The ordinary is the people
It has been a quiet week for me, intentionally so, and partly because an old classmate and good friend passed away so suddenly. Intentionally so I can have a respite from reading about the conflicts and controversies plaguing the world, intentionally so I can see the flowers and have the time to smell them. Death, too, that comes like a thief in the night can be quite unsettling. Beyond the personal pain from losing a friend is the grim reminder that life can be quite deceptive, making us spend extra time on the superficial and neglecting that which means much more.
Because I write and share my articles with a greater public, I try to be current with important developments that do or can affect our lives as a people. The challenge is that I have to do my best to stay objective while monitoring what is going on around the world. Prejudice and partisanship are bad for the health, bringing stress and acidity at the very least. It is difficult to be clinical in viewing delicate situations; somehow, they provoke our emotions to act up. When I consider the drug situation, from the millions addicted, the misery of their families, to the hundreds of billions involved in the illegal trade and the kind of corruption that money can buy, I am afraid. When I read about how China is claiming ownership of the seas and islands surrounding our nation, I get upset, but afraid as well. When I hear about soldiers and policemen being killed by rebels and terrorists, and vice-versa, I feel sad and afraid. Yes, there are concerns we should all be talking about, then sharing our best ideas and talents to address them.
But, of course, I end up being very hesitant to provoke more attention on matters that trigger so much prejudice and hate. Instead of solving our problems, we fight over them. The problems do not only not get solved, they are worsened by the acrimony of the environment. Yet, we cannot be like ostriches that hide our heads under the ground. Because certain problems penetrate our safety and threaten our future, we should confront them. There lies my dilemma. Writing to inform and encourage people towards resolving common problems attracts not only trolls (are they real or only smartphones?) but the deeply partisan and their emotional outbursts.
To savor the better things in life can mean seeking and being in the company of friends, which I try to do at least once a week. We have this fun groups of senior citizens who were once in our lives classmates in either grade school, high school or college. We have lunch every Friday, “pancitan” we call it because it usually is in some fast food, Chinese restaurant. Of course, when old friends gather, most of whom are retired from private or public service, it is inevitable that we also talk about political or controversial matters. But in the many years we have been doing so, I cannot recall friendships being broken, or civility transgressed. It might be that we are older than most people and have seen how the useless and insignificant had destroyed relationships. But whatever we are doing, we are doing it right because we enjoy our time together, every time.
One of us, Vic Hilado, had severe stomach pains last Friday, missed our pancitan, and was brought instead to the emergency room of a hospital near his residence. In less than 24 hours, he was gone. Just like that. Since then to his inurnment the other day, I did not want to ride the roller coaster of politics and controversies, no matter how important they may be. I thought that the death of a friend, a good man who quietly served others in handling the feeding program sponsored by the class and facilitated visits to the infirmary of aged and sick priests in our alma matter, deserved more than just a visit to his wake. I believed Vic was important enough to appreciate and to learn from. Vic was like most Filipinos, just as ordinary, unseen, unheard by the public, but did more than his share as a family man, as a citizen.
Vic’s life, and death, remind me not only of my own mortality but how the ordinary is truly what society is all about. Yes, when we talk of the people, of the nation, we talk of the ordinary. The population is made up of the ordinary, of the 99%. Freedom and democracy are about the ordinary, and the only value of the extraordinary is when they serve the well-being of the ordinary. The sad thing, though, is not only that the 1% believe they are superior to the 99% (and it does not help that they own as much or more than the 99%), but that the 99% also believe they are inferior to the 1%.
In truth, the ordinary are superior to the exception because of sheer numbers, 99% versus 1%. But 99% remains superior only when taken together. One by one, the exceptional 1% is superior to their counterpart, one by one. That is why the traditional, historical manner of governing by the 1% is by dividing and ruling the 99%. It was true thousands of years ago, it is true today. And that is why I keep pointing out how partisanship weakens us, because partisanship is the main expression of a divided-and-ruled 99%.
Unless we flip the pyramid, unless we value the bottom higher than the top, unless we find enough unity to make numbers matter more than power or wealth, then life will go on in largely the same way. We must begin, therefore, to remember that the ordinary is the people, the country, and the common good is the good of the ordinary. Most of all, it is our togetherness towards common goals that gives the power to the many, not our petty contests against one another. Then, the first shall be last, and the last shall be first.
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