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Only when we listen

/ 12:43 AM May 04, 2017

The Philippines may not find all the solutions to each of its problems, but it is better to listen to every story behind what makes each citizen concerned with different issues. From human rights to territorial assertions, we know too well that there is so much to do.

That listening is more of an obligation than an option was a strong point I learned from this year’s TEDxADMU, which was held on March 12 at Newport Performing Arts Theater. TEDxADMU is an annual event organized by Ateneo de Manila University in partnership with the nonprofit TED; it gathers audiences and credible speakers of various topics to “spread ideas that inspire and inform the Philippine community.”

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Having watched TED talks online and in my communication classes back in college, I felt happy that I was able to watch a live one for the first time. The diverse lineup of speakers made the event feel more worthwhile than going to a movie or a concert. The substance in every speech was something that will stay in my mind for a long time, if not for the rest of my life.

The first person who delivered a talk was British journalist Thomas Graham. Having written about poverty in the Philippines and meeting Gawad Kalinga founder Tony Meloto, Graham talked about his experience of living in a GK community for a year. He was amazed that the people, who had nothing and who did not know him in the first place, welcomed him as if he were a family member.

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Graham highlighted his experience of riding a jeepney, learning to say “para po” and whacking the roof as a sign for the driver to pull over. The concept of “bayanihan” was present in the simple act of passing a passenger’s fare to another passenger or to the driver. His talk reminded me that there is always a sense of teamwork in our communities.

The second speaker was brand and marketing expert Manolo Gonzales. He began by describing how his mother used to grimace at the rock songs he listened to, like “The Final Countdown.” Now that he is older, he said, he understood how his mother felt because he himself could not fully appreciate the repetitive lyrics in the songs that millennials are listening to. He even wondered why the song “#Selfie” got over 400 million views on YouTube when, he said, it did not make any sense at all. His whole speech was like a playlist from memory lane to the present. I realized that, indeed, changes come with every generation. And they come fast.

Third was Google industry manager and social media expert Jeoffrey “Jolly” Estaris. Unlike any other talk that I have heard, his was grounded on points that the listeners should forget instead of remember. So his points turned out to be memorable (I just realized that it was effective to tell people what not to do for them to do it anyway.)

Estaris showed some factors on what makes a certain video trend or gather millions of views, even without investing much money in them, like the last point he presented—the only thing that we should not forget: the basic human truth and sincerity in the story. He presented things that netizens should forget in telling stories, like forgetting a time limit (so pressure would not get in the way of the good feeling that comes with the process of telling a story) and forgetting story “telling” (which means it is always better to show than tell and better to describe rather than state). When viewers will be able to relate and put themselves in the shoes of the characters they see, the storytelling becomes successful because you know that the story matters.

The fourth speaker was Mylene Abiva, president and CEO of educational materials manufacturer FELTA Multimedia Inc. She started off by asking her listeners whether they find physics difficult, and said she scratches her head on the subject, too. She presented robotics as a fun and better way of learning physics. She said Lego blocks can help children build their own structures, and students can also create their own robots or machines as added assistance to their future work. She emphasized that robotics is for everyone regardless of personal background or social status, as she has been helping underprivileged children in studying robotics.

Fifth was inventor Paolo Espiritu, one of the engineers who worked on Diwata-1, the Philippines’ first microsatellite. He talked about how the Philippines was not at all left behind in science. There are alternative forms of learning like virtual reality, which includes the help of smartphones to view a simulated 3-D environment. Virtual reality can also extend to the professions of medicine and law, especially in operations or delivery and public speaking with a virtual audience. It even helps in teaching kids simple road safety tips like walking on pedestrian lanes.

Espiritu’s speech reminded me that some dreams only seem to be unachievable until I find other practical ways to learn how to reach them.

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Sixth was architect Angelo Mañosa. The core of his speech was the bahay kubo. He talked about its essential parts, like the vents in the roof where air may exit as new air enters through the windows. He emphasized that our ancestors did not need assistance from any architect just to come up with the practical and convenient structure of the bahay kubo—which is still used as a basis for design to this day. It made me realize that some concepts remain standing even as time goes by.

Last but not the least, lawyer and women’s rights advocate Cathleen Caga-anan took the stage. She reminded the audience of the often-forgotten Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. She said that while many of us grew up in our present religion, we still have an option to practice another religion, or not have a religion at all. She also cited Article 24, the right to rest and leisure. While many Filipinos choose hard work most of the time, it also pays to choose rest once in a while.

Questions about how the country will be able to survive and handle its problems may not find all the answers. But, idealistic as it may seem, each Filipino’s perspective and story deserve a spotlight. We learn how to empathize with people far from our personal situations and reframe our mindsets toward our shared future only when we listen.
Yara Lukman, 21, a communication graduate of Ateneo de Zamboanga University, works in the Inquirer newsroom.

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