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Writing on Air by Jim Paredes

Archive for August 29th, 2010

We shall overcome 16

Posted on August 29, 2010 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated August 29, 2010 12:00 AM Comments (2) View comments

There is a toxic attitude or mindset among us Filipinos that surfaces every time we face a major challenge or crisis as a nation. It is the belief in the worst in us as a people accompanied by a self-righteous gloating, finger pointing and blaming when bad things happen.

We delight in Filipino–bashing, a kind of self-flagellation that seems to come from an unwarranted pessimism about the Filipino’s capabilities, or lack of them. And we take a prideful “I-told-you-so” stance as if to explain why things are as bad as they are. We seem happy and affirmed about our being so negative about the Filipino when things go wrong. In a way, one might say it is a distorted self-esteem in motion manifesting as meanness of spirit.

I call this “Philippine Exceptionalism.”

I borrowed the term from an opposite but similar view in the US called “American Exceptionalism.” The American brand of exceptionalism is a concept and phenomenon that dates back to its immigrant roots where its citizens felt the United States was a unique country because of its diversity, and therefore believed it had a special perch among the community of nations. Later, this morphed into something even bigger in its expression, especially when the country began to have colonial ambitions. The US started to believe that it was “above” or an exception to the law, specifically the Law of Nations.

Among the Republican right, American Exceptionalism is the creed by which America has tended to deal with the rest of the world.

In the words of conservative presidential bet Mike Huckabee, “To deny American Exceptionalism is in essence to deny the heart and soul of this nation.” The belief in “Manifest Destiny” is part of this peculiar self-expression and part of the US justification for annexing the Philippines as a colony.

To some Americans, this explains their sense of pride about who they are as a people and justifies their place in the world. For better or for worse, the rest of the world has seen this national pride play out in different arenas of human activity everywhere. It is debatable, of course, whether what is good for the US is always good for the rest of mankind.

While some Americans may argue that American Exceptionalism is a celebration of the American spirit, Filipino Exceptionalism is the absolute derogation or downgrading of the Filipino spirit. It explains why its adherents see nothing right about Filipinos and the Philippines. What they see is proof positive of why we are such pathetic failures who will never rise up and become anything great.

This negative exceptionalism manifests itself in many ways, from the benign and the subtle — like when we make self-deprecatingly funny or amusing comments about our own uniqueness and inadequacies — to out-and-out expressions of disgust and contempt of ourselves as a nation.

There are many examples of this in Filipino humor. One example is the expression “Only in da Pilipins” to explain in a shallow way our inexplicability to others. There is also the joke setup where there are three nationalities involved and they are tasked to do something, and it is the Pinoy who carries the punch line because he is the one who breaks the “rules.” And the Pinoy always wins the game because he avoids the rules through some sort of “palusot.” This palusot is usually a ridiculous, exaggerated response to the situation that is, in reality, a “failed” but funny response.

However, these jokes do not bother me as much as the toxic expressions of disgust and hopelessness that we declare about ourselves when things go awry. We Filipinos are — you guessed it — the most rabid Filipino Exceptionalists.

While watching the tragic blunder of media, the police and government during the hostage crisis at the Quirino Grandstand on TV last Monday, both my Facebook and Twitter accounts were overrun with comments from all over. Many condemned the actions of media, the police and the violence that could have been prevented. That was expected and understandable. But what really bothered me were the comments that implied that such a tragedy, such incompetence and insensitivity could only have come from Filipinos. The failure, in their view, was caused by our very nationality.

During my travels, I have actually met such extremists (yes, they are extremists!) who actually believe that we should kill a whole generation of our countrymen “to start anew” if we are to have a chance to progress as a nation. Unbelievable!

I have always subscribed to what the late historian Horacio de la Costa, SJ wrote that no people have a monopoly of good and bad traits and characteristics. And these characteristics, whatever they are, are not permanently theirs. Societies change, and they do, sometimes, drastically.

It is interesting how many of us take personal shame in what happened last Monday. That includes me. I actually feel that I should personally apologize to the victims who came here to enjoy our country and instead ended up traumatized or even dead. I believe it has something to do with the genuine hospitality we feel towards foreigners. How can something that so defines us go so wrong for our visitors?

But I am immediately sobered by the fact that aberrations like this happen in every society. Every nation has its fringe elements. It just so happens that sometimes they play out big-time, to the shock of its own citizens and the world.

I am not sure if Rolando Mendoza had real reasons for doing what he did. Was he suffering from insanity? Was he a victim of injustice? I do not know. What I know though is it is not justified to take anyone hostage. And in his situation, it was foolhardy. It was just not the way to resolve his grievances. Another thing I know is that Rolando Mendoza and his actions are exceptions to the rule. We are a peace-loving, friendly people and we are generally welcoming towards visitors. And we do condemn his act and the incompetent and crass handling of it by the media and the authorities.

I am confident that we will rise above this national tragedy. While we have a lot of things to learn and internalize, let us not forget that every country screws up at one time or another. In recent history, China had those melamine deaths and Tiananmen, Germany had its Munich Olympics, not to mention the Holocaust, The US has had its school shootings and other massacres that the police could neither predict nor prevent. Individuals in every society can and do act up. We are not an exception.

Let’s not beat ourselves up so much that we lose hope. The thing to do is to make sure it does not happen again. We have many things going for us as a people. We will learn from this and we will move on to achieve greater things that will restore our collective sense of national pride.

Like other peoples in the world who have undergone such crises, we shall overcome.

* * *

I will be holding three workshops. Two are in Cebu and on is at The Fort:

1) “Creative for Life Workshop” (one-day run) is a cutting-edge course to permanently awaken your creativity. It will be held this Sept. 17 (Friday) 8:30 a.m. – 6:30 p.m. at the Grand Convention Center of Cebu. Registration fee is P1,000 (non-refundable). Workshop fee is P4,000 inclusive of handouts, snacks and lunch.

2) “Basic Photography Workshop (The Second Run)” on Sept. 18 (Saturday) From 1 p.m. – 7 p.m. at Mountain View Nature Park. Registration fee is P1,000 (non-refundable). Workshop fee is P4,000 inclusive of handouts, snacks, shuttle back and forth from JY Square. Call (032) 415-8056 or cell no. 0909-1112111. Or write me at emailjimp@gmail.com for reservations or queries.

3) “Creative For Life workshop” at the Fort (six session run). Sept 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 27 at 7 to 9 p.m. Venue is at Meridian International College, 1030 Campus ave., 2F CIP Bldg, Mckinley Hill, Fort Bonifacio. Call 223-6468/ 426-5375. Also 0916-8554303 and ask for Ollie or write me at emailjimp@gmail.com for inquiries.

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