North Stars

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated February 24, 2013 – 12:00am

Scouting was an activity I truly enjoyed as a young boy. I loved the idea of being with a “troop” and exploring things, learning skills like building a fire, cooking outdoors, studying rudimentary first aid, pitching tents, hiking and camping. I liked doing things like tying different knots, and carving and cutting things with knives — that kind of stuff. There was also the Scout’s Creed which I can still recite to this day.

It was in scouting where I first heard about the North Star, also known as Polaris. While I am not familiar enough with the spread of planets, constellations and stars in the night sky, I know about the North Star’s practical use. It is one of those shiny objects in the night sky that other stars seem to gravitate towards and so, it is a useful guide for explorers as they traverse both lands and oceans.

I mostly appreciate it as a metaphor. “True North” is a term used as a reference to where one’s moral compass, or life’s direction, is supposed to be pointed. As a navigator of life, it is important to know where one’s True North is, or risk getting lost.

To have a North Star means to have direction, and to have direction gives you purpose. One’s True North is a metaphor for one’s fixed and set values. To know them is to choose the life path that coincides with the values and morals you hold dear to your heart. And that is important.

I watched the premiere of the movie Lincoln the other night. Lincoln used the North Star metaphor quite engagingly. In the movie, he tried to explain to Senator Stevens, an ally and staunch supporter of anti-slavery, that one may know where one’s True North is, but with that knowledge does not come the location of swamps, sinkholes, etc. that stand in the way of getting there. That is why to stay on course, one may have to proceed with caution and be ready to make a few turns to avoid being stuck. I thought that was wonderful, practical advice.

Abraham Lincoln and many people during his time held the burning belief that all men were created equal in the eyes of God and so therefore it ought to be the same in the eyes of the law. He abhorred slavery. This belief cost the US a terrible civil war and it personally cost Lincoln his life. Needless to say, it altered the US and, perhaps, world history forever and for the better.
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In the course of following one’s True North, one will realize that it is not easy to stay on course all the time. Or at least it may seem that way. Obstacles will stand along the way. You can get stuck, waylaid, confused and may even seem to encounter insurmountable blocks or forces bigger than yourself. It is so easy to give up in the name of practicality and realism.

But where you realize that a straight line between two points (you and your goals, for instance) is simply not feasible, or even possible at certain junctures, one must be creative and daring in finding alternative routes. One must be observant and practical as well. There is a proverb that says, “A sailor must have his eyes trained to the rocks and sands as well as the North Star.”

But sometimes, one is left with nothing except the unknown. Someone once said that to discover other lands, one must be willing to lose sight of the shore. That moment of seeming drift, where one seems to be neither here nor there requires boldness and steadfastness and even faith in the belief that something awaits on the other side. Or to borrow another metaphor, one must be willing to knock on many doors until you find one that will open. And it requires that, deep down, you know there is at least one door that eventually will open for you.

In a journey that seems lost, stuck, or pulled down by disappointment, we must be ready to extemporize, to ad lib, to improvise along the way until we find ourselves again in a position where the goal is more visible and attainable.

Among negotiators on both sides of the peace panel on the Bangsa Moro issue, I can imagine the tensions they feel. Questions like, how much are we willing to put on the table? Or to put it in a scarier context, how much more must we give up, is a question that can be challenging to answer. Giving up something you now have for something that is dreamed of, desired but not assured in the future can be quite a fearsome challenge. It is like stepping into the dark not knowing whether your shoe falls on solid ground or not.

All the “what ifs” can suddenly appear and even cast doubt on the wisdom of negotiating with the enemy. What if in the end, we gave more than what we got? What if everything fails again as it has happened so often before? What if people blame us? Nothing is sure, that is for sure. But nothing changes without people trying to change things. That is why ardently following one’s True North is for brave men/women with big visions. It is not for the small, the petty and the cowardly.

But what happens when you realize that you have been looking at the wrong star all these years? I have met a few people who have had the predicament of discovering they wanted to do or be something else after years of specialized schooling. I have met former rebels disillusioned with a movement they were once ready to die for. I have met individuals who had woken up realizing that their avowed True North was actually a pipe dream, an illusion built on nothing more than an egotistic vanity or aspiration, or an inherited “duty” dictated by their parents to them.

It is hard to awaken from such a dream. But if you are courageous enough to dissociate from a dream that was unknowingly forced upon you, or a false one, then all is not lost. In fact, all may be gained back since this great self-realization will awaken you to your true purpose. You will carve your own path and follow this road you have made and which was made only for you. Your sense of purpose will shine like a clear star in the uncertain darkness. Simply put, by discovering your North Star and courageously following it with great wisdom borne of pain and fearless creativity, you will become a North Star yourself for others to be guided.

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