Tradition and transition

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

Jose M. Montelibano

Christmas is five weeks away. I would like to savor the buoyancy of this special season and rise above the more depressing situations we read or hear about in daily life. There are lots of these, by the way, but we must make a choice to be swept by them or hold tight to the good news and good works that inspire us.

Years ago, a great man said that he would rather light a candle than curse the darkness. His greatness did not arise from his political charisma or acumen but from the strength of an inner spirit that clung to hope and vision instead of wallowing in hate. I thought I would try to understand where that inner strength was coming from since he had fallen from political success to enduring political persecution and imprisonment. It took me a long time to experience the power to rise above adversity. In other words, I had to go through the low points to know if I had the capacity to still carry aspirations rather than anger and the need for vengeance.

In truth, though I went through my own hell, I felt others had hell much worse than mine. The misery of the poor because of their cursed inheritance is horribly visible if we care to look. I know that the poor have often been accused of being lazy and stupid, but I fail to see that as a rule. Rather, I see coping mechanisms from having to survive extreme circumstances, daily and for a lifetime. Of course, there are exceptions – there always are. Just as there are rich people who do not the impulse for generosity or nobility.

But mild as my hell maybe when it comes, or when I visit it, it still invites me to wallow in self-pity and finger-pointing. Worse, I can simply allow rage to overpower guilt. In my younger years, I gave in to that invitation and I was as reactive as others. Later, however, I tried and learned to go the other way, to choose positivism in order to build new opportunities, to see the good of others rather than griping over the bad. The principle of self-fulfilling prophecies scared me enough to avoid attracting both negativity and negative people.

Time and again, I have been so relieved by the wave of change that the younger generations are bringing. By focusing on their attitudes and creativity I often miss the intramurals and violent tantrums of traditional power in competition. The impact of traditional power is very strong because older generations continue to conduct the pace of governance and business. But the young and the relentless advancement of technology are discovering and applying a counter-culture and a counterforce. By sheer attrition, they will win and take over.

Meanwhile, society has to wait out the fading away of traditional power. There must be patience that stems from understanding that traditional power has not been around for a century, or even a millennium, but from the beginning of human communities. We are in a cusp of radical and disruptive change that challenges everything that has been as it ushers what has never been imagined. This is a moment of transition from the largely familiar to the largely unimaginable. This transition scares tradition and the older generations. That is why they are reacting the only way they know how – digging in instead of giving way.

There is now a generational collision, one of consciousness more than in physicality. The younger generations in the West and in the Philippines are not rebellious or angry. They can be provoked to be so but not yet. Traditional power is slowly and reluctantly surrendering to technology because technology is a great source of power, too. This surrender eases the constraints on the younger generations who are the children of technology and the native experts. It is as though technology anticipated that its mainstream users are newly born and still to be born.

Because traditional power needs technology to remain competitive, it is more lenient and cooperative to the younger generations in the economic field. However, it is not as fast in doing so as far as politics is concerned. Partisanship thrives when people dig in, not when people innovate. The older generations dig in when threatened while the millennials build new boxes rather than be caged. That is why we are in transition from the only one history mankind has known to create a completely new way of seeing, understanding and doing things. If we can focus on what is being built, how and by whom, it is possible that hope will be stronger than fear.

This birthing process is like Christmas, and the changing mindset of the new and yet-to-come generations is like New Year. There is no denial to the ugliness that is real and present, but it can be an ugliness that we see on its way out. And while time still moves slower for the frustrated, it does seem to fly for the hopeful. Those who want to destroy the dragons that have accompanied our past that lingers to the present feel like imploding at the way that there seems to be no change. Those who want to build the world that only they are imagining are too busy and passionate in their creative and experimental journey. Time is to them is more nebulous, almost not there when they are deeply focused in their laboratory.

Between generations, though, poverty is an equalizer. The grandson trapped in poverty suffers just like his grandfather that never got out of the pit. No matter how much more open or active the attitude and imagination may be of the grandson, his body will wilt away when hungry, his spirit will cower when he is afraid and homeless, and his hope with wither when it does not experience opportunity. May we bring Christmas to them, and New Year to their seed.

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