What do we tell our children?
This is the question I’ve been hearing for the last few days from parents and teachers. A large number of youth — a lot of them being first-time voters — had participated in this election wholeheartedly: attending rallies, joining civic and advocacy groups, and participating in house-to-house campaigns. After the general listlessness and meaninglessness experienced during the pandemic, it seemed that the youth was hungry for purpose and a source of hope. They saw in the Leni campaign the hope that, yes, they can effect change in the world. That, yes, things can be better. They recognized this as a monumental fight for goodness and, thus, they poured all their passion onto this election.
What our youth bitterly learned, unfortunately, is that goodness doesn’t always win, at least not in each battle. The wave of collective shock, disbelief, anger, despair, and hopelessness on social media was so palpable. The results gave our children very mixed messages: Why should they work hard on their studies when apparently qualifications don’t matter? Why should they practice honesty when dishonesty helps you win? More than any other election in modern times, the despair and grief were so overwhelming that the community of mental health professionals were scrambling to offer grief and social support services, similar to how we would typically respond to typhoon and earthquake disasters. I certainly don’t remember this need being so acute in previous elections. Up to now, requests are still coming in to open more avenues for psychosocial support. This grief, by the way, is not something to be mocked — it is a sign of how much they cared about the fate of the nation. You cannot fault them for that.
The real tragedy is that we have elected leaders who cannot serve as our moral leaders. Parents and teachers are struggling to instill values, such as honesty, respect, and kindness, onto our youth because the behaviors of our public figures and leaders constantly undermine them. How can we teach our sons to respect women when candidates were putting female supporters on their laps and kissing them on stage? How can we promote respectful communication when our own public officials regularly spew foul language?
Moral ascendancy used to matter in this country. Exemplary citizens and public servants help give our children a benchmark of what to strive for. “When I grow up, I want to be just like ___.” We want role models that inspire our children (and ourselves) to do things to make our world a better place. What happens when our leaders fail to qualify as role models? Lack of moral ascendancy leads to a moral drift. When the world is topsy-turvy and we feel that doing the right thing no longer matters, we get jaded and cynical. We drift and become directionless. We start to lose our sense of meaning behind our efforts. We ask ourselves, “what’s the point?” At this stage, people are at the biggest risk of losing hope and giving up.
What do we do when we feel we are drifting toward hopelessness? We must reanchor ourselves. It is always a gamble to anchor on the outcome of our intent and actions. Things can easily not go our way, and we risk letting go of hope, something that we crucially need to bounce back. Instead, it is a safer bet to anchor on our principles. As long as we stick to our principles, we can never really lose. They may have won the seats, but they lost their sense of self in the process. Those who lost, but kept true to who they are, can come out of this with their integrity intact.
So what do we tell our children? We tell our children that we did the right thing. We tell them that winning doesn’t determine the worth of our actions. We tell them that your principles are always worth fighting for—they will remind us who we are and what we stand for especially in confusing times like these. We tell them that leaders—even the ones we rooted for—should not be followed blindly and that being good citizens means we do what is in the best interest of our nation, not of our leaders. We tell them that they can choose someone worthy to look up to—the government is not the only source of role models. We tell our children we will keep them safe. We tell our children that we will continue to fight for a country that they deserve. We tell them we will not give up.
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