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In which I criticize people smarter than me

I.

The defining characteristic of the Filipino zeitgeist that encompasses all social classes, regardless of income, religion or education, is a myopic worldview. Filipinos are constantly obsessing with the present, at the expense of everything else. They don’t learn from the past; they don’t consider the future. They’re like dogs who get overwhelmingly distracted by passing squirrels – while other dogs do things like, I don’t know, bury bones to get later, or learn to obey commands, or raise their puppies. None of that for them, no focus on building anything that will last – always just the squirrels – the quick meal, the easy catch. Not for them the complex examination of the faulty structure of the government, nor the slow and tedious process of revising a mouldering, irrelevant Constitution – elect the right President, that will solve everything! And if she turns out not to be the magician we expected her to be, if she can’t fix 400 years of ingrained self-defeatist mentalities in one term, slam her in the news. Yell, scream, make useless noise.

II.

I have a professor in a class about decision-making. He told us that my college’s decision not to institute a pre-college program after the enforcement of K-12 was the right decision, because doing so would entail much expense and little profit. In a time frame of 2 or 3 years, that would be true. But after that period, the kids graduating from that program would enroll in the college. Inculcating loyalty to the college’s brand from a young age would be a sound, long-term investment. Yet this intelligent man couldn’t see that! And he’s in charge of our decision-making class. What hope is there for our minds? Even the people who are supposed to educate us don’t know any better than we do.

III.

Thought Leader Nicole Curato has this to say about responding to national tragedy:

“Compassion in both its material and symbolic forms is an important currency in the immediate aftermath of disasters. It puts us into action and generates expectations of acceptable conduct in the midst of uncertainty… To act in solidarity is to rise above the language of charity and sentimentalism and move towards the recognition of our obligation to support others.”

I looked for her solution. The most concrete she managed was this:

“The challenge for us today is to fight our fleeting impulse to help and instead take part in sustained practices of solidarity by consistently devoting our time, money and energy in shaping our collective destiny. Failure to execute this duty, to revert to our lifestyle of living high while letting distant others die is just like letting a child drown in muddy water because we don’t want to ruin a nice pair of shoes.”

Now who’s getting sentimental? Everything that is to become real starts as something specific. She posted a piece online that many people read; instead of inserting hyperlinks to information about agencies readers could join, or to donation pages, she chose… these*****.

All she did was scold readers, give them a slap on the wrist, a slight tinge of guilt they would later forget or make them depressed because of their inaction. She assumed they don’t help because they don’t want to ruin their shoes (are too selfish); does it occur to her that maybe they don’t know how to swim (don’t have the skills necessary to help)?

Even if she’s right, she isn’t telling you anything you don’t already know; without words you know it by the ache in your gut of something missing, of a purpose you’re not fulfilling. You don’t need to read these things; you already know them, you already feel them. What you need is a concrete way to help. Everything that is to become real starts as something specific. By the time you see someone drowning, it’s too late to learn how to swim. You should have learned years ago, when you were rotting your brain with Saturday morning cartoons. Perhaps literally you should have learned how to swim. Learn how to write project proposals. Learn how to patch a wound, learn how to cook dishes, learn how to unjam a fucking printer, but learn something useful. Even if it’s hard, even if no one’s around to applaud your efforts – especially if no one’s around to applaud your efforts, because real learning is tedious and frustrating, and even more tedious and frustrating to watch.

You want to go onstage and make the crowd go wild, but you won’t sit alone in your room and do finger-stretching exercises, you won’t practice til your fingertips are sore. You want to help poor people but you refuse to learn a valuable skill, you refuse to learn how to run a profitable business to fund your humanitarian work sustainably.

You don’t know what you’re supposed to do because no one ever taught you how. No one taught you what real work looks like, and now that you’re old enough to do whatever you want, you choose to do… nothing.

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