There are very few people I can talk to about my dreams. Very few who won’t think I’m nuts, careless, arrogant, or a combination of the three, or who won’t respond with a veiled or not so veiled version of what happens when Icarus flies too close to the sun.
In my culture, people give lip service to faith and courage, yet raise their children to be afraid of God (versus being awed by Him), afraid of man, afraid of risk, afraid of the possible failure that risk brings, and afraid of the sure shame failure brings. In my culture, the wise man doesn’t rock the boat (even if that boat is sinking and people are asleep), doesn’t question the community (even if these communities require complete accountability from him), doesn’t consider doubt because doubt is automatically unbelief. But without shaking things up, everything settles into a nice peaceful bottom like silt. Peaceful, yet at the bottom. Without questions there can be no understanding, and what kind of a community preaches that we must be accountable to it, pay its taxes, and obey its laws, yet never question it? What kind of government promotes transparency without it being transparent?
In my culture, we don’t really want wisdom. We want security. We don’t really want progress. We want comfort. We don’t really want learning. We want dogma. We want superstitions that tell us that if we do this, we get that, no matter how life disproves this simplistic cause and effect.
Because in my culture, what we want to achieve most is our version of a lifestyle sweet spot, a standard of living that is religiously, traditionally, socially, and economically comfortable.
And anyone who decides differently, anyone who questions, anyone who blazes his own trail, anyone who says “This sucks. I’m going to change things.” Is nuts, careless, arrogant, or a combination of the three.
I like the progression of my morning, rising from the floor on to my knees, dedicating the day in prayer, then rising to my feet to take the day on. Despite the chronic lack of sleep, I can feel more and more creative energy, more strength to execute, and a clarity of vision for the future. It’s as if, one by one, the words of the past are coming to pass, and whatever difficulties that were holding me back, whatever situations and mindsets, are being torn away like Eustace’s scales. And though the process may be more painful, longer, and less glamorous than thought, the freshness of this new season is freeing.
Freedom. I love that word. I consider it, along with words such as love, beauty, and character, to be terribly misdefined, and so misunderstood, and so misapplied.
In today’s world:
Love is love until it’s no longer easy, when it’s difficult and you have to work for it, it’s not love. Love is proven by how we feel. If we don’t feel good about it, get out. Love should happen effortlessly, you don’t need to try.
Beauty is how you look. It is your appearance. Yes, you need inner beauty, but so that you’ll glow and be radiant, and so people will think you’re a beautiful person. Proof of your beauty is when people recognize you, have a crush on you, put you on a magazine, include you in a list.
Character has become about appearances too. You have character if people recognize you have character. So it’s important that people perceive you to be strong, or hard working, or smart, or wise, or loving or even whatever dysfunction, just as long as it’s “truly you”. In this social age, it matters less who you truly are but who you project to be.
Which brings me to the word Freedom.
On the way to visit my parents on vacation, I had a conversation with their driver, Manny, who has been with our family for maybe two decades or more. It was about politicians, the concluded elections, and governance. It was so nice to listen to the questions of someone truly interested in understanding national issues and the structures that determine the course of these issues. I can’t say most of the people I know understand what a government truly is, how and why democracy is different, what it means to have a constitution.
The sad truth is, most of the people I know don’t care to know. We’ve relegated knowledge to a few intelligent people.
What do most people have?
Opinions. Thoughts and comments that are more influenced by the thoughts and comments of others rather than study and reflection.
Again, we have a mob – and a mob who “feels” more than “thinks” is dangerous.
I like feelings just as much as the next guy, but it can’t be all about feelings.
I explained to Mang Manny that during the French Revolution there was so much chaos, but out of this chaos came three ideals that would form the foundation of Democracy:
Liberty. Equality. Fraternity.
I told him in mostly Tagalog, “Today, we tend to claim so much of our liberty, our freedom to do whatever we want, when we want, how we want, why we want. Yet what efforts have we done to make sure our neighbour enjoys the safety and opportunity we do. What do we do to encourage equality, at least equality of justice under law? When we bribe the traffic officer we do not encourage equality. We encourage corruption: the mother of inequality. When we give token gifts to the beggar but do not more actively participate in the construction of strong values in families, social and private institutions, we do not encourage fraternity but self-interest.”
The whole time he kept saying, “Kaya pala. Kaya pala. Kaya pala.”
“No wonder. No wonder. No wonder.”
No wonder no one feels loved. We think the trick is to first love ourselves. How does a hungry person feed himself from within? How does one love oneself without taking from others?
This is why love must be given. If love is taken that’s stealing and rape. But if everyone is taught to love themselves, then who is left to give first?
How can we when people are falling in love and falling out of it depending on how we feel? We all know how feelings are. They’re a terrible foundation for this dream of life long commitment. We, the very people promoting and embracing words of love, are the very same people incapable of cultivating love beyond feelings.
No wonder no one feels beautiful. Is a person truly beautiful if so much effort is applied to attract? Are someone’s eyes really pretty if it takes contacts and painting techniques to bring them out? Are bodies really beautiful if they have to be cut open, sucked, arranged, and scar-lessly assembled? Do we really want our children to think that the definition of beauty is to live a life that is so outwardly focused with so much time and energy going into our physiques and clothes, and so little going to our souls. “As long as you look like this, you’re fine.” our actions tell our sons and daughters, even as our hearts and minds, the two things that help us live meaningfully, get by on a minimum diet of inspiring quotes from who knows where.
Never in the history of humanity has our self-worth rested so much on the opinions of strangers, strangers who form one general mob, a directionless wave. The mob has never been known to be intelligent. In fact, it is proven irrational. Yet we live in a way that draws so much validation from how well we match the mob. And our children will do likewise.
No wonder there’s so much insecurity. Everyone knows they’re not as good as they project. If you think you are, you’re deluded. Everyone knows our thoughts aren’t always pure or wise. Everyone knows our motives are generally selfish. Everyone knows that no one is perfect.
Yet, because perception is more important than true identity, no one will admit the need to change, to be corrected, to be forgiven. There can be no forgiveness if there is no sin after all.
If there is no sin, there is no forgiveness. If there is no forgiveness, there is no redemption. If there is no redemption, there is no reason to love because there is nothing to love. If there is no reason to love there is no perseverance. If there is no perseverance, there is no character.
If there is no character there is no hope.
Let us choose the unseen overhauling of our hearts over the visible recognition of man.
To put things very simply, as it is my goal to learn to write more succinctly, my thoughts on Independence Day are these:
Celebrate independence from oppression yet embrace the need for inter-dependence, for community, for generosity, for kindness, for forgiveness, for love.
Celebrate identity and our individuality yet embrace fraternity and equality. We are different yet we are on the same team and all are made worthy just the same.
Celebrate freedom and choice yet embrace prudence and wisdom. Seek to learn not just be entertained. Develop convictions not just opinions. Take a stand not a pose. Act on your beliefs don’t merely have opinions.