I’ve just had another profound epiphany for myself, in my musings on the problems of the Philippines. It is the realization that a simple life is not necessarily a virtuous life. A person with a simple life is not necessarily a good person; he can be a bad one too.
The “simple life” is a popular concept associated with virtue in our culture. We have people like Noynoy Aquino who claim to have a simple life. There are people whether prominent or not who say, “simple lang ang buhay ko (my life is just simple).” Lifestyle checks are becoming a part of the national pastime of gossip and unwarranted media coverage. And the impression of people is that a simple life is a good one; that they’re doing nothing wrong this way.
How do you define a simple life? Perhaps it is a life where the person is doing so little, one that is so routine that the life is boring? According to Wikipedia, a simple life is “a lifestyle characterized by consuming only that which is required to sustain life.” In other words, a person focusing only on the basic needs, like as feeding oneself, working and sleeping.
Some people believe that a simple life is also based on avoiding luxuries or luxurious items; for example, not buying a Gucci bag or Giordano clothes, and just going for what you can find cheaply in Farmer’s Plaza or Divisoria. Or going for a simple Honda Bravo or Suzuki Smash than getting a Harley-Davidson or even a Suzuki Ninja motorcycle. Or going for a cheap subcompact car instead of a flashy BMW. Or, don’t even get a car or motorcycle; mag-commute ka nalang. Actually, this is more of practicality rather than simplicity.
But I argue that even a person who has a simple life can have a reprehensible life. For example, a pickpocket plies his trade to buy food for everyday living. He does not buy a cellphone or anything else; all that he pickpockets goes to food. It’s not the pickpocket’s fault that he is poor, but it’s his fault that he chose the wrong way to make a living. Yet in analysis, he just steals, eats and sleeps. Isn’t his life a simple life?
Or even just the ordinary trabahador. A construction worker, after he goes home, gets drunk with his friends and neighbors, and sings loud on the videoke. He stumbles into a neighbor’s house, whose husband is abroad, and he seduces the wife. Before you know it, he was children from so many different women. He’s still a construction worker and knows no other pastime than liquor, videoke and women. That’s a simple life, isn’t it?
Thus, a simple life does not really equate with moral uprightness. Also, if a simple life is so good, why is it that so many people, even among squatters, dream of a Mercedes as a car, or Gucci bags to bring around? It seems they don’t really want a simple life; it’s more like they want to get out of it.
Some complexities are necessary in life. For example, the neighborhood wants to build a gate for the street and maintain a guard for security. One of the residents refuses to take part in the project saying, “ang gastos naman yan, ang damin aasikasuhin, gusto lang simple ang buhay ko (that’s too expensive, so much to worry about, I just want a simple life).” Taking part in a project, like a medical mission or orphanage, can be argued as not part of a simple life. The contributor does not take care of his own basic needs only, but others’ needs as well. Thus, it is not that simple a life.
Another assertion thus, very revolutionary in nature: a simple life can also mean a lazy life.
In addition, there are people who have more complex lives, but are not doing anything wrong. We see celebrities and other well-off people going sky-diving or water-skiing, and some people shake their heads at this, saying that a simple life is better. But later on we see these celebrities giving to charities and participating in medical missions. People like me have hobbies like art and scale modeling. Hobbies are there to stimulate thinking and promote expanded understanding of life. These kind of people don’t go on drinking binges at sari-sari stores or gossip about showbiz personalities. If the gossipers idolize these showbiz personalities who go to charities and medical missions, why don’t they do the same?
Some “housed” people may define simple living as watching Wowowee, then sleeping in the afternoon, then cooking only when necessary, and gossiping as a pastime. If someone among them has a hobby like cross-stitching, reading books or painting, or even being part of an NGO or social work group, the ordinary idiots would say, “pang-mayaman yan!” with the implication that the person is doing something wrong. In this case, “simple living” becomes a way to keep people from developing themselves.
I’m not saying a simple life is necessarily wrong either. I believe the phrase “simple life,” or even describing oneself as “simple lang,” has become a misused cliché, and has been taken out of context in Filipino society. It has certainly been taken out of context in this election and political scene as well, used to convince people that one is not into any wrongdoing, although he is actually into it full steam.
Thus, my argument is that we should not gun for simple living. We should gun for ethical and responsible living – no matter how simple nor complex. People should learn to differentiate the simple or complex from good or bad. There’s a tendency in our anti-intellectual society to see simple as good and complex as bad. This has to stop.
Thus, lifestyle checks should not focus on whether a person’s life is simple or not, but what he is exactly doing, whether is life is simple or complex. That’s where televised lifestyle checks fail; they don’t dig deep enough, or show enough. Simple or complex doesn’t matter; right or wrong does. Let’s check our own lifestyles and see where we are doing right or wrong.
I wonder, after the May 10 elections, will we be focusing on the lifestyles of the president and elected officials instead of their performance and results? That would be really shallow, and it would do nothing to improve our country’s state.