Writing on Air

Writing on Air by Jim Paredes

Coffee with the enemy

Posted on February 24, 2019 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – February 24, 2019 – 12:00am
I posted something on Twitter and FB last Thursday that got a lot of attention.

“A serious offer. Would anyone on the opposite side of the political fence want to have coffee? No, we will not talk politics. Let’s talk about things that make us see each other’s humanity. Jokes, personal stories, dreams, ideals, songs and books we like, etc. Let me know.”

Many people liked, commented and forwarded the message. But there were also reactions that were mixed. Some were intrigued, baffled. Two expressed that it was a waste of time. One questioned my motives. Many thought it was a cool idea. What was clear was many people read it, thought about it and somehow resonated with the idea.

It seems practically every Filipino anywhere in the world has had the sad experience of losing friends and not talking to family members because of disagreements about politics. The polarization has become too much. For many, the line has been drawn. It has become a “them versus us” situation.

Rational discussions on politics are now so hard to come by. Real facts have been drowned by so much fake news that people have lost their trust in the usual credible sources. Reason is under attack. Things have become too emotional so that people seek validation not from facts but from kindred spirits who share their opinions and feelings whether fact-based or not.

No wonder a post like the one above generated excitement among my followers.

Many people want their old lives back where they could just hang around with friends and family and talk about anything and everything. That has become quite difficult now. But it is still possible, under certain conditions. I know of some Viber groups that have rules discouraging discussions about politics and religion. Basically, one can talk and express anything as long as you don’t touch on these two topics.

In my ADMU Class Viber group, it has become the norm. Religion is okay, but politics is not. In fact, we had to make another Viber group for those who want to discuss politics just to make sure the conversation is not forced on anyone and no one gets turned off and leaves the group.

I am planning the first coffee meeting that I suggested above. It should be soon. It will be in a public place. People can simply show up. No need to identify themselves based on political beliefs or affiliation. That limits the person in the eyes of others. He becomes just that to some, even if we are really much bigger than that. The idea is to be able to appreciate everyone as individual, fellow human beings.

Everyone has dreams, ideals, wants, desires and goals. There are also a million things to talk about that do not have to necessarily arouse people and make them defensive, offensive, or toxic.

The world is filled with wonderful things to appreciate and talk about. There are so many topics to chat about, and experiences we can individually share that can inspire and enrich others intellectually, emotionally and even spiritually.

The aim is not to convert anyone to any cause but to see people in as many contexts as possible. More than being just labeled as Dilawan or DDS, let’s look at everyone as who they are. They could be parents, students, etc. who have something to share. They are people like us who also worry about the future. They love others and are loved back. We are certainly more than just political statistics. As humans we are multi-faceted, multi-talented, and open-ended. When we open ourselves to others and vice versa, we begin to look at them with greater understanding, empathy and perhaps even with respect.

But many tough questions can arise within us that can stop us in our tracks. One of them is: Can you actually make peace with someone who is truly despicable?

I have sat and listened and talked with killers, plunderers, some evil people. Some of them are well known public figures. Let me tell you, I had to stretch myself to try and understand where they were coming from. Some are difficult to understand. They aroused no empathy in me.

One of them actually espoused values like respect for human rights, anti-corruption, anti-violence even if he has a private army and has had people killed. But some of them were actually quite charming and even charismatic. You may even get to like them in some ways.

What I learned from those meetings and chats is that you can have greater understanding of people without losing your own values. In many ways, being exposed to them can solidify your own values and beliefs more, even as you take pity on them. If anything, I’ve learned that human nature is not simple. It demands a great openness to try to even understand it.

Psychologist Carl Jung said that when two people meet, a chemical reaction happens that leaves both of them changed. For sure, many of us have met people with bad intentions that have left us fearful, and even forced us to be quiet. But some of us have also met strangers who have inspired us to have more trust and faith in humanity.

Invite fellow Filipinos who do not agree with you out for coffee. Even if you exclude politics in the discussion, there are still many things to talk about. It would not hurt to reach out to the “enemy” and do the extra effort of listening and interacting with them. Who knows, maybe both “them” and “us” can become more human in each other’s eyes.

Tell jokes. Share life stories. Discuss what you are passionate about, etc. Maybe even do karaoke. Those can be steps (however small) towards healing.

Read more at https://www.philstar.com/lifestyle/sunday-life/2019/02/24/1896140/coffee-enemy#E4DUGB7CBX0oeGQw.99

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