HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes
Much of so-called modern life, especially since the end of World War II, has been a battle between the optimists and the pessimists. Optimists like to point out that science, and all the new knowledge accumulated through the decades that have shaped the new thinking in the secular fields and even the new spirituality, have and will continue to affect the trajectory of humanity, leading it to a higher plane.
On the other hand, the pessimists have been sounding the alarm since the onset of the nuclear age that science and secularism have run completely amuck and have succeeded in destroying traditional values, the family, religion, education, politics, etc. They crow about how all this will redound to everything bad.
The optimists point out that the eradication of disease, and new medical breakthroughs have given a better quality of life to billions. Where people used to live under the specter of early death, in recent decades, life spans have been extended. The modernization of farming, food processing and distribution have made food available to more people. Women in many parts of the world, because of contraception and education, now lead better lives than their mothers ever did.
Enlightened thinking has given most of mankind universal rights, and even new interpretations to some religious traditions. This has fostered new understanding of their truths resulting in the inclusion of people of other traditions. We have glimpsed, at times, a kinder, gentler God who will save everyone from each other. Air travel and globalization have made people interdependent and have thus brought the world closer together.
But for exactly the same reasons, the pessimists see a different scenario. Science, freedom, secularism, universal rights have broken down the order in the world resulting in a loss of the balance of things. Terrorism, consumerism and materialism, the loss of morality and the breakdown of family values have taken their toll on mankind. Women are behaving more and more like men, and having fewer and fewer children. Gays now want to be taken seriously and marry. Science continues to challenge religion, resulting in a constant assault on everything we hold dear and know to be good and true. There are some religious people who believe that Mother Nature is behaving badly because it is punishing mankind for all its “sins.”
It is quite easy to equate optimism with modernism, and pessimism with being traditional, but it is not as simple as that. Many men of science can look at what is happening to the world and be appalled, while there are the so-called traditionalists who may be looking at the same things and see many good things going for mankind.
I have always been fascinated by this ongoing argument. I like judging things for myself, even if, admittedly, I side more often with the moderns, the liberals, the optimists.
But I do notice that people see the world based not so much on what is out there but more on who and what they are. We are programmed to see things according to the values on which we have been raised. There is a wide spectrum of views out there on every issue.
The big issues of our time — radical Islam versus the secular West, the war on terror, women and gay rights, reproduction issues, the debate between conservatives versus liberals within most religions, the push for greater democracy against more government control — will continue to haunt mankind in the coming decades. These are the battles being fought for the hearts and minds of everyone on the planet.
These issues are also playing out in the Philippines. There are the Abu Sayyaf and other extremists versus the duly elected government. There are the great debates on reproductive health and on women and gay rights that have their spirited partisans. There are also land reform and many other social justice issues that have plagued us forever.
And while the optimists and pessimists of the world continue to slug it out about whose image and likeness the world should be fashioned upon, we Filipinos have a similar fundamental battle going on right under our very noses which we hardly notice anymore since it has been quite protracted for decades now. This is the battle between those who still believe that we as a country can rise above our serious problems and finally soar, and those who do not. This debate going on inside most Filipinos is about whether we have the wherewithal, the talent and the determination as a people to finally move forward to a more equitable, more progressive society. In short, many are asking if we do have what it takes to be a great nation.
We have been mired too long in the muck of corruption, patronage politics, inequality and other negative things and these have made us insecure and doubtful of our own capabilities.
In almost every area of human endeavor — political, social, religious, economic — there is a yearning for change. Part of us yearns to see these real changes made palpable in our lifetime, while another part of us is too cynical to believe that any significant change can really happen. Many times, our ideals are at war with our lack of faith in ourselves.
It reminds me of a Native American parable about two wolves fighting inside every man. The evil wolf is filled with fear, anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, inferiority, lies, false pride and ego. On the other hand, the good wolf is full of joy, courage, peace, love, hope, daring, sharing, kindness, benevolence, friendship, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith. One day, a warrior asked the tribe elder which wolf will win. The Elder answered, “The one you feed.”
The wolf metaphor is a powerful one because we know from experience that the choices we make have the power to manifest their realities in our lives. In this New Year, we may wish to ask ourselves the same question each time we are torn between idealism and cynicism in the face of challenges.
It is time to change the diet upon which we have been feeding our spirit. In 2010, there were encouraging signs that made us optimistic. We pulled off a fairly good election and installed an honest leader. Baby steps towards reform and justice have been initiated and more will hopefully be coming. The indomitable Filipino spirit also manifested itself in the world in arenas such as sports, music and the arts.
Even while the world continues to wrestle with the problems that plague all of mankind, we in the Philippines while involved in these great debates must focus more on our problems and act very locally. Other countries like ours which were considered just five or 10 years ago as “developing” are now inching closer to a more developed status. We still have to get our act together.
To me, 2011 is the year of reckoning. It is the year we decide to either move forward in a major way towards our destiny of greatness as a people, or surrender to the inertia of our malingering mediocrity.
Which wolf do we feed?
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Got a new DSLR camera last Christmas? Great! Let me teach you how to use it.
I would like to invite you all to my first workshop in Manila for 2011. I am offering a Basic Photography workshop on Feb. 5, from 1 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Venue is at 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights, QC. Visit http://jimparedes-workshops.com, or write me at firstname.lastname@example.org for questions and reservations. You can also call Olie at 0916-8554303.