A word or a sentence from someone can dramatically change our life; that is, if we are strong enough to take it in stride. Let’s take a slice from history and use Alexander the Great as an example. His tutor was no less than the famous philosopher, Aristotle. Surely what Alexander got from one of mankind’s greatest teachers helped lift his tactical faculties and conquest abilities. However, it was another less famous philosopher that moved him to go on to become one of the greatest conquerors in history.
Before he was given the title “the Great” and shortly after having inherited rule over the whole of Greece along with his native Macedonia, Alexander was accustomed to warm greetings and receiving lavish compliments from Greek leaders in Corinth. One day he noticed that, among the crowd that gave him attention, there was one that did not. He was the philosopher named Diogenes. Diogenes had views not so different from Buddha. He had given all his possessions away and lived free from all material distractions that he thought got in the way of the simple pleasures of life. Diogenes usually just sat in the market square clothed only in the bare essentials. History books describe him as someone who lived free as a stray dog.
Human nature got the better of Alexander and despite all the honour he got from the rest of the court, he was curious to know why Diogenes couldn’t care less about him. He went up to where Diogenes was sitting and said “I like you. Let me know your wish and I shall grant it.” Diogenes, the philosopher replied: “Indeed Sire. I have a wish. Your shadow has fallen over me. Stand a little less between me and the sun.” Alexander, instead of being insulted was said to have been profoundly struck by Diogenes’s simple wish and decided that he wanted to become just like Diogenes, free from all the trappings of material things.
Although he did not live exactly like Diogenes, Alexander gave all his material possessions away to his friends and went on to conquer more kingdoms, not just simply to extend his empire but more because he wanted to spread Greek knowledge and culture to the “rest of the world”. Although his untimely death brought this grand initiative to a halt, he succeeded in pushing the greatest intellectual force there had ever been in history into the empires of Persia, India and China.
The truth is there for the taking
Anyone who seeks the truth shall find it. Anyone who denies the truth shall continue to live a lie. One of the ironies in life is that we do not really learn much from people who agree with us, but we get the greatest lessons in life from people who object to our opinions and beliefs. Sadly it is the latter sorts of people in our lives — the ones who beg to differ to us — that we tend to shut out. Often we do so without even taking a small effort to listen. When a person refuses to listen or rejects another’s viewpoint without understanding it, the person’s growth gets stunted. A person who only seeks approval and nods of agreement becomes highly immature and misguided, always thinking that his or her perspective is the only right one.
We can apply what I’ve said above to Filipinos. A lot of Filipinos in Philippine society are misguided in their thinking that other people, particularly those who have less standing in social class than them, have no right to disagree with their views. In reality, it doesn’t really matter whether a Filipino received an education from a top-notch school overseas or just a local education in the Philippines. Many in the “elite” continue to think the way they do because they were raised to believe that having more money or being better-educated gives them license to act like they already know everything. A Filipino who received a high level of education and those who have lived a sheltered existence are the ones who refuse to learn from the people who have fewer credentials but have lived a more practical life.
Filipinos are fixated on material possessions as a measure of social status. Majority are more concerned with the person’s social standing in Philippine society than what the person is actually saying. Filipinos are also very degree or diploma orientated. They let their accumulated degrees and titles get in the way of learning the harsh realities of life from those who know about it. An example of what I’m saying is the ruling political and social elite in Philippine society. If a person is not part of the upper class social circle in the Philippines, people tend to think that he or she is insignificant and that their views are not to be taken seriously. Unfortunately, this behaviour can be observed from the upper classes down to the lower classes of our society. Indeed, the lower classes also tend to think that only those with money and better education know what they are talking about. Hence, it is not very difficult for the lower class members of Philippine society to be taken for a ride or be tricked.
It is very easy for some Filipinos to assume that, just because they have received a more scholarly education, they are more knowledgeable than the average person. Our society has allowed this culture of deluded self-importance to prevail for hundreds of years. What Filipinos don’t realise is that those who are actually living a less privileged existence can sometimes have a better understanding of what life is like because they have actually experienced destitution, pain and suffering and have a better perspective on life compared to those who have household help 24 hours a day and complete meals three or more times a day. There are also those members of the middle class who may not have experienced the same level of hardship as the lower class but are the ones who experienced working in the corporate world; have held rank and file positions; earn a living through hard work and are also the consumers who are in a position to provide constructive feedback about the services provided by big organisations and bureaucracies.
Of course, a formal education is good and should always be encouraged for it is only through higher learning that ignorance can be eliminated. However, without practical experience, all the knowledge from school remains basically theoretical. One should not dismiss the knowledge that can be gained from those who have lived a life of local experience and those who have enjoyed less of life’s trappings. These groups hold the key to the simplest solutions to life’s more profound complexities. These groups are the ones who will use public transport and public facilities. As such, both groups are the majority who will benefit or suffer from policies created by the political elite and members of the oligarchy.
In a true egalitarian society, everyone has a voice. In fact, those who are in the lower classes are the ones who are prioritised and are taken more seriously by the politicians. In Philippine society, members of the oligarchy and political dynasties are the ones that matter and are the first ones who directly benefit from their own policies. The latter do not listen to the majority of the population because these so-called political dynasties and oligarchs have vested interests or have actually deluded themselves into thinking that they are doing the right thing for the sake of the majority. Strangely, the lower classes for their part also believe that the political dynasties and oligarchs have their best interests at heart even though it is blatantly obvious that decade after decade; nothing much has really changed as far as the circumstances of the poor go.
What can be done to end this hopeless cycle of deluded back-patting?
Filipinos need a dose of reality similar to what Alexander the Great had experienced. Filipinos need to listen to what everyone is saying, whether the message is coming from the upper, middle or lower class members of society. Filipinos should pay more attention to the message rather than the messenger. Filipinos need to listen more to those who oppose their views. Filipinos need to listen carefully and analyse if what their opponents are saying makes any sense. Filipinos need to find out if all the noise their detractors are making holds any truth. None of us can be right all the time. All the members of Philippines society need to question why the country is still what it is today despite all the promises of “change” coming from one presidential candidate or the other.
Obviously, we have been listening (or hardly listening) to the same members of the political elite and oligarchy for almost three decades now. It is high time that we hear from those we have not heard from before. It is time that we pay more attention and ask more questions to those who say the same old tired promises to “fight” corruption and poverty without showing any concrete plans on how they will do it.
Let us listen more and think about how someone’s words can actually affect our lives. Painful as it may seem to hear, but the truth will set Filipinos free.