Why take the high road?
There are so many times in our lives when it is easy to drop the high road for an easier, safer, and more profitable one. Yet, despite making choices much lower, even opposite the high road, we still look for it. There is an inherent attraction to the high road; it has logic, lots of logic, but beyond that, like a siren, it sings to the soul.
If the high road were not indelibly etched in our soul, if it is purely a matter of personal choice without an inborn, inner nudging, there would vastly be more of humanity unable to attain it. That there is a universal voice encouraging us to seek and move towards the high road is a deep message about its primacy in the totality of human creation.
I believe that religions resonate with humanity, that even before religions had their intellectual packaging, primitive man already looked to the sky and the heavens, feared yet revered the sun, resonated with the moon, was awed by the stars. It was not from teachings; rather, the sense of the supernatural was an impulse that man simply followed.
It appears, too, that while the history and development of man did have their very primitive stages, there was an unerring thrust toward the high road. In human time, it may seem like forever from one century to another, from one millennium to another. But in that context of seeming forever, the pattern of seeking the light, of moving to refinement, of expressing artistry – in other words, the high road – jumps out.
Every society, no matter how crude, crass, or violent, will profess they are acting so because they are pursuing elements of the high road. Many times, their leaders will be mouthing the high road but acting the opposite. Dictators and tyrants align themselves and their rhetoric to the high road in order to justify their cruelty to their enemies. Even in utter hypocrisy, the worst will use the words of the high road.
There are many among us who feel deep frustration and even the beginnings of despair. They have been trying so hard to stay within the high road, struggling to resist compromise and corruption. Yet, they say that things are worse than ever, that many societal leaders have totally sold out their pride and principles for money and power. Sad, but with ample basis.
The very instincts of man may recognize the attraction of the high road but there are baser instincts that demand urgency over others. The need for survival will too often overwhelm the subtle voice of nobility, of heroism. When hunger dominates the lives of people, subtlety is temporarily muted, drowned in the noise of grumbling stomachs. No matter how divinely ordained the high road may be, it cannot just subvert the primal needs of man.
Those among us who may insist on the high road, risking everything including life itself, can do so because he or she has tasted the sweetness of purity, nobility, and altruism. We can give up the lower for the higher because we have known enough the flavor of the supernatural, enough for our courage to make a painful exchange. But those who have been left behind are not expected to know what a few have known, and will not sacrifice their survival for what they cannot understand.
The high road, then, demands of those who adhere to it a kind of advocacy beyond the conviction. Knowing the difficult path to the high road, the temptations that overcame us before we overcame them, those who have managed to attain to the next level or levels of life and understanding, can discern quite quickly that many remain in the grip of survival. Their decisions, then, will be to ensure survival. Survival is at the foundation of the totem pole – which means it must be served first before the journey upwards.
From dictatorial rule, which humanity has been used to from the start, to freedom and democracy, is a journey of lifetimes. If dictation had been the experience of mankind for millennia, it needs enough counterforce to reverse it and then move forward to the high road. But since the beginning of humanity to the present time is almost too much to measure not only in time and influence, shedding it from habit and culture for the refined will surely demand a great effort.
Thank goodness that several societies and countries have gone ahead of us in the political journey of man. They may have been most brutal and violent in their early stages but they did eventually learn from the pain of savagery. Their lessons drove them to try new ways. We have seen totalitarianism slowly gave way to shared power, even the beginnings of democracy. Their paths inspire us to follow, not necessarily them, but the universal journey to the high road. It does not mean that they have fully transcended their old patterns; but the high road has become competitive and will fight to go even higher.
I do not believe that patience alone can contain the painful frustrations that afflict those who see and know the ethical decay eating away at the Filipino collective soul. There has to be courage to accompany convictions. Short of that, it is despair that will set in and anger that will erupt. Yet, either or both will simply be distractions in an already arduous journey we know as the high road.
It becomes even more grating when those who sell themselves to greed and lust for power at any cost seem to get away with anything, with everything. And, around us, are whispers from their secret agents trying to tell us, “If you cannot beat them, join them.” Devils come in many disguises.
There is nothing easy about the high road or the effort to come closer to it. But look at it this way. If we do not want to fall back, what else is there for us?
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.