58 shades of gray

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    ‘The reality is life is not just being either a “Dilawan” or a “DDS,” no matter how much forces at work try to make it so. This is even truer of societies, which has to be enriched with diversity, especially of opinion.’

    THESE days, there seem to be only two “colors:” the “Dilawan,” referring to the “tie a yellow ribbon” logo of the Aquino years, and the “DDS” (“Dutertards,” as more pejoratively referred to by critics), whose political color I really cannot remember.

    Those are the two main dominant colors of our current politics. You are either one or the other as deemed by those in the opposite camps. Write something negative of PRRD or his administration and immediately you are labeled a “Dilawan.” Praise the President for something he has done right (the UNGA speech, for example, and you can get tagged a “DDS”/“Dutertard.”

    Sometimes I wish life were indeed this simple, always just a dichotomy, always just being one or the other. It’s convenient. It’s simple. It’s neat. Then again, speaking of neatness, sometimes being neat isn’t always a good thing, yes?

    I was reminded of this when I walked into a barbershop and noticed that my barber’s work area was, well, not neat. Lots of scattered clumps of clipped hair around. The two other barbers with him in the more-than-half-empty salon were neat, their surroundings sparklingly clean. That’s when I remembered the advice of a wise man: if you walk into the only barbershop in town not knowing the quality of the barbers, go sit on the chair of the one with an ugly haircut.

    Thankfully, my barber had the “untidy” work space.

    The reality is life is not just being either a “Dilawan” or a “DDS,” no matter how much forces at work try to make it so. This is even truer of societies, which has to be enriched with diversity, especially of opinion. But yes, there are people who see in PRRD everything that God imagined a leader to be; just as there are those who see in PRRD everything that God imagined a worst leader to be.

    There’s gray, too, you know. Not every critic of the President is “Dilawan,” and not every praise of what he or his administration is able to accomplish comes from a DDS.

    But it’s the toxicity of the political environment that makes those inhabiting the gray area of politics so hesitant to make their voices heard, trying to avoid being drawn into arguments with family or friends, which can become a Black Hole into which everything Imus sucked in, never to reappear. And social media, with its algorithms and its ubiquity, only serves to poison even further an already toxic environment. Those lurking in the various shades of gray thus stay in the shadows, remaining muted but observant. And while you can’t blame them really for opting not to engage, the problem is that the robustness of civic engagement is what determines whether the political aspect of society flourishes, or stagnates.

    Many societies around the world, I suspect, ours included, are leaning towards the latter.

    Civic engagement is getting more toxic and less healthy. And expect this to become even more so as we get closer to 2022.

    On the road to Laguna two days ago, even before the sun was up, I had the chance to open the window on my side of the car, lean my seat back a little (I wasn’t driving!), take in fresh air, and think. Think especially of how to address the matter of civic engagement away from its current level of toxicity knowing that despite all the challenges today’s conditions create, we who care about the state of our nation’s affairs — and even of the world’s — need to encourage more civic engagement and not less. I got around to trying to think of an advocacy I could proposed to friends in government , those in positions of power who could do far more good for the many than you and I can from where we are perched. An advocacy they could embrace as their legacy, and embrace early, while they still can. And while our society just remains on the brink of collapsing onto itself. In effect, while there is still time.

    So in my head (inspired by the image of Mariang Makiling looking up to the sky) I thought of five main pillars of an advocacy, each with sub-pillars that need to be developed. And what are the five?

    The first is “Advance Democracy.” The reason to me is simple. Democracy is meant to be the system that respects the individual, his potential, his uniqueness. At the same time it recognizes the power of the collective, of people deciding together through processes set up for this purpose, in order that the will of the people (or of a majority of them) are expressed so they could be carried out. Everything we do – especially those in public office – should be done to advance democracy. Under this advocacy I can think of three sub-pillars: acknowledging the sovereignty and collective wisdom of the people, protecting human rights, and respecting and defending contrarian views or dissent. Until we become infallible, we will need to protect, respect, encourage even alternative points of view to avoid being blindsided.

    Next on my list is Strengthening Healthcare, imperiled today because of the continuing scandal at PhilHealth (FailHealth). I say continuing because this administrator of the state health insurance program seems to have been saddled with controversy from the beginning. No one wants to fall ill, and when you do the burden of both physical recovery and financial capacity to pay for the costs become a double whammy. I’ve always believed that Filipinos should have some form of “ayuda” for those times that they fall ill, to lessen in a way the double whammy. Whether it be in the form of universal health care or not should be determined by our capacity to pay for the system, not by the promises of politicians in search of votes. We may have a law mandating universal healthcare but I think we need to revisit this and come up with something realistic, viable and workable.

    Encourage Lifelong Learning is my third pillar. Note that I do not advocate for free universal college education for the same reason that I am wary about universal healthcare: I am not confident that our system can pay for it. In fact, between providing for universal healthcare and universal free education I would choose the former, because as I said earlier no one wants to fall ill; falling ill is already a whammy and the financial burden is the second one.

    Education is different, and yes it can be free to the deserving based on strict criteria, but finding ways to encourage lifelong learning – skills, for example, is what should be an imperative.

    Following from these is the fourth pillar, Create Multiple Opportunities to achieve human and societal potential. Plain and simple, the lack of opportunities at home is what drives our countrymen to seek “greener pastures” abroad. We’ve been a country of enormous potential long enough; it’s time to unlock that potential and make it work for our people.

    Finally, there’s Celebrating Unity in Diversity. The world will not be a better place if all it has are just DDS or Dilawan. Each one of us is enriched by others, even if the enrichment is, like a pearl, the result of an irritant. We may not like the idea of having our ideas challenged, but let’s admit it: there are times when the challenge enriches our original idea and makes it even better. That’s how we must look at the value of diversity. And how we must be humble enough to accept our fallibility, going back to the first point about advancing democracy and encouraging contrarian viewpoints.

    As if on cue, my wondering mind was alerted to the fact that we had gotten to our destination just as my thought process ended here. Thanks to smartphones and note-taking apps I was able to capture the main pillars of my thinking. Much needs to be done to enrich them, and even more to sell them to others, but I was pretty pleased with how seeing Mariang Makiling can be such an inspiration even so early in the morning.

    Now I know that Mariang Makiling, all natural, is what is best for my mental health.

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