Thursday, July 14, 2011

Drawing Empty Spaces Upside Down

I once had a friend who aspired to be an artist. She went to art classes during time off from her real job, which was being a veterinarian to the dogs and cats of the rich and famous. She was thoroughly amused with her art assignment one weekend. Her instructor had given the class the task of drawing a chair, upside down.

The aim was to destroy normal perspective and look at the chair differently. Indeed, the students were not actually supposed to draw the chair itself, but to draw the empty spaces in and around the chair. From those empty spaces, upside down, the chair would emerge.

My friend completed her task and it was astounding. When you turned her drawing upside down, so that the chair was right side up, she had created a startlingly accurate sketch of the chair. She had defined the chair by isolating it from its surroundings.

Now I mention this because it is an example getting beyond convention to find the essence of a problem. It takes a stretch of the mind and ability to conceptualize a different solution to a given challenge.

Conceptualizing seems to me to be a skill largely missing in the Philippines where people like dealing with the gritty and the nitty, what they can see, what has happened before, what is practical or expedient. It is a country focused on transactions, on trees. On chairs, not the space around them. Not the abstract and the obtuse . . . not the undefined . They don't quite get frameworks or standards or plans or principles.

Philippine gardens for the most part are lines of plants, often in pots. They are not unrestrained, sensual expressions of passion and love for nature. They are flowers in a row.

It is this absence of conceptual reach that allows Filipinos to fail to see very important things. For instance, they are not able to draw the connection between rude behavior and poverty. 

They don't know what the meaning of their country is, except they know they are proud of Pacquiao when he fights. 

If I were to say " A country is its morality, the principles of community that allow people to get along safely and happily", eyes would glaze over. Computers would click off to a different internet site.

Filipinos appear not to grasp the very profound principle that morality is the bedrock of nationhood, and nationhood is not an individualistic principal, with Muslims claiming one morality, Catholics another, crooks another, the Mayor of Davao City another, and Juan dela Cruz his own. Nationhood is a shared set of values that underpin the way people look out for one another. 

Nationhood means values like honesty. Forthrightness. Fairness. Integrity. Honor. Commitment. Responsibility. Hard work. Bravery. Consideration. Compassion. Sacrifice. Forgiveness.

Where do you see people in the Philippines rise up for these principles? They rise up when they are offended. They rise up to cheer a hero. They rise up when a cause is before them, black and white. 

There is a reason the court system in the Philippines is so ineffectual. No one rises up for fairness. There is a reason the Philippines dropped out of Iraq and is not in Afghanistan. Commitment to any alliance is a one-way street, "what's in it for me", not "how can I help the cause of democracy and freedom in a world beset by terrorists who would kill innocents." There is no commitment to a profound principle, to defend a way of life against those who would put a sack over someone's head, and chop off the sack with a machete if the mouth within it protested.

"What's in it for me?" This question is asked silently and aloud millions of times a day. It drives almost every activity in the Philippines.

Too many people are pulling to go down THEIR path, accepting no other as correct. The values listed above mean little. Honor means bluster. Cheating for self-gain supersedes honesty, fairness, integrity, consideration and compassion. Commitment means "what I can get away with". Responsibility is denied by face-saving excuses, victim-playing and tearing down others. Forgiveness is supplanted by getting even. Sacrifice is made in personal terms, laboring in the rice fields under the heat of the sun, not in giving terms, like charity. Or serving in Afghanistan.

On few occasions does principle rise to take a higher ground than "what is convenient for ME".

The prognosis is not good. No nation easily changes its core culture.

The US took over 100 years to substantially eradicate racism on its legal books, but discrimination still simmers in the hearts of many.

Japan energized its economy after World War II by importing top American "Management by Objectives" gurus and learning a new way to think. People were instructed to change and so they followed a core value, obey, and did.

Not in the Philippines. Filipinos are too pride bound in who they are to do that sort of thing. To change would be to criticize "what we are", and that would be insulting - resulting in loss of face - to admit that what we are is less than what we ought to be. So it is more comfortable to stay the same, to put up the defenses, the excuses, the blames . . . to hold the changers at bay.

Here are two ideas, two concepts, detached from common belief. Can you, dear reader, grasp them? Why can others seemingly not grasp them?

Envisioning the growing of foodstuffs as agribusiness rather than farming. Agribusiness sells product into world markets for a profit. Farms grow plants. The Philippines runs farming as an employment sources for the indigent. Not as a competitive industry. When the Philippines grasps the concept of "markets" it will understand that the best way to take care of farmers is not to give them government largesse in the form of subsidies, free land or protection from global producers, but to wrap them within the strong arms of ambitious competitive practices.

Seeing nationhood as a commitment to shared values rather than to unrestrained "freedom" that allows individuals to undermine the common good because it is personally convenient. There is a connection between Ampatuan thinking and the guy who launches a bag of trash out the bus window. They don't care about others. What a huge conceptual failing. What a huge national failing. I see a national failure of values with every piece of trash that hits the ground.



  1. Talking about PRIDE. I am baffled that your Antipinoy friends are too PROUD to even admit that Gordon ran a miserable campaign. They are so blinded by pride to even consider the possibility that Gordon actually messed up.

    All they come up with are excuses on why Noynoy won (media, cheating, stupid people, etc). Why don't they "Man UP" (reference to your other post) and stop making excuses. Man up and admit that Gordon failed to inspire, lead and unify people to his cause (a cause he never communicated clearly).

  2. I'm not sure what you mean my "Antipinoy friends". I have two former AP writers I would like to consider friends, although we disagree on a few things. The disagreements are always civil. I heartily dislike the AP thugs who namecall and subscribe to a tear-down method of debate. So if you have issues with them, you need to find them and address them head-on. I am hardly their mouthpiece. And I was pro-Aquino heading into the election so I don't know how you draw your erroneous conclusions.

  3. @Anon. I am an avid Gordon supporter. Not once did i even considered Noynoy. I do not think Gordon messed up his campaign. Forgive my excuses but I think his campaign hit home, for me. I was lucky enough to have seen his potential and have appreciated. I was lucky enough to have seen beyond the flashy tv ads, popular celebrities during rallies, or even lavish financial support and giveaways by major players..

    His cause was never communicated clearly to many because "many" minds were already closed to what he has to offer because Gordon carries the impression of someone who will make you work. Local politicians did not carry his banner because they will surely not get anything from him once he becomes pres. his fight for change and action was futile but i remain hopeful :)


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