The elephant does not exist
I had a teacher in grade school. I don’t remember much about her save for one or two caustic memories seared in my brain. Once we were cooking in the school kitchen for EPP (Edukasyong Pantahanan at Pangkabuhayan) and had just finished cleaning up. It was an ungodly humid day, and I sat down because besides the heat wearing me out, I was an easily overwhelmed, sensitive child. People, feelings, more people, and more feelings—I couldn’t handle them very well at the time.
If I asked her about it today, she probably wouldn’t remember it and I would probably look like an idiot for bringing it up. But what she said to me, something maybe trivial on her end, had the sort of impact that she couldn’t have intended. Not if she were a reasonable and kind human being. Benefit of the doubt, I’d give her that, but you be the judge.
“You know, Abby, you have really big legs,” she said. “You should call them logs.”
I don’t know what exactly she was trying to achieve then. But I get it. My legs look like fat tree trunks. I’d say they look more like radishes, but okay.
There was awkward silence from my classmates beside me—maybe not what she was expecting. I was mortified. But she smiled, as if trying to get me to agree, and probably didn’t notice my reaction, like she wasn’t really looking at me. My first impulse, like most inflamed fifth-graders, was to fire back with an equally cutting insult, something that rhymed with the word “itch.” But I didn’t, and said it in my head instead. Maybe she was exhausted like the rest of us, but I knew that was no excuse.
What made her think that was an acceptable thing to say to a child who looked up to her as a wise and knowledgeable figure of authority? People with that power should, at the very least, with all their might, attempt not to compromise their students’ psychological wellbeing if they could help it. If.
The same teacher taught basic algebra (teachers could teach more than one subject). She accidentally mispronounced the word “inch” as “ench,” and instantly the class erupted in snickers. We were all little jerks in our own ways. But she didn’t let it slide. My best friend had to write an apology letter because she was the first one to laugh.
In retrospect, I can only laugh out of spite. It was a paradox. How could someone be so callous yet so sensitive? The hypocrisy was probably lost on her. I admit that I didn’t like her very much as a teacher, either.
The aftermath, though, was something else—something I could not laugh away. Other students had begun to think it was okay to pick on me behind my back. “Nicely,” if you will. She had opened a can of worms, paving the way for the continual torching of my self-esteem. As if it were okay, as if my feelings were invalid, and that I deserved nothing but weird looks and shame. And I had no right to fight back. I had no voice. That was my role—to be silent.
Ah, yes, the elephant in the room. How this character flaw could slip through unnoticed by a Christian school is beyond me. I eventually left that school for unrelated reasons, but ideally, the system was designed to hire only the best and most qualified in credentials and in character.
Some people should not be holding that kind of power, but some people hide and mask themselves too well—to the point of fooling the system. I don’t need to tell you much of the bigger, more problematic national parallel. You can figure that out yourselves.
How could this happen? How did we let it happen? I guess it’s a little too late for reflection. The damage is done and is being done to incalculable depths. We can only hope that the next time around, better people are hired, and the incompetent, problematic, and unable to see outside of their own experience are weeded out by the system that is currently in need of flushing out and remodeling.
Hoping that this will all blow over is a cop-out; leaving the country is, too. The first system was election. And if that hadn’t filtered out the flaws (as it should have, ideally), then the flaws must be called out, captured by an objective lens, and we should bravely clamor for them to be tended to by the people we elected to make good on their promises.
If we let people deny these flaws in the first place, allow them to sink down to jokes, lies, and self-aggrandizing, rubbish defenses and hypocrisy, well, that’s on us, too. We are not absolved of responsibility. We should not be passive even if the consequences do not affect us directly. We should not be silent. I know I shouldn’t have back then.
But we become numb. And we unwittingly lead ourselves to destruction, because all of us are accountable and bound to a common root. We laugh, yes, because the circus is entertaining in a you-can’t-make-this-up way; everyone seems to have no filter with their feet in their mouths, and we never run out of the proverbial popcorn.
But when is it enough? When will this end? And most importantly, will it ever be better than this?
“Everything’s fine. Stay out of it! We’re okay. We’re great. We’re Grand with a capital G. And that’s a fact! The elephant does not exist.”
“Yes it does. It’s right there, can’t you see?” I point out.
“I don’t see it,” one says, scowling.
“Neither do I.” another says in confident agreement.
“No, no, you need to look for it. To be aware of its presence, you must really, really look.”
“I don’t see it. Maybe all that reading’s making you hallucinate!” Everybody laughs.
A small, feeble voice says, “I can see it.” But it’s drowned out by laughter and ridicule.
“You need to look at it from an angle you haven’t seen before. Stop with the navel-gazing and actually look!”
“Bah! You’re just a whiny millennial. You’re clearly making this up for attention. You’re probably a paid hack, too.”
“Are you high on something? You-Know-Who wouldn’t like that. He’s gonna have a word with you,” someone says, snickering with relish.
I think, “You’d like that, wouldn’t you?” But I don’t say it out loud. Can’t do that, no.
The sad reality is that the elephant truly cannot exist for some. They are too far gone, too blinded for reason.
Abby Yee, 19, is a computer science student at the University of the Philippines Diliman.
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