by Eric Santillan
If an alien visited the earth many thousands of years ago, and saw the animals in the plains of Africa–the sabre-tooth tiger with its speed and power, the mammoth with its protective hide, the buffalo, the antelope, and the human–and the alien was asked to bet on who would survive and lord it over the earth, he would have given his money on the tiger. Or the mammoth.
Lowly man didn’t have the speed of the tiger, or the protective hair of the mammoth. He had everything going against him. Our young can’t even walk months after birth–not like the young of the horse or antelope. We don’t have claws to protect ourselves. We can’t fly. We can’t breath in water.
Man, it seems, has lost the raffle of the gods.
A thousand years later, the alien (if the alien lived more than a thousand years) would have come back to earth and gotten the shock of its life.
Because we have come to dominate our world. In order to do that, we had to come together in communities to protect our young, to develop tools, to get the hide of other animals to protect ourselves from the cold. We cannot outrun other animals, so we had to make traps. We couldn’t walk around the earth forever as nomads hunting animals, so we had to stop and plant our food. We were not strong, so we molded the earth. We lost the raffle of the Gods.
And gained dominion over the earth.
We were disadvantaged, but that disadvantage made us try harder, made us who we are.
A final story. Somebody once said that if Jose Rizal was one inch taller, he wouldn’t be our national hero. Rizal was a short man–only 4’11″. He was bullied by his much taller mestizo classmates. When he was growing up, he was the runt of the family. But the insecurity–and the overcoming of it–made Rizal a great man. If he was taller, he wouldn’t have tried as much and not have become the man he was.
Because sometimes, you don’t have to be the strongest. Or the quickest. You don’t have to be a sabertooth, or a mammoth.
You just have to be human.
And THAT is enough.
by Eric Santillan
The generation who are in grade school and high school now have been called many names. But the name that has stuck is the Generation of Wimps. That is because this generation is more pampered and spoiled than the previous ones. Because of the media and research about the importance of high self-esteem and happiness, they are “victims” of a phenomenon called over-parenting or helicopter parenting. This is characterised by parents who “hover” over their kids (like helicopters) and “take their child’s perception as truth, regardless of the facts,” and are “quick to believe their child over adults and deny the possibility that their child was at fault.” When they do badly in school for example, their parents fight their teachers. My generation rarely experienced our parents taking our side in school problems. But this seems to be de riguoer in this one.
In the guise of happiness and “protection”, they are usually not allowed to play outside and get dirty. And whenever they play games, they’re told they’re all winners (even if they lose) and everyone gets a trophy or a star. They’re protected from hurt and crying. Their parents petitioned to have games like dodge ball removed from their Physical Education classes because these games are “brutal”.
But no matter how pampered they are now, they will go into the real world with all its attendant misery, where people win and lose, and not everyone gets stars and trophies, but insults and abuse in equal measure. Will they have the skills to improve or battle a system that can eat them up the way it did previous generations? Whereas previous generations put a premium on IQ (Intelligence Quotient) and EQ (Emotional Quotient), AQ (Adversity Quotient) is probably even more important nowadays. Will they have the resilience to battle adversity? I have been quiet about the whole suicide-in-UP thing out of respect for the dead. We can put the University of the Philippines and the whole educational system to task and make it about high tuition fees. The alternative–but equally valid–view is low AQ. Or family problems.
Generations X and Y are going to vote in a few days time. And the Generation of Wimps will be looking at us for affirmation that our choices still matter. That the tide is turning for a more principled politics, and a more intelligent electorate. We have been in deep shit and are not out yet. And we could dig ourselves out, or we could push ourselves deeper.
Come to think of it, it is not the generation of wimps that brought our country where it is now. The real generations of wimps are the generations before this one that brought our country to where it is now, and still hope to milk it for generations to come. They’re the generations of our fathers, and the generations of our sons, who think that politics is a right just because of the sheer popularity of a family name or celebrity, and that it is the best way to make money. The wimps continue to persist in the belief that people are stupid, that you can just pay your way to office, that you can lie, cheat, steal, and just bribe police to get away with it. And sadly, they could. The real generation of wimps believe that there is no better way to do things, when the rest of the world have found much better ways. The wimps, like spoiled brats, vote for personal gain without thinking of the greater good. The wimps do not think of the generations that will come after them, and feel trapped because there is no better candidate (pare-pareho lang naman yan sila lahat), and no better options.
We have crucified someone who was not informed, one who was cruel to an MMDA officer, one who had a major major faux pas and even an amalayer on youtube and facebook. We have yet to crucify a cheater and a public official in the same way.
We will be voting in a few days time. And the Generation of Wimps will be looking at us for affirmation that our choices still matter. And I hope to God that our choices still matter, and that our choices are well thought out, and not just because of what the rest of the mob or facebook says. Because if we cannot get our act together, it really won’t matter which generation we were born into.
We will forever be the Generations of Wimps.
by Eric Santillan
Many people have been pleasantly surprised by Pope Francis’ refreshing take on the papacy since the end of the conclave: how his first act as Pope was to ask everyone to bow down in silence and pray for him in St. Peter’s Square, how he insisted on passing by the Vatican hotel to pay for his bills, how he took the bus with the rest of the cardinals instead of the papal car, the decision to use a recycled Papal ring instead of having one specially engraved, the cross made of wood instead of the traditional gold, the mass with the prisoners on Holy Thursday, some of them not even Catholics, the decision to live in simpler quarters instead of the Papal castle. It seems like so many “traditions” and the pomp and circumstance that we took for granted as marking previous Papacies have been done with.
I’m sure Jesuits will be mortified to write something like this themselves, but being a former Jesuit, I have the privilege of distance and ‘objectivity’. I was just struck by how he was really just living out his Jesuit formation and identity– which is St. Ignatius’ distillation of what it is to be Christian. The Society of Jesus calls it “Our Way of Proceeding” — a mindset of how to do things following the way of Christ.
What are these Ways of Proceeding that I talk about? I would like to highlight three:
1) READY TO BE SENT ANYWHERE. The Jesuits have been called God’s Marines, which is really a testament to how the Church has sent Jesuits to places that have never been explored before. I remember a novel called The Sparrow that had as its premise the discovery of a new planet. And who do you send to that new planet? The Jesuits.
These “places” need not be geographical in nature. Jesuits have also been known to explore new frontiers in science and technology, philosophies and theologies. While others would condemn and dismiss, the Jesuits’ first instinct is to engage with the trust that God is found in ALL things. This has led to some awkward moments with the Church and some Jesuits have been censured and punished in the past, but it is this openness to new ideas– not for its sake, but because God can be found there– that allows Church doors to be open and more inclusive and truly Catholic.
I learned about Islam for example in a Jesuit School of Theology. And while some priests condemned Harry Potter as a book about witchcraft, Jesuits were using it in their homilies!
2) FREEDOM. The Jesuits, because of their status in society, has not been known for simplicity. They are professors in the best schools of this land, they are not allergic about using technology and gadgets, they are on Facebook and Twitter. They use media and theatre. But they do all these with a freedom that is simply astounding to behold and is counter-cultural. The principle and foundation of every Jesuit is to use things of this world in tantum quantum — for as long as it helps and ad majorem Dei gloriam — for the greater glory of God.
A former President of Ateneo de Zamboanga many years ago was given a Mercedes Benz van to be used as his car. He decided not to accept it. When asked why, he simply said, “This is Zamboanga. We don’t use that here.” I’ve been in a jeepney ride to Payatas with the former Socius to the Provincial (the second in command among the Jesuits in the Philippines). My mom told me this story of two provincials visiting our house in Cagayan de Oro and helping in the cooking. A former Provincial (head of the Jesuits in the Philippines) and President of Xavier University and Ateneo de Manila explained it this way, “It’s just a job. I get picked up at the airport because of my job. But after my term, it will go to someone else and I will take the taxi like I used to.” They use things, and don’t let things use them. Status is good, and it makes things easier, but they’re not beholden by it.
So when you see Pope Francis riding the bus or the train, he’s just living out the freedom that marks everyJesuit. People have said that the reason Francis wanted to live in the Vatican Hotel instead of the Papal Apartments is because its less isolating and perhaps easier to sneak out of as he sees fit.
3) SILENCE. The silence that marked the beginning of Francis’ papacy wasn’t just for show. It is the silence that St. Ignatius asked of all his men: the silence of a contemplative-in-action. It is a silence that understands that before action is done, reflection is needed. But don’t be fooled by that seemingly passive silence.
It is that silence that has changed the world: Mateo Ricci’s revolutionary decision to let go of priestly vestments and wear Mandarin clothes, not preach fire and brimstone, learn the language and embrace the Chinese culture, it is what led to St. John Brebeuf’s death in the hands of Native American chieftains who ate his heart to honour his bravery, it is what led to a deep understanding of liberation theology in the Pope’s own Argentina, or Fr. Rutillo Grande’s death that changed Archbishop Romero’s life. Closer to home, it is the silence that led to the indictment of the Marcos regime after the snap elections of ’84. Or the continuing reflection on social entrepreneurship. It is the calm before the storm. It is a silence that has changed the world many times over.
A question I’m often asked is this, “If he becomes too old, will Pope Francis also resign like Benedict XVI?” I remember the story of St. Ignatius, founder of the Jesuits, when he was asked, “What is the worst thing that can happen to the Society of Jesus?” And he answered, “If God decides that the Society be disbanded.”
And then he pauses, and adds, “But give me 15 minutes to pray in the chapel, and I’ll be okay.”
Because Francis is a son of Ignatius, think of the worst thing that can happen, give him time in the chapel, and he’ll be okay.