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Article for the youth

ShofixtiShofixti Frustrated Painter PExer
'Losers'

This is a speech I gave Saturday to the forum entitled, "Generation Why: Identity of the Youth In A Changing Philippines," sponsored by the Inquirer and Ateneo-HPAIR:

When I was in college, I remember writing the editorials for our school paper. Anonymously for the most part. A good friend of mine, who was one of my roommates in the dorm (we were four to a room), had become the school president and editor of the school organ at the same time, and he had turned out to be a better leader than writer.

He used to ask me to write the editorials for him, and for the price of a meal, I'd do it. How could I know that would be the story of my life? We were activists at the time and even changed the name of the organ to reflect our activist ideals-much to the chagrin, and displeasure, of school authorities, who saw time-honored tradition demolished in one fell swoop-and our writings naturally reflected activist concerns.

I recall at one point what one of those authorities, a priest, said in reaction to the stuff we were churning out. "It's part of the idealism of youth," he said, "it will pass."

The priest himself had authored several books outlining a Christian perspective on the social upheaval that was taking place in our midst, and none of them, to put it charitably, had gripped the public imagination. These were the halcyon years that saw Philippine electoral politics plunging to its lowest point in the violence-ridden reelection campaign of Ferdinand Marcos in 1969, the First Quarter Storm of 1970 which birthed in its swirling winds the student movement, and the Plaza Miranda bombing of 1971. Later, Marcos would go on to declare martial law. But the signs, a great many of them written in blood, were already there.

But to go back: It did not help that the priest who said our writings were just the idealistic outpourings of youth, which would prove to be fleeting, said it a little patronizingly. At the very least, we resented the idea that idealism should be equated with naivete or innocence, or worse recklessness or even irresponsibility. Surely, we said, it meant far more than that.

At the very most, we resented the idea that we were not being taken seriously. The authorities chose to interpret where we were coming from rather than take issue with what we said. What they were arguing against, we said, was the form and not at the substance. Probably because they feared the substance, they feared what we were saying.

No, we protested, this wasn't just a phase we were going through. This wasn't something we would outgrow in time.

As it turned out-as indeed most things turn out in this tragicomic world-we were both right.

Some of us never lost their idealism for the simple reason that they did not live long enough to do so. Many took to the hills, or went underground, and died variously in encounters with soldiers, from "salvaging," from being made to disappear permanently from this earth. This was so especially after martial law when our activist arguments took on the ferocity of revealed truth, enough for people who had barely crossed the threshold to adulthood to embrace martyrdom for it.

Friends and comrades would tell me later when I was writing the book on martial law how each time they saw each other in the wilds of Isabela and elsewhere, they would marvel at the fact that they were still alive. To be able to reach 22, that took on the aspect of a miracle, or sublime accomplishment.

Some others did not lose their idealism even though they stopped believing in the ideology, or philosophy, that drove them to lengths of self-sacrifice. I'd like to think I am one of them. I do believe now that there is much truth to the saying that if you are not a Marxist before 30, you have no sense of humanity, but that if you remain so after 30, you have lost it. Other people have their reasons for losing their belief in that belief, I have mine. But that is another story altogether, and a quite arduous one.

Suffice it to say here that though I have done so, I have not lost faith in the spirit that animated our idealism, or in some of the things I learned then. Chief of those things is the motto, "Serve the people." A simple command, or idea, which some politicians have tried to appropriate, like the devil quoting Scripture for their purposes, but one that resonates with a whole universe of meaning. I have tried-not always scrupulously-to live my life by it. It was our battle cry then and it remains my battle cry now. It was the essence of what it meant to live life epically, to live life generously, to live life to the full.

But the priest who said our passionate embrace of our cause was a fleeting thing, a romance in the night that would wilt in the sun, proved execrably, or sublimely, right too.

Many of us did lose their idealism, their ability, or willingness, to live life by the measure of history, for many reasons. Some did so from fear, or from the sudden blow of reality, and I cannot say I blame them. Martial law was a most fearful thing. Overnight, activism lost its glamour, to be replaced by a combination of uncertainty and drudgery. The drudgery had to do, as those who lived in underground houses will tell you, with learning how to husband scant resources like a wife along with learning lessons in political economy and survival skills.

Activism was no longer an invitation to a colorful love life, which wearing a Che Guevarra cap and T-shirt fetched on the side, it was an invitation to a black-and-white death. The prospect of being caught and killed, or worse tortured, became very real, and most of us did not particularly have a yen for it.

Others went so far as to be drawn to the other side, the Dark Side, to borrow a phrase from popular culture. Marcos, like Darth Vader, though he was infinitely smaller, had always employed a policy of seducing the best and brightest, but had lost out before martial law to the competition posed by activism. This was so particularly in the campuses, where even moderate activists like Edgar Jopson, scorned him completely. After martial law, he managed to lure those who had gotten used to the limelight to come to his side with offers of ways by which they might do some good for their country. Ironically, as things do turn out in this tragicomic world, it was the radicals who fell prey more easily to this pitch, or trap. The moderates, like Jopson, would turn radical and embrace the austere life-and violent death-of a revolutionary. But that too is another story.

Most others just drifted away. There is a saying that love makes time flit by, and time makes love flit by. You substitute revolution for love and it works just as well. Revolution makes time flit by, and time makes revolution flit by. There is something about time that cures afflictions like love and cholera, and passions like heroism and revolution.

Or put another way, the greatest barrier to greatness, as Nikos Kazantzakis warned in his book "The Last Temptation of Christ" is not the terror posed by the enemy, or his subtle seductions. It is the temptation posed by-Ordinary Life. The comfortable, unruffled, uneventful life, the life of settling down, eking a living, and keeping a family together. That is the greatest temptation of all.

The same bourgeois life that presumably failed to measure up to the human capacity to make history, which the activists criticized bitterly, became their biggest Waterloo. Many of us grew up only to discover its infinite pleasures, and the rest is history. That is to say, they are history.

That was how we responded to the challenges posed by our own time. But as I've said again and again, each generation confronts its own challenges, each generation generates its own responses to them. The generation before us, a generation steeped in war-they were your age when the Second World War broke out, and the Japanese ruled the country with the bayonet for three years-had their world, and they met its demands in their own way. You have your world, one unhappily that rumbles also with the distant thunder of war, and must meet its demands in your own way.

Unlike many of my former friends and comrades, who see only one destination and one way of reaching it, I see many desirable destinations and no end of ways to get there. Frankly, I cannot imagine how anyone who claims to have gained a "historical outlook" or learned to look at the world as an unfolding, and indeed interactive, story cannot have developed the imagination to see that history, like God, moves in mysterious ways. I myself have never believed in a generation's right to tell, or compel, those who come after them to follow exactly in their footsteps. I've only believed in a generation's right to tell, or persuade, those who come after them to share the spirit of their struggle, or adventure, the better to embark on their own.

I do not know how you will respond to your time and place, I do not know how you ought to respond to your time and place. But I do know that you have a monumental role to play in turning this country into a better place to live in. The youth, as Jose Rizal said, is the hope of the motherland, but it is so in more ways than are encapsulated in routine paeans to it. You are the hope of Inang Bayan in that you possess a near-monopoly of the one thing that has driven history to march with bigger strides everywhere in the world, that has brought nations and peoples to reach out for things that lie beyond their grasp.

You have boundless idealism.

Unlike the priest I mentioned earlier, I do not hope, or pray, that this will be a fleeting stage in your life, that you will wake up, or grow down, to the kind of maturity that those of us who forgot what it meant to serve the people did. On the contrary, I can only hope that the spirit of expansiveness and magnanimity burns brightly in your breast for a long time, perhaps even forever. If I must cajole or exhort you to do anything, it is only that you cling to that idealism with all the tenacity that you have, with all the desperation you can muster. That idealism is the hope of Inang Bayan as a piece of driftwood is the hope of a man drowning in the sea.

That is what this country is, a man drowning in the sea, to which your idealism is debris from a wreckage offering life. We all know the grim figures: Fully 19 percent of our population has given up on this country and wants to live abroad. That is a startling statistic, a fifth of the population wanting to abandon the land of their birth, which owes to many things. Not least of them is the way we keep bungling everything, including our most glorious achievements. We were the first country to mount "people power," a resplendent act by a people to end a tyranny without bloodshed which other nations have been at pains to imitate. Yet we were the first country as well to mount anarchic rule after that. Or one characterized by the same pillage that went before it. I will not bother to say anything about how the main beneficiary of Edsa II bungled it more cruelly. That is plain for all to see.

Come to think of it, we were also the first Asian nation to fight for independence from colonial rule and the last to achieve it. Some even argue-very persuasively-that we haven't done so to this day. But that is still another story.

It takes idealism of colossal proportions, the kind you have, to not despair in the face of this.

Not all of youthful idealism in fact comes from innocence, or naivete, or from not knowing any better. A great deal of it comes from 20-20 vision, or from knowing better than everybody else.

The awe-inspiring characteristic of youthful idealism is its unfettered optimism, its sense that life will turn out for the better. But that optimism does not merely come from the blind belief that things will turn out well by themselves, it comes the belief that people can work together to make things better. It does not owe to resignation, or to reliance on providence, natural or divine, or to cosmic benignity, or karma. It owes to glimpsing the possibilities of the human potential, to recognizing that there is nothing we cannot do if we put our minds, and hearts, to it. Nothing is impossible if we put our souls and bodies to it.

This in turn owes to a sense of personal obligation. I beg to disagree with those who presume that youthful idealism naturally expresses itself in irresponsibility or recklessness, being prone to bursts of radicalism or extremism. The youth will always tug at the limits of the possible, true, but they will also always do so by putting their lives on the line. Alongside the strenuous demands they make upon the world is the strenuous demands they make upon themselves. Demands that take on the aspect of heroism and self-sacrifice.

Our generation demanded that the world be one where equality, fairness, and justice hold sway, and many of us devoted our lives to pursuing it. Our generation demanded at least that an iniquity like martial law, or more generally the tide of tyranny that was engulfing the world, be pushed back, and many of us gave up our lives for it. It is to the youth that John F. Kennedy's famous aphorism finds the most heedful ears, or minds: Ask not what this country can do for you, ask what you can do for this country."

The Collegian said it even better: "Kung hindi ngayon, kailan pa? Kung hindi tayo, sino pa?" If not now, when? If not we, who else to do it? The equation is not: Our future is our collective responsibility, so let others do it. It is: The future is our collective responsibility, so I must do it. That is not recklessness or intemperance. That is being responsible in the extreme, seeing the task at hand not as somebody else's business but one's own. That is not looking at the world through rose-colored glasses. That is looking at the world with clarity of vision, seeing the world not just for what it is but for what it can be.

And finally, there is the undiluted purity of that idealism. Only the youth will not ask when confronted with the challenge of working a miracle, "What's in it for me?" Only the youth will not ask when faced with the need to protest an iniquity, "How does this advance my interests?" That is especially luminous in a day and age when people tend to discover virtue in adversity. The devil himself, as Shakespeare said, may quote Scripture to suit his purposes, and in this country he often does.

Faced with expelling a colleague who is accused of various crimes, the congressmen have suddenly discovered the virtue of nationalism, protesting the extradition of Mark Jimenez as American interference in Philippine judicial processes. When they have not uttered a peep about Americans trampling all over the country in the name of war games. Even Lucio Tan has discovered the virtue of patriotism from being unable to compete with foreign airlines on an even field, protesting the apparent abandonment of national interest posed by an open skies policy.

Albert Camus once said that a rebel does not just say "No" to something, he also says "Yes" to something. By protesting an evil, he professes a good. But only a true rebel does that, he opposes iniquity only because he embraces justice-or what he presumes to be so. Other people protest iniquity only either because they happen to be at the sorry end of it or because it is to their advantage to do so. They say no to an injustice not because they embrace justice but because a particular injustice poses a most inconvenient obstacle to their personal aggrandizement.

That is what separates the youth from them. You can at least be sure that when the youth protests, it protests not from an overriding concern to promote itself but from a compelling desire to, well, serve the people. It is not only the youth of course that does that, but it is the youth that does so in its purest, most incandescent, form. And certainly it is only the youth as a general category, or sector of society, that can do that. It is the youth that has the monumental capacity to be altruistic, to be magnanimous, to not think of self first and last. "Ang mamatay nang dahil sa iyo" is the vow we make every time we sing the National Anthem. Unfortunately, only the youth probably means it, or can live up-or die up-to it.

That is the one thing I would beg you to cling to with the passion of a lover, or the desperation of a drowning man. Because it is also true, as the priest in our school said, that that idealism can go like romance in the moonlight that withers with the sun, the first casualty in what is unhappily called "growing up." There are many pitfalls along the way. In this country more than others, those pitfalls are everywhere waiting to waylay you.

Chief of them is the criteria of success this society will inexorably impose on you. Criteria that have to do with how much wealth and power you have accumulated. You have neither, you will be judged a failure. You want neither, you will be deemed obscure.

It is easy to say at this point that you are not going to care about that judgment, you will never surrender principle for gain, you will never live your life the way others want you to. It is not so very easy when you graduate and come home to Christmas reunions, and family gatherings, and get to be compared-never coarsely of course but by hint and innuendo-to the cousin who is doing so well as a young official of a bank, or as the brain trust of a prominent, but corrupt, politician. And who now sports a new car, which is parked right outside the gate in all its gleaming glory, a "classy" boyfriend or girlfriend (defined as coming from an exclusive school), and a house and car to boot. Then will your true mettle be tested.

Equally, as you grow older and are thrust into the so-called "real world," your idealism will be challenged by what passes for realism, or pragmatism. You insist that senators vote on bills according to their conscience and not according to blind loyalties, and you will be laughed at as being na?ve. You insist that public officials use taxpayers' money for the taxpayers and not for kin and friends, apart from themselves, and you will be belittled for being innocent. You push for a candidate who is fairly honest and upright over one who is patently inept or crooked, but who is immensely popular, and you will be snickered at as living in another world. This "realism," enforced through family ties, through fraternity loyalties, through circles of power, calls on you not just to understand the rules of perfidy but to play by them.

But-and this is the terrifying but-slowly, unwittingly, unconsciously, you could start yielding to its subtle allures. What is terrifying about it is that you are never really aware when it happens. Or indeed that it is happening at all. There is a scene in the movie "The Paper" (which I hope you'll see, if you haven't done so already) that puts this truth very funnily but cleverly. Michael Keaton is the editor of a tabloid and never has time for his wife, played by Marisa Tomei. Not even when she is about to give birth to their first child. Exasperated, Tomei confronts him at one point with this hypothetical question: "What if someone suddenly barges through our door, puts a gun to my head, and says, 'Either I blow her brains out or I blow up your office.' Which will you choose?"

Keaten expostulates: What kind of question is that? Of course he'll always choose her over anything. But that hypothetical scene, he says, will never happen.

Tomei jumps on that: Precisely, she says. That is her very point. That scene will never happen. The choice is never dramatic, a man holding a gun to your wife's-or your own-head and making you choose between your wife or something else, your soul or something else. The Choice with a capital "C" rarely happens in life. What does happen is choices in lower case and plural form. The big dilemma never comes, what comes are small, unobtrusive, seemingly trivial dilemmas about whether one has to keep a dinner appointment with one's wife or follow up a lead, whether one has the time to watch a son's game or meet with an important client.

The bargain is never really Faustian, with the devil offering you all the joys of the seven cardinal sins in exchange for your soul. It is invariably Lilliputian, decisions now and then about bending the rules to help kin or friend, exceptions now and then because of a ninong's pakiusap. It's not the big capitulation you have to fear, it's the small concessions. Those are what really tell, or take their toll, on you. The blurring of vision here and there that leads to blindness, the deafness to entreaty here and there that leads to callousness, the suspension of conscience here and there that leads to the deadening of the soul. It's the daily, steady, incessant accumulation of all this that turns you into the thing you once fought against, and you don't even notice it.

As we found out for ourselves, the real enemy is not the bayonets of martial law, it is the easy seductions of Everyday Life. As you will find out for yourselves, the real trap is not the tricks a devious world plays on you, it's the tricks your tortuous mind plays on you.

And finally, there is another word for na?ve, or innocent, or unrealistic that you will constantly encounter if you should, by an exercise of will, or fortitude, or vigilance, decide to stand fast by the unclouded conscience of your youth, by the blinding light of the first flush of your life. It is the word "loser." The word will probably never by expressly used, but it will be the subtext of the judgment that will be rendered upon you. It will lurk like a snake in the tall grass underneath the faint praise that will be showered upon you for choosing a different path, for taking a low-profile job that serves the people rather than a high-powered one that serves yourself.

The late Martin Ocampo, a judge, was such a "loser." His name will not ring a bell, he got his 15 minutes of fame only as the judge in the case of the rape-slay of the Chong sisters. He lived alone in a small apartment in Cebu City-his family, I believe, had emigrated to the US-which was barely furnished. He did not even own a TV set, he did not own a refrigerator. His wealth consisted only of books, like Feodor Dostoevsky's "The Brothers Karamazov," which he read dutifully and avidly. Books not just about law but about justice, books not just about the penal code but about the moral one. His passion for those books reflected in the wisdom of his decisions.

Nobody called him a loser, not to his face anyway. But that was implicit in the way his community treated him. Nobody made him ninong to a wedding: Who would want an impoverished judge to serve as patron to young newlyweds? Nobody invited him to grand balls, where the well-heeled wheeled-and-dealed and toasted to one another's health. Why would they want someone whose very existence indicted them? All this Ocampo met only with his vast amusement. It did not bother him that he stuck out like a sore thumb in a world that expected judges to stride into the world regally, surrounding themselves with the signs and symbols of power. He wrote instead with biting humor about the way we lived in an upside down world, missing the point about what was important in life.

He died a couple or so years ago, but his memory continues to haunt me. As I hope it will haunt you too. It is part of our missing the point about what is important in life that he is not now remembered or toasted as one of the outstanding citizens we've ever had. One who lived a grand and heroic life by living a simple and honest one. One who lived a full and vibrant life by living an obscure and impoverished one. The day you espy the luminous purity of that life is the day you cling to your youthful passions with the constancy of a love-struck heart. The day you glimpse the dazzling heroism of that life is the day you unlock the secrets of dreams with the sureness of a conjurer's hand. The day you see through the incandescent fury of that life is the day you get the point about life, amid its false leads and subterfuges.

Sometimes, losers are the biggest winners of all.

-CDQ

Comments

  • wunderkindwunderkind Member PExer
    i clipped this article from the newspaper and downloaded from the website.

    Very well said.
  • ruger97ruger97 Punk in Drublic PExer
    shofixti = Mr. De Quiros?

    asteeg!!!

    I like the article very much... it shows that people are sensitive to what others are feeling... I personally experience in my day to day life the pressures that society put on me, struggling to keep my knees straight against stigmas imposed, expectations, etc. Thank God I am still on the road that I believe I will eventually go... thank God for this article that told me what I am doing is right!
  • jaegerjaeger j?germeister PExer
    shofixti = Mr. De Quiros?

    ........:handsdown:........
  • ShofixtiShofixti Frustrated Painter PExer
    :ayaw: How I wish! :lol:

    I liked the article, I just wanted to share it. It made me realize that I, myself have lost part of that idealism which I was so proud of during my college days.
  • ruger97ruger97 Punk in Drublic PExer
    hope you'll find it again... I lost it once too... opting for a job for the sake of practicality betraying my real love, my real profession in the process... made a quick recovery and with the guidance of the Almighty I am on my way again...albeit slowly BUT SURELY.

    It's not the distance or how long it will take... how much hardship there is to get there... AS LONG AS YOU GET THERE.

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