I want you to be brave

Shakira Sison

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Don’t be afraid of doing 180-degree turns, to pluck yourself from your tired surroundings and plop yourself where nothing is familiar

Always be brave. They may oppose your claims, they may doubt your motives, but nobody can question your courage.

This was the passage I used to promote my first follower meet-and-greet. During my brief visit to Manila last week, I met about 100 young people in two meet-ups. In the first gathering at Adarna Restaurant in Quezon City, I signed some articles and memorabilia, talked to my followers, and delivered the speech below to 70 people:

Before starting, I would like to thank Giney Villar, Beth Angsioco, and the Adarna staff for hosting this event today. I wanted to thank my wife, my sister and my friends for stopping by. Thank you also to all of you who made it, even if you had to call in sick or file vacations just to be here. I really appreciate it and I hope it’s worth your time. Thank you.

This is my 3rd visit  to the Philippines since I moved to New York in 2002. This particular visit, although very short, was a trip that in my wildest dreams I’d never thought I would take. I’m only really in town to pick up my award and to meet all of you, who probably didn’t even know I existed a few months ago.

It was only in April that I started writing for Rappler weekly, and since then I have heard from many of you who say I’ve affected them, made them proud, confident, or less isolated. I must say that in the past few months I’ve never been more connected to the Philippines. It’s become refreshing to be in touch with my country on a daily basis and be able to communicate in Filipino every single day. I even spend my days in New York watching your time zone!  So to my new online friends — feel free to raise your hands — thank you!

A connection

I know that many of you came here for something you felt I represented, and I am grateful for that connection. I hope you won’t be disappointed. But to me, and probably to my close friends and family, I really am just this person who happened to write a few things that stirred up some emotions. I tweet random sentiments and have online conversations with my new friends, but that’s really it.

In New York I am invisible. I have a full-time job like many of you, I had to get a vacation approved to be here, I’m a strange person who typed this speech on the train before and after work for many days. I’m a nobody. We all probably feel this way sometimes.

Which brings me to perhaps the only reason I am here with you today, and that’s just the accidental, chest-tightening, and gut-wrenching spurts of courage I sometimes have and often try to deny. And that is the only thing I’d like you to all take home from our meeting today.

BE BRAVE. Shakira Sison gives a speech and signs articles during her meet-up on September 2. Photo by James Reyes

I want you to be brave. And by brave I don’t mean raging in anger and making noise and waving your fists in the air to fight. I mean the kind of bravery you feel in your chests when you’re reading something that empowers you or makes you feel like you don’t have to stay where you are or wait to be rescued or for what is handed to you.

It’s the kind of feeling that makes you want to better yourself and find your own way and be independent. It’s the same feeling that makes you get up and decide that today you will do better. It’s a lot like your decision to be here. You didn’t have to be here and I didn’t have to be here, but here we both are, looking for something. It doesn’t matter if we find it, but we got up from where we were, knowing this day could change us. And it will, or at least mine already has, because of you.

What I wish I was told was that it is courage that sets people apart from each other more than credentials or education. A credentialed person may disappear or remain complacent without courage. A brave person knows things can be better and they will take the steps necessary to keep moving.

Improve yourself. Instead of buying useless things that only improve your outward appearance, invest in things you can take with you even when you are naked. Take classes, start hobbies, master a craft, study a language, travel, meet people with similar tastes. Have great conversations and even greater debates. Be brave enough to challenge yourself and your own ideas of who you are and how the world should be. Be flattered when someone says, “Iba ka na, nagbago ka na.” (You’re different now, you’ve changed.) Remember that a person who has not changed for years has never looked at their own ideas critically and sought to improve themselves.

Displace yourself

Don’t be afraid of doing 180-degree turns, to pluck yourself from your tired surroundings and plop yourself where nothing is familiar and you have to learn everything all over again. It’s only when you have to start over do you learn what you can shed and what remains when you do. To quote the movie Fight Club: “It’s only when you lose everything can you be free to do anything.”

And don’t be afraid to lose, because that’s the mark of having risked something and trying to reap what we can’t get when we do nothing. Be brave enough to tell someone you love them, and be strong enough to tell them you don’t. Be honest enough to leave an unhappy relationship. For this, you need courage to face the truth. And when you do find the one for you, be brave enough to keep it and do everything you can to honor that love. Be brave enough to face happiness head on and do everything to make sure it will last. This includes taking care of your health so that those we love won’t have to lose us to ourselves.

Be accountable. You don’t know how many questions I get where people are like, this keeps happening to me, or this person is doing this to me. It’s easy to play the part of a passenger but it requires courage to steer our own lives. Nothing repeatedly happens to us without our consent. We are not stuck, but simply immobilized by the fear that nothing else is better. I can tell you firsthand that nobody in this room who is doing something worthwhile isn’t glad they walked away from something to be where they are.

Saddle up

There are so many things to be scared about — what the world has in store for all of us, what people will say about who we are and who we love. Where our lives are headed, and the heartaches that are still to come our way. Most people can’t tell the difference between having something to back up our courage, but most people can tell if we are scared. And I am scared, just like you. Yes, nobody here is as terrified as I am to be in front of all of you here today. 

I hate to quote a man with a gun, but we all need our weapons of choice. John Wayne said, “Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.” Make courage your weapon of choice, because it might just be the only thing you have and what nobody can question or take away. Let’s all be brave together today, and maybe we can both take that from each other when this day ends.

Back in New York

I’m back in New York now after 7 days on Philippine soil, and it really was too quick to soak it all in. It would be too easy to shrug it off and pack it away where it becomes easily forgotten, but the faces I’ve met make that impossible. Before Manila, it seemed like my interaction with my followers was solely through the written word —  my articles and their comments and tweets. But after my trip and the several dozen hugs I gave and received, I was reminded that this was a relationship between people and not just an exchange of words. I take with me their farewells, their shaky voices and chesty laughs, and the unforgettable experience that even just for one afternoon, we were all brave together.

Thank you all for coming out to see me! – Rappler.com


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An afternoon on courage 

The 63rd Palanca Awards

Shakira Sison’s Palanca-winning entry “The Krakauer Table”


Shakira Andrea Sison is a Palanca Award-winning essayist. She currently works in finance and spends her off-hours being brave in subway trains. She is a veterinarian by education and was managing a retail corporation in Manila before relocating to New York in 2002. Follow her on Twitter: @shakirasison and on Facebook.com/sisonshakira.


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