Practical wisdom and PH elections | Inquirer Opinion

Practical wisdom and PH elections

02:54 AM May 09, 2016

In their 2011 book “Leading Wisely in Difficult Times,” the Catholic thinkers Michael Naughton and David Specht talk about the need for practical wisdom in business executives who are beleaguered by financial crises, corporate scandals and business corruption. The authors explain that “at the heart of practical wisdom is the ability to see things whole. It is not about achieving simply one good such as profit, but about achieving a good life overall.”

Taking their cue from Cicero who said that practical wisdom includes “memory of the past, understanding of the present, and foresight in regard to the future,” the authors contend that a practically wise business leader “feels rooted in the past and connected to the future, which makes the present decision of grave importance.”


I thought that their thoughts on practical wisdom in business are also applicable and timely as we choose our political leaders today. I believe that voters are not just followers but also leaders (by virtue of voting, we are at the helm of this country’s future) who must also be practically wise. To paraphrase Naughton and Specht, the practically wise voter needs to remember the past (hindsight) and look to the future (foresight) in order to understand (insight) and act in the present.

Thus, before we cast our ballot we must take pains to remember. Filipinos are known to have a short memory.  We easily forgive and forget. Remembering the past (both the long and short past) has become an uphill climb for us. We have not taken our history seriously even if others seriously distort it. We must take time to remember that some candidates are reasonably implicated in massive cheating, that some candidates carry surnames that spell human rights violation and cronyism, that some candidates openly favor political dynasties while simultaneously enriching themselves through corrupt practices.


But we must also take time to remember the sacrifices of those who put us in a position to exercise many of our democratic rights

today: the right to cast our vote, to express our opinions, to criticize our leaders, and to dissent. May our choice not betray these nameless, faceless and selfless heroes.

When we cast our ballot, we must also look to the future. Of course, we cannot see the future and there is no 100-percent guarantee that the candidate we have chosen would really deliver on his promises even if he assures us that he will resign if he fails to deliver. I think resignation for failure to do one’s job is not part of the vocabulary of the Filipino politician. To save face, the Japanese or Korean government official would commit suicide, but the Filipino politician will always find a thousand reasons not to resign.

A practically wise voter who looks to the future considers the immense responsibility of his or her one ballot. He votes today but he also votes for the future of his sons and daughters. She recognizes that something is at stake, and it is not only the present life. Naughton and Specht say that “to be wise is to have a long-term perspective; to see the big picture; to look beyond the immediate situation.” Thus, the practically wise voter sees beyond the narrowness of regionalist mentality, familial loyalty, and interpersonal allegiance. She sees beyond the temporariness of pecuniary gains and the hollowness of short-lived convenience.

The practically wise voter does not only trust himself. Naughton and Specht say that the wise leader needs wise counsel. In a Philippine election that is replete with theatrical displays, deceptive propaganda, manipulative surveys, and sweet promises, the Filipino voter cannot simply keep her choices to herself.

He must be ready to challenge other choices while being open to be challenged himself. The practically wise voter listens to various rationalities while cautiously weighing their truthfulness. She considers the suggestions of her religious leaders, teachers, parents and others in positions of authority, but she does not compromise her own conscience. A few feet from the ballot box, it should not be the dictates of his leader, but the dictates of his conscience, that must triumph.

I admit that it is very difficult to be a practically wise voter in the Philippines. Democratic exercises such as an election become meaningful only when the majority of the populace enjoy economic freedom as well.  In the Philippines, we haven’t yet attained this scenario.  Many of our voters cast their ballot with a consideration of how certain candidates fill up their stomach at least during the election season. It is not uncommon to sell one’s vote to the highest bidder.


We cannot totally blame these voters because they are also the poor victims of an unjust social order perpetuated by those who are in political and economic power. We cannot totally blame them because our experiment in democracy has proven to be a trap that further solidifies the iron cage of poverty and unequal opportunities.

The German philosopher Theodor Adorno once said that a “wrong life cannot be lived rightly.”  Whatever spurred Adorno to say this, I liberally take it to mean that in our present political life characterized by so many wrongs, it is highly improbable that we will see the daylight of an authentically democratic election that is truly liberating for the majority of our people in the margins.

Franz Giuseppe Cortez teaches philosophy subjects and good governance and social responsibility at the University of Santo Tomas.


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TAGS: corruption, Elections 2016, Filipino politician, Michael Naughton, Theodor Adorno
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