shortcuts, the murders, the impunity we see around us. Sheila Coronel gave me the words for it: principled resistance. (Watch: Sheila Coronel introduces Maria Ressa at the CPJ 2018 awards)

  1. Hope conquers Fear. When I was much younger, I learned to take apart and confront my fears. That’s part of what made me a type A personality. If you’ve dealt with your fear, the road is clear because only you can stop yourself from achieving your dreams. (Read: Lessons I learned when I was 10)

Fear brings out the worst in humanity. A paranoid, dog-eat-dog world plays to the worst of us and destroys the best in us.

When 2018 began with an unjust attempt to shut down Rappler, what kept us going was not fear of what could happen but hope that this kind of injustice would not be tolerated by Filipinos and our global community. It’s hope in our fellow journalists, once competitors turned allies for the mission embedded in our profession; hope in our citizens, who want to protect our democracy; and hope in our youth. (Read: Maria Ressa: Tapang, Tatag at Tiwala)

What I’ve learned from warzone coverage is that fear corrodes clarity of thought. So, a tip to those going into battle: go into the trenches with people you trust, and if things turn worse, manage the fear with hope.

Fear creates panic, which spreads virally, the most potent enemy of clarity of thought.

I remember East Timor, when journalists traveled in packs. Most decided to stay in picturesque waterfront Hotel Turismo, while I took my CNN team local: we rented the home of a former government official in the middle of other Indonesian officials’ houses. At least a year before the referendum and before the violence, we created an office home, complete with hot water heaters, air conditioners, generators and food supplies. We were self-contained.

When the rampage and shooting began, the Turismo journalists evacuated together. We were able to stay longer, the last international news team to leave (only after our messenger was badly beaten). After I chartered a plane to pick us up, we spent the last night with the lights off, hidden under our beds, until sunrise when we made the run to the airport and safety. Yet, as soon as we landed in Jakarta, two days later, we drove back in – days before multinational troops brought international journalists back to Timor.

Fast-forward to Rappler in the Philippines: when we came under attack early this year, I understood that some folks (we have about 100 people) would be afraid to keep going with us. So we held a general assembly and laid out the worst case scenarios we could think of and how we would prepare for them. We knew not everyone could deal with the greater risk: everyone has their own level of risk tolerance, right? I told our team that if anyone wanted out, we would completely understand. We would give them great recommendations and help place them in different jobs. I asked them to come talk to me privately.

Happy to report that few took that offer (less than the fingers of one hand), and the courage and stamina of our team is the very core of my hope for the future.

  1. Faith conquers Anger. In many ways, the last two and a half years have been an intensive course in anger management, and I don’t always win. Going back to DC for the ICFJ Knight International Journalism Award and to NY for the CPJ Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award were mini-reunions of the many fine journalists I’ve worked with in the last three decades. They knew a far calmer, more measured me: my version of Mr. Spock.

Coming home to the Philippines in 2005, I learned to balance Mr. Spock with Captain Kirk (yes, I’m a Trekkie). Gabby Lopez would tell me, “you have to understand emotions, Maria, because Filipinos are very emotional.” So that’s partly where the mood meter came in, launched with Rappler in 2012, the same year Gallup said the Philippines is the most emotional country in the world.

2018 was probably my most emotional year, but it was important to control my anger. I learned that getting angry doesn’t really accomplish anything except a self-indulgent release of frustration (and normally not even at the cause of the anger). Better to go to the gym.

I can’t say I was always successful, but over time, I conquered my anger at the injustice we’re living through with faith. It’s a faith that comes from my colleagues, my family and friends, from the strangers who stop me to say they’re behind Rappler, from those who helped make our crowdfunding effort the largest the Philippines has ever had, and from all the awards and accolades for Rappler this year.

More than anything, today, that faith comes from Christmas.

What does 2019 look like? Stay tuned next week.

Happy Holidays, my friends!




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