Time flies, learning crawls

Jose M. Montelibano

I was browsing through my newsfeed on my phone when I came across the closing remarks of Rappler’s Maria Ressa in the recent Social Good Summit. I was not present in that summit and was fortunate enough to catch Ressa’s wrap-up which, I assume, touched on the heart of the gathering. As she made specific mention of the grave concerns that threaten humanity globally, I was transported back in time to the ’80s, a good thirty-five years ago, when I was at the beginning of a new and radical journey in my life.

It can be amazing how life can take a sharp turn without visible provocations. From what was a successful and exciting period of corporate life with all the perks that came along with it, I found myself drawn to an opposite environment. Corporate business meant the ultra-modern concrete jungles of Makati, San Francisco, New York, and key Western European countries.

Suddenly, I was introduced to the isolated foothills of a mountain known for the rebels that claimed it for their own. I could have treated it as a one-time experience but I did not, or I could not. Somehow, one introductory visit became a full-blown 17-year life journey.

I was being jolted with these sharp contrasts three times a week, from Friday to Sunday, when the traditional golf weekends became treks to a mountain.  It was like I was only learning to live again. Every week, therefore, became a competition between two ways of life, two opposing lifestyles. And for the life of me, I could not simply walk away and return to normalcy.

Of course, I found it impossible to stay in a weekly experience of sharply competing for energies and value systems. Ultimately, I gave up the corporate life and slowly adapted to a new, strange, yet exhilarating journey of discovery. It may seem ironic that much learning can happen in what many would say was a backward environment, not just a rural area but a more isolated one at the foot of a great mountain. People were all poor, not hungry, but poor. There was no electricity until seven years later, but I adjusted well to the cycle of light and darkness in the real sense.  It also meant adjusting to quiet, even total silence in the nighttime, to the noise of the city. But this was only the surface, the easy part, so to speak.

What went straight to my heart and my understanding was the introduction of a different world view and value system. It shook my very foundation because everything that I believed in was questioned, or became questionable. I realized the power of social conditioning and discovered who was driving the conditioning of our minds and consequently setting the hierarchy of our values. I realized that in the midst of superior information was superior ignorance of what really counts. Information and its growing volume actually distracted us from the essential and drove our attention to the peripheries.

Back to what Maria Ressa was talking about.  She mentioned the threats to the air we breathe, the water we drink, the land we till and live on – meaning how we pollute these essential ingredients of life. I was taught that thirty-five years ago, how power and money, especially in their interchangeability, have become the first god of all gods. My primary teachers were the wise of the world, some of them lived hundreds or thousands of years ago, but whose insights continue to be as true, if not truer, today. I wrote an essay, among my first, in the ’90s, entitled God the Money, as a tribute to what I finally came to realize.

What is not new today is what the older teachers of psychology were pointing out at their time – the fragmented human being, the same one called you and me, the person with so many roles and faces, and the first to be confused about who and what we are. We may think one thing, we may feel another way and ultimately behave differently. I was told that when a person is saying two or three different things, to always look at what that person does to determine what is most important to him or her. When we meet the rare ones, we see the integrated person who thinks, feels, and acts in harmony. The rare one. The rest struggle to integrate their thoughts, emotions, and behavior. For us to know the most important truth about them, we have to see their actions.

Today is really no different from what I discovered more than 30 years ago – just new in form, just more in volume, just faster in speed. People lied before as they still do now. But we did not hear or see their lies in the past. They did so in relative silence, in relative obscurity. Kwento kutchero or kwento barbero. How many, how far could the old chismis go without technology? Today, we have social media. That is how many, how fast and how far chismis can go today. The Internet is a channel. Social media is a tool. Together, a chismis can turn viral, and viral means one chismis can become millions in minutes. Change chismis to a lie. That’s how many, how fast, and how far a lie can go.

So, what else is new? When did the world exchange the clean air for a polluted version, and why? When did water turn dirty and now has to be bottled to be safe? Why? And the very earth that is our safe haven, our fertile provider, we poison it, we commercialize it, until it is dirty and dying – and even at that, unavailable to billions of human beings. Why? For the same money and power that Maria Ressa mentioned days ago. So, what else is new? Nothing. Nothing except the lies manifest in new forms. Nothing, except money and power, want new things and have new ways to control.

Time flies, but learning crawls.

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