Dealing with the uncertain in 2017
Fr. Horacio de la Costa, SJ, who was my teacher in college, delivered a timeless homily on the Nativity five decades ago explaining why we need to nurture faith in the midst of the unexpected: “But that is the way God gives. His gifts are never quite what we expect but always something better, something far better than we hope for… Now more than ever, living in times so troubled, facing a future so uncertain, we need such faith. We need it for ourselves and we need to give it to others.”
Resilience in a time like ours. He could very well be speaking of today’s world, battered by ill tidings and beset by anxiety as to what tomorrow could bring. Take the Bicol region. Typhoon “Nina” pounded the provinces on Christmas Day, disrupting family reunions, celebrations, and life itself. But did the people take it lying down? They just showed up the next day, and soldiered on, as Naga City’s People’s Council did. They banked on their experience of braving storm after storm in the past, making them among the most resilient people in the land.
It is this gift that our people in diverse corners of the country need more than ever: the capacity to overcome superior odds, to triumph in spite of trials and tragedies. To have faith in ourselves, not to give up despite the setbacks; to learn lessons from our losses, and not to be intimidated by fear and the language of hate whenever or wherever it comes from, or however it is delivered.
We are Filipinos who know how to take the good with the bad, able to withstand the blows and stand up time and again because we are able to discern what is right and what needs to be done even in the dead of night.
Hope even while we struggle. In our embattled world today, where we are confronted at every turn by false promises as well as false messiahs, fake news or half-truths, it is a timely reminder that we find hope not after the struggle but precisely even while we struggle.
Some among us may have lost homes due to flood, fire, or storm; lost jobs due to the uncertainty of the times; or worse, lost loved ones due to terminal illness or some unforeseen tragedy. We have a responsibility to stand shoulder to shoulder with those confronting uncertainty and the unexpected, to share hope where there is none, and to encourage others to be brave because giving up is just a step away.
If we are to build a unified nation, we have to learn to dialogue with respect, explore paths best trodden together, and give people time to heal before the men who are sworn to protect us pull the trigger.
A story begs to be shared. In 1980, in the first-ever Amnesty International mission to Colombia in a visit to leaders of the Consejo Regional Indigena del Cauca (The Indigenous Regional Council of Cauca, CRIC) who were unjustly imprisoned in the Popayan city jail, I spoke with one of the indigenous peasant leaders still with fresh bullet wounds in his flesh. I asked him if there was still meaning in his struggle: “Aun tiene sentido su lucha?” And he told me, in a manner that reverberates to this day, that dawn comes even after darkest night: “Aun amanece en la noche mas oscura!”
Joy in the journey. Filipinos love to travel, to seek out the sea or go places where the clime is cooler. The secret of the happy traveler is to find joy not so much in reaching the destination as in celebrating the surprises that interrupt or, in a manner of speaking, disrupt one’s journey.
Somehow, that has been our country’s experience in history—imperfect and unfinished quests, as demonstrated by our experiences with people power and their aftermath.
In a sense, this is what the building of a better country is all about. We cannot wait to celebrate at the end of our journey toward a less imperfect democracy. We will manage to find joy even while we endeavor to put the pieces in place in a process that never seems to end. Thus, the imperative: Hand over the baton to the next generation, then encourage, inspire and empower them to craft a future they can own.
Courage in the midst of adversity. The year 2017 will certainly bring more than its share of challenges. With more leaders around the globe in this age of uncertainty exhibiting Trump-like brashness or arrogance, or brandishing disrespect and disregard as a double-edged sword, we will certainly be sailing into uncharted waters.
We will need to design inclusive, intelligent, imaginative approaches simultaneously in several critical areas: crafting a more independent yet collaborative foreign policy; growing the economy while reducing levels of poverty and inequality; ensuring the security and safety of our communities; and addressing the sense of fear that has pervaded the alleys of urban poor settlements where underemployed youth abound as the “war on drugs” resumes its indiscriminate rampage, while pushing back against a crippling culture of impunity.
And, what may be a proper response as we face the unexpected: to be brave in the midst of adversity. To speak out if one truly believes that “the emperor has no clothes.” To say no to untruths, and to challenge so-called “facts” when they are not backed by solid evidence, research, or documentation. We cannot allow our lives to be held hostage by spin doctors or those who withhold truth from people.
To be brave is a timeless Filipino tradition that predates the posture of politicians who, without shame, change their parties or colors with the change of regimes. Now is the time for our youth to show the way to their elders that there is a better path to build a future that they deserve.
In a piece titled “Jewels of the Pauper,” the Jesuit historian De la Costa identified three of our country’s distinctive gifts: our faith, our music, and the sound of our laughter.
I may perhaps add a fourth: our youth, and the power they possess when they draw strength from the depths of their soul. It is our young in the end who will inherit the land, and it is their moral courage that will carry the day and define the country that we can become even while we face an uncertain future.
Prof. Ed Garcia, one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution, taught at the University of the Philippines and Ateneo de Manila University. He worked with Amnesty International and International Alert in London for over two decades and now serves as a consultant for the formation of scholar-athletes at FEU Diliman.
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