by Jim Paredes on Sunday, April 10, 2011 at 10:57am
HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star)
This is an attempt to write a Lenten piece. No, this isn’t about Jesus, his trial and crucifixion; it is about people whom everyone likes to hate and crucify these days. I won’t suddenly turn into a politically correct Christian and extol the virtues of instant forgiveness and loving one’s neighbor. But I promise that there is some redeeming value in this exercise.
Today, allow me to disturb your retreat or enter your holy silent place by dragging into the arena of your reflection the following controversial figures: Ombudsman Merci Gutierrez, dictator Muammar Qaddafi, TV host Willie Revillame, the Ligots, and the meltdown king, Charlie Sheen.
Surely this motley cast of characters have been the objects of our ire, disdain and disgust these past few weeks. Because of what they have done, we have launched thousands of commentary through e-mail, Facebook, Twitter and newspaper columns. We must also include those who do not use the written word but like to voice their comments, and those who have uttered expletives while watching them do their thing on TV. If the belief that you bite your tongue every time someone talks about you is true, I don’t think these people would be able to speak ever again to defend themselves.
Let’s take a look at each of them and ask ourselves, what is there not to dislike about them? But while we look at them, let us also see what it is they do or have done, or what they represent that resonates so negatively with us. What is it about them that that pushes our buttons so that we feel the need to vent our negative feelings towards them? Let us start with Merceditas Gutierrez. In the eyes of many of our countrymen, she holds the distinction of being the most do-nothing government watchdog ever. During her reign as Ombudsman, big-time scandal and corruption committed by the highest government officials, military and police generals and civil servants have transpired, yet not one big fish has ever been charged, even in the face of compelling evidence. And for that, people are angry at her. They suspect that she was put there by the former president, GMA, precisely to protect her and her administration from prosecution.
Then there is Muammar Qaddafi, who is as bad as they come — an autocrat, a dictator given to awful temper tantrums, big-time thief, megalomaniac, one-time terrorist and now a mass murderer of his own people. What is there to like about him? He so looks the part with his innate bad guy countenance, his flamboyant sartorial taste, and his dazed, seemingly drug-crazed eyes. His bizarre speeches practically seal the deal as far as winning the top prize in a world-class villain contest.
Then there is Willy Revillame. Everyone has something to say about this controversial TV host. You either like or hate him. And these days, it’s more of the latter because of the Jan-Jan child abuse episode in his show. Here is a man who justifies the indignities and obscenities he inflicts on mostly poor people in his show by showering them with money. He says he only wants to bring joy to the masses, but his critics only see a monster that preys on the helpless and deludes them. A columnist has compared him to the owner of a strip joint who says he gives women jobs even as he demeans them.
The Ligot couple is high on the unpopularity list. Their militant denial of details connected to their corruption case and their total lack of cooperation with the Senate inquiry have earned them a place among the lowest of the low. This couple’s alleged conjugal thievery personifies everything that is wrong in our society today.
Lastly, there is Charlie Sheen, the popular Hollywood actor who has gone rogue and is seen as a psychological demolition work in progress. His out-of-control behavior and his rants about anything and everything have riveted a large audience all over the world.
Years ago, I wrote a piece on what I called “modern-day beatitudes” that touched on social outcasts. I wrote then:
“Blessed are the strange, the weird, the people we laugh at, those who do not fit our mold, especially the socially wretched and despised. By their presence in our lives, they expand our reality — on our part, reluctantly and on theirs, so painfully — by forcing us to look at them in the hope that we see the God in them.
“Blessed are those who arouse us to anger, who bring out the worst in us, for they force us out of the denial that we harbor within—that we are hooked on them, that they resonate with something hidden inside us, and to break free, we must let go of our misguided moral superiority.”
I like to challenge myself, to stretch my thinking and my tendency to be judgmental, and put myself in the shoes of people I condemn, and ask what, if any, does their presence contribute positively to my life. Yes, they arouse my sense of what is right and wrong, but surely, there are more nuanced messages here. Why does something in us resonate so negatively with what they have done? Are they my /our shadows acting out what we dare not do? Could it be that we are, in a way, like them? Is it a mere case of severity, degree and dimension that draws the line between them and us?
It is a provocative premise, you will agree.
Merceditas Gutierrez mirrors back to me my tendency to make excuses for things I have not done, or have failed to do. The failure of moral duty, the moments when I should have stood for or said something to right a wrong come to mind. We have all failed at one time or another to call out wrongs when we should have.
Qaddafy mirrors back to me my own ambition, my sense of right and wrong, which leads me to ask myself how I would fare if given the chance to serve and rule, compared to the politicians I like to condemn. We have all entertained delusions of grandeur and, at times, many of us have allowed our egos to rule insanely over others. Many of us have also exhibited fascistic tendencies, like when we see weakness in government and assert that if we were in power, we would wipe out people we do not agree with. Luckily, many of us are not in power to be able to carry out such homicidal thoughts.
Willie Revillame mirrors back to me the moral dishonesty that I fear I and many others harbor within. We all like to appear good and respectable even as we participate in deception, or the exploitation of others. Think of how we treat the people who work for us, and ask ourselves if we pay them enough or do we actually exploit them and ease our consciences by giving them crumbs? Do we treat them the same way we would want to be treated if the tables were turned?
The Ligots mirror back to me my tendency to deny, and sometimes avoid admitting responsibility for the bad things I do. We like to blame other people for making us do bad things. I laugh at Christians who say things like, ‘The devil made me do it.’ But passing the buck or not admitting responsibility are tantamount to the same thing.
Charlie Sheen mirrors back to me how easily success, money and a runaway ego can make my life a train wreck. It is a constant struggle for many public persons to humbly accept the reminder that we are as ordinary as the rest of mankind; we were just placed in extraordinary circumstances.
Am I suggesting that since we are all human, we must let these people who have erred go scot-free? Not at all. We do need to have a sense of justice, fairness and moral outrage. Anger communicates the message that we cannot allow wrongdoing to continue with impunity. It reminds us that our understanding should have limits. Even Jesus got angry at the vendors who desecrated the temple.
But to maximize the lesson, we must go deeper into ourselves and figure out why we resonate with the very actions that we condemn. “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves,” psychoanalyst Carl Jung once said. These “villains” are more than just people we were warned against. They mirror to us what some of us may be capable of doing as well. Maybe, just maybe, we will find the compassion to give the other person a chance at redemption. After all, ideally, justice is supposedly the minimum of love.
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