A force for good

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

I have often heard this phrase, especially among non-militant advocacy groups, that we each can be “a force for good.” I later realized that a book on the Dalai Lama written in 2015 by Daniel Goleman, the bestselling author of Emotional Intelligence, actually used the same phrase as the title. I haven’t read the book yet, but I am reminded of it daily because it sits on a table in my room.

So many things are happening in the Philippines and around the world. It is easy to be caught up with the more interesting people., events, or developments. The more controversial, the more our attention is riveted to it. If we were not working on something regular, we would be bombarded with even more tidbits. I call them tidbits because our lives would have gone on with little change if we had not paid attention to any of them. Yes, most of these news, issues or temporary points of interests actually matter little beyond the moments we spend paying attention to them. The more mundane daily routine, less interesting though it may seem, turns out to be the more important. Their very indispensability keeps us well within their parameters – like earning a living, traveling to work and back, etc.

At the end of each day, we tend to disregard and forget the routine, the boring, and remember more the controversies or scandals we picked up. But outside of listening, reading or watching the more interesting happenings, our lives are dedicated to the cyclical demands of survival or the pursuit of a dream or two. What happens to what we paid attention to outside of our daily work? Practically nothing from us. We just get to hear, read or watch the continuation the next day.

Unfortunately, and this I have to understand better why it is so, the more interesting more often tend to be negative. If we are awake 18 hours a day, our routine is not usually marred by negative incidents or people. If at all, they do so for a fraction of our day. Yet, we remember them better, we are stimulated by them (negatively as well) more, even though they do not affect our lives enough to change our routine. It seems that the ordinary carries with it more good than bad but we are not that appreciative. The negative, the controversies, the scandals and the conflicts, they demand and get our attention but not enough to move us towards change.

There are many societal challenges that beset us, many scandals that anger us, many issues that upset us. They cause us to debate and criticize. They make our hearts go heavy and make our tomorrows appear darker. It seems the variety and gravity of endless life tidbits overwhelm us to inaction. As citizens and netizens, we have often offered our own commentaries on issues that reach our attention but have avoided any consistent action on our part to intervene or counter the negatives in our environment. Evidenced by the lives we lead on a daily basis, we are law-abiding, we are basically good human beings, but we are more easily attracted to pay attention to the opposite.

So much so that religions and advocacies remind us constantly to be a force for good. We are naturally good but we have to be encouraged to do good. And because we are drawn like a magnet to controversies and conflicts, we are also reminded by elders and mentors not to engage in wrongdoing. I think the temptation to do wrong is triggered by the importance we give to the wrong happening around us. Since we are more strongly stimulated to monitor what is wrong, it seems we become prone to be self-fulfilling prophesies.

I remember, of course, what an old teacher pointed out to me with an exhortation to never forget this simple law in life: “Whatever we give attention to will grow. Whatever we ignore will fade away.”

If our nature hosts both the good and the bad, yet our lives are evidence that we do much more good than bad, the formula leads us to conclude that we simply pay more attention our capacity to do good and ignore the temptation to do wrong. If we were to focus on this most practical and doable formula of living, even issues like fake news and trolls will be less likely to affect us.

There are many controversies that are swirling in our environment. I do not have to spell them out because they are already top of mind in our attention. Rather, the challenge for me is to seek that which I contribute to the common good and ignore the negativity being thrown in the pathway of our attention.

We are citizens, most of us. Government and public officials count for only a small fraction of our population. If we focus our attention and consequent action to the roles and responsibility of citizens, then we will naturally be able to contribute more to community and country.

There is wrongdoing around us, too. Wrongdoing is difficult to ignore, but we can create a mountain out of a molehill by paying too much attention to it. Our tendency to swim in the negativity detracts from us the attention and focus to do the very good to counter the bad. What happens is that we are overwhelmed by that negativity and end up as an additional part of the problem rather than being its solution.

Be, then, a force for good, and watch miracles happen.

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