Sense of community
Filipinos have a weak sense of community.”
That was the woeful observation made by two foreign couples I had dinner with during the weekend. The remark comes from well-meaning expatriates who have shown extraordinary affection for poor Filipinos, far better than even the most generous of our fellow citizens. One couple, together with their two Caucasian children, lived for years in the slum areas helping street kids. The other couple will leave this world making provision for their huge wealth to go to a foundation that ministers to less fortunate Filipino children.
They arrived at their observation because of what may be mundane matters for many of us, but for them provide a clear and wide window into our level of concern for the common good. They gave two examples of what they notice—Filipinos never report to public authorities flickering lamp posts or leaking water pipes along roads and public spaces that need replacement.
Indeed, defective lights and pipes are only the tip of the iceberg in the long list of faulty features and misused structures in our roads and community facilities, as well as in our dysfunctional public services. We constantly bitch about them, but we never formalize our complaints into calls for action by our public officials. There are the narrow sidewalks blocked by electric posts and vendors; pedestrian walks with open manholes; dug up streets that are never restored to road-worthy conditions; dirty toilets; roads appropriated as parking spaces, and; expressways with severely inadequate pay booths. There are our heavily polluted rivers, denuded mountains, rampant corruption, pervasive human rights violations, turtle pace public services, and the list goes on.
Why have we become numb to all these flaws and defects in so many aspects of our community life? Why has our threshold for pain and discomfort caused by our dysfunctional community life become so high?
Why have we become so individualistic, and driven to extremes in pursuit of personal welfare?
There are many explanations and causes, for sure. The disappearance of public spaces and the culture of going out to these venues that foster community interaction is one. The antisocial behavior cultivated by our social media dominated lives is another. The expanding privatization of so many services, such as health, education, and security (enclosed and guarded subdivisions), is still another. The god-worship we bestow on billionaires instead of community and country heroes is yet another. Our disappearing spirituality is a major contributor as well.
Our weakening sense of community is most pronounced in urban centers, especially in gated subdivisions and condominium buildings, where initiatives to interact with neighbors are discouraged or kept to a minimum because it’s viewed as intrusion into someone’s private space.
Neighborliness is also weakening in rural areas because people opt to interact online rather than face-to-face with neighbors. Economists predict that our country will attain middle-income status in a few years because of the sustained growth in our gross national income. But what kind of life and country will we have if we are getting poorer by the day on community life, which is a better and far more important measure of progress, well-being, and happiness? We may have all the modern conveniences within the confines of our homes, but when we go out, it’s mayhem.
Our sense of community affects our sense of right and wrong. It determines our vision for our country and our choice of leaders. If we’re still wondering why, in our recent elections, our people had very opposite views of the leaders that we need, and even our very concept of right and wrong, look to our weak sense of community as the root cause and the root solution.
A strong sense of community will be key to solving so many major problems in our lives—environmental disasters, worsening poverty, rampant corruption, conflict with foreign countries, and degrading quality of leaders. Our country’s weak sense of community is the reason why all these problems fester in our midst.
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