The Petty Man

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There’s an untold story of a not-so-new villain in town.

Physically, he embodies everything you see in the movies. He’s not easy on the eyes, looks funny. But while the Wicked Witch of the West has her broom and Hannibal Lecter has his mouth guard, there is nothing spectacular about him. Nothing to fuss about.

Boring.

He’s not smart, and of course, he’s never kind. He puts on a mask but some people can easily see through him. He has no real friends, only dependents. What he has, however, is power. It’s not earned; it’s not even for merit. It’s just haphazardly given.

What he does as the baddie of this story remains undetected. Only a few can recognize it. Much fewer are those willing to do anything about it. That’s why he’s accumulated so much power over the years, on his road to being a supervillain.

The Petty Man has the power to appear without warning. He can sneak in the crowd and will claim attention. People freeze at his mere presence. He can clear out a room if he wants to. If time stands still and laughter has died in this world, it’s probably his fault.

In between pointing fingers, washing his hands like Pontius Pilate and yakking about dumb-ery all day long, he still demands admiration and respect. Surely, his other power is the strength to carry a massively thick face that not even the mantle, the thickest layer of the earth, can hold a candle to.

In the midst of his dreary existence, The Petty Man longs for relevance. He talks but no one listens. He sneers but no one cares.

He is offensive and he is defensive. He gets mad over the absurd and the trivial, but will not hold back at mudslinging and hurling brickbats at people’s feelings every chance he gets. He makes up stories of grandiosity and dominance, only to reveal his poor character and low self-esteem. The Petty Man also has delusions of grandeur and hubris, which are laughable than detestable.

The Petty Man, sly that he is, lurks like a predator who’s onto his next innocent prey while the rest of the world just tries to sleep soundly at night.

A scrounger for love and attention, The Petty Man spends his day making mountains out of molehills. Ironic how he’s good at sweating the small stuff but unseeing of the big picture. He has very poor vision. In fact, he might as well be blind.

For people who are liberal at giving the benefit of the doubt, The Petty Man has been the most undeserving. For the helpless, the fearful and those who play safe, he finds it comforting. In that sweet solace of indifference and inaction, he’s seen thriving.

The forgotten backstory, though, is that deep inside, The Petty Man is a sad, old man who lives with the deep-seated insecurities of a 15-year-old girl. No offense to 15-year-old girls.

The petty man is eager to make boasts, yet desires that others should believe in him. He enthusiastically engages in deception, yet wants others to have affection for him. He conducts himself like an animal, yet wants others to think well of him. – Xun Zi

Conversations

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Credits to: luckystrike-cosplay.deviantart.com

I am fascinated by good, hearty conversations. Of course, these mean the smart ones but not the kind that intimidates. They are almost always funny, and that which nourishes the mind, heart and soul. So cheesy but true.

I’ve never really been the shy girl who sits in one corner of the classroom and keeps to herself. I’m always seen talking to my seatmate, the person in front or in the back, or even in front of the whole class for no good reason. I rarely give a timid first impression although I know there are instances I’m terribly shy I could have a stroke on the spot if given attention. But I know I just love to talk to people. I am always curious about the people I meet and how so similar and so different we are from each other.

Too, I’m easily awed by the simplicity and complexity of being human. The psychological orgasm it gives is enriching. I believe everyone has a unique story to tell. There are always lessons behind them, whether happy or sad, good or bad. Consequently, it just brings more depth to our knowledge about life. The fact that one can never experience everything in this life makes me curious about how other people are holding up. It’s like my ultimate joy in reading a good book. You get various perspectives about life you can never live.

That’s the esoteric, melodramatic part of it.

But more than my love for talk, I also love to listen. I love telling and hearing stories. I remember in an interview I did with a top corporate executive, she couldn’t help but express her admiration for what I do. “You know, more than the fact that not a lot of people can write well, I admire reporters because of their ability to listen. You must have so much patience to just listen to people talk.”

I will always have great admiration for people who can carry great conversations. It’s one of the most underrated skills in the world, completely forgotten because many people have gone shallow by the second. In a selfie, 140-character, iPhone-obsessed generation, depth is a rare commodity. But if we can only listen enough and learn to engage in meaningful conversations, we’ll realize just how delightful and worthwhile it is to be, well, human.

Spring bear

“I really like you, Midori. A lot.”

“How much is a lot?”

“Like a spring bear,” I said.

“A spring bear?” Midori looked up again. “What’s that all about? A spring bear.”

“You’re walking through a field all by yourself one day in spring, and this sweet little bear cub with velvet fur and shiny little eyes comes walking along. And he says to you, “Hi, there, little lady. Want to tumble with me?’ So you and the bear cub spend the whole day in each other’s arms, tumbling down this clover-covered hill. Nice, huh?”

“Yeah. Really nice.”

“That’s how much I like you.”

- Norwegian Wood, Haruki Murakami

In the time of Haiyan

After the superstorm has passed, I am comforted that my family, relatives and I were safe but a bit ashamed to be living in comfort.

I guess there’s always guilt when you know you can never truly help enough − give enough, console enough − those who are left to pick up the pieces of what were and what had been; those who are still suffering, grieving and now bereft of the most important things and people in their lives.

Heartbreaking stories of survival, loss, search and desperation over the past few days have pulled on more than our heartstrings. They touched something deeper in our soul, as we were suddenly awakened from reckless and unenlightened living to face grim, hardcore realities.

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Photo source: CNN.com

On accounts of looting and violence in Tacloban, we question our moralities. In moments of despair and scarcity, we shun our lavish proclivities. Among the countless dead, we think about our own mortality. You must have a heart of stone if you can bear to be indifferent. You must be cold-blooded.

They say no one can ever prepare for the worst disasters in the world. Not even the great superpowers, experts say. You can have all the money, fool-proof contingency plans and state-of-the-art equipment, but lives will still be lost and millions of property will still be destroyed. Many scientific studies on disaster preparedness have been put out, but there’s really nothing that can prepare you for the worst case scenario. You can only cling to dear life, which most people did while some sadly failed, during the worst disaster to hit the land.

Indeed, hell hath no fury like nature scorned.

Social media behavior

I’ve always rallied behind Neil Postman when he said that every technological change is a Faustian bargain. “Technology giveth and technology taketh away.” This trade-off is most apparent in today’s social media. We embrace it for its apparent advantages, but we also sneer at its banality and fear its darkness.

Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have become essential tools in today’s information dissemination and mobilization for meaningful action. It’s been proven time and again, not just post-Haiyan but also in the many events the Philippines has endured. Many countries have heeded our call for help, thanks largely to social media that opened their eyes, their arms and  their big hearts. The connections have become more genuine than ever.

However, there are moments when social media has become nothing but a mecca of hostility and antagonism. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. They don’t go talking. There’s just too much unnecessary noise that doesn’t do anything good except add to the emotional burden that people are already facing.

My personal pet peeve is this. Telling people what to post on Facebook, “how to behave” and all those other trivialities is arrogant. We don’t really know everyone − their inclinations, their motivations, etc. People are suddenly going GMRC on us. We can frown upon a food post or selfie for its “assumed insensitivity” but we don’t judge them based on mere conjuncture. For all we know, these people have done their part on the relief more than you can ever imagine. Life just goes on for some. Do we fault them for that?

What I’m saying is, take it easy. Real people have real suffering. We don’t need childish drama.

I believe that it’s our supreme moral responsibility as a decent human being to just be a positive force to each other.

On cynicism

I understand government criticism. In fact, I do it all the time. Vigilance makes the people we voted for and whom we expect to serve our needs to work harder, work smarter, and  frankly, just work. We are a betrayed electorate so it’s instinctive to react to familiar crap. Filipinos barely trust the current administration so it’s natural to carry these feelings of anger, wariness and defiance on government corruption and incompetence, even in the most miserable times. Especially in the most miserable times.

However, I also don’t want to undermine the efforts of those people in the government who actually give their all to help. The social workers, the military guys, the LGU officers and members — these are honest and committed workers who don’t deserve the same judgment. It’s tough enough that what they do is a thankless job. These people are on the field 24/7, who go to typhoon-ravaged areas to give the most immediate help. It’s disrespectful and ungrateful to say nothing is being done. It’s unfortunate that they are part of the government you hate but don’t say they’re doing nothing. You see, typing on the keyboard armed with your wit and sarcasm does not compare to riding C-130s armed with relief goods, carrying and burying the dead, rescuing trapped survivors, and gathering and  taking care of bereaved families.

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Photo source: CNN.com

We have a lot to work on as people, as a nation. We havea government that fails to meet our expectations as it continues to display its shortcomings, to the detriment of many. We have a terrible system of operations that is earning national ire and international shame. We have a lot of politicking, it’s another pile of chaos in the midst of disaster. This is our reality and we will continue to change that as we regain what was recently lost. I believe that all these criticisms will be put in perspective. I believe that everything will work out fine. We are a work in progress. Any amount of cynicism that boils inside of you should work toward that progress.

Human kindness

God damn it, you’ve got to be kind! – Kurt Vonnegut

I can never reiterate enough the wonderful reality of kindness. Gratitude is beyond words for the people here and from all over the world whose generosity knows no boundaries. Such amazing display of love and friendship completely restores my faith in humanity, a millionfold. We may be in pain now but it’s nice to know that we are in this together.

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A kind gesture can reach a wound that only compassion can heal. Cheers, fellow earthlings!

On our road to recovery, let’s continue to help!

http://www.rappler.com/move-ph/issues/disasters/43300-reliefph-victims-typhoon-yolanda-help

Convenience

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Photo c/o Fine Art America

In the middle of traffic one night, I saw a police car stopped by a corner of the road to reprimand two boys who were lying asleep on the concrete pavement. One of the boys obliged. The other, probably due to interrupted sleep, resisted. In response to his agitation, Mr. Policeman forcibly took the boy and pulled him hard toward the car. His frail body could only do so much. The poor boy, who was probably more scared than stubborn, cried while he tried to put up a fight. He dropped his worn-out pants in his struggle (too loose for his skinny frame), which probably added humiliation to the hapless situation.

Right before the cars moved on our end, I caught a glimpse of how he finally surrendered with such disheartening resignation.

In one of our sociology classes back in college, our professor discussed the sad plight of some of our fellowmen. She once posted: hanggang awa na lang ba tayo? I never got over that.

I rue the many times I didn’t do anything and just felt pain for others. I vowed to myself that if ever I’ll be caught in such situations, I will do something to be more helpful than merely cede to casual observation. However, at that particular moment, I was a casual observer. I just looked and secretly shed tears for the harsh reality right in front of me.

Maybe it’s the silent acceptance of certain realities that I can’t change. You cannot fault the policeman because he’s just doing his job. In a way, he’s also looking out for the boy because sleeping in that corner of the road is dangerous. You cannot blame the boy, too, because in his destitute state (who’s probably too drugged or too hungry to think straight), he thought that corner of the road was his sanctuary. Oh, the irony.

In times of nonintervention, at what point will inconvenience become a convenient excuse?

Meeting expectations

“We’re wired to expect the world to be brighter and more meaningful and more obviously interesting than it actually is. And when we realize that it isn’t, we start looking around for the real world.” Lev Grossman

I’m supposed to do a self-evaluation for something I signed up to do and I find it very difficult. I don’t do well with self-descriptions, let alone “judging” myself for something I did or didn’t do. The exciting part, though, is asking yourself if you have met or exceeded other people’s expectations. And yours, too.

In these things, I guess I have to make do with being honest, since that always works.

What’s the purpose of self-evaluation? Most people see this as justification for appraisal. The official battlecry is: “Never sell yourself short,” especially if you believe from the bottom of your big, throbbing heart that you deserve some appreciation. Others take a different perspective. It’s probably a chance to weigh the things you’ve done and whether they amount to anything that will make you a better and stronger person (if you’re cheesy as hell).

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Expectations are a tricky thing. In the workplace, it’s natural for the company to have certain expectations because it pays you to meet/exceed them in the first place. Nobody is king except that whose hands feed you. But to gauge something as relative as “expectations,” it’s a tall order. It’s the Petronas Towers of orders.

In light of the recent Philippine elections, many people feel disheartened and (dare I say it) disgusted by the results. They condemn how some people voted, why Filipinos easily forget, and how the system really sucks in our country. But after all the harsh, spiteful, demeaning words are out in the open, democracy still entails that we get and accept the government that we create. It’s not always to our liking, for we are not that lucky. So we are left to face the consequences and hope for the best. This may be hard for most of us to do because losing in the elections means losing faith in our country. But do we really want to do that? Do we really want to throw in the towel and give up?

Instead of dwelling on what we can’t change (for now, that is), we just have to push these people (whom we didn’t like but were vested with power by the majority) to do their job — to prove us wrong. We all have different reasons why we did and didn’t vote for a particular candidate but at the end of the day, we all want the same thing. We all want change. Can we do that by being sore losers?

Your guess is as good as mine.

As for the newly-elected (and re-elected), I pose this challenge. Meet our expectations (for good governance). In fact, exceed them. We hesitantly and doubtfully gave you the power to do that so we’ll be watching you from here on out. Be the change that we seek. For the record, we are not asking. We are demanding, and rightfully so.

Curb your enthusiasm

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Imagine yourself wanting to buy a really good pair of shoes. The first time you saw them, they didn’t exactly make you head over heels. But the more you see them grandiosely displayed by the window, the more you want them. Unconsciously, you make ends meet just so you can get closer to those shoes, possibly even have them.

You feel that those shoes are really made for you. They’re easy on the eyes, look sturdy and really make good sense. They also make you feel so damn good.

But as fate would have it, they’re the last pair. What’s worse is, someone else has already reserved them. Now, you are left to ponder on your own series of unfortunate events.

You are in no position to compromise. You are in no position to do anything actually. So, you’re left to just stare at them from afar. You see them everyday but you’re forced to curb your enthusiasm.

But since you’re stubborn as hell, you can’t help but hope that somehow, another great pair comes along. Or maybe, just maybe, that pair you’ve always wanted is not all gone.

Letters

I love letter-writing. I love reading letters and writing them, regardless if they end up being sent or forever concealed in a locked-up box in the closet. I started doing it when I was six, give or take. I had to write letters to my dad then since he’s working so far away from us. I remember my mom asking us to do it every week, much to my delight.

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Handwritten letters are still the most intimate form of communication. The graceful effort of putting ink to paper while your thoughts impel you to composition overdrive brings about feelings of warmth and longing that you hope the reader imbibes. Back then, I would devour pages and pages of yellow pad paper so I could share with my dad things I really care about. Even if it’s just how I’ve been doing in school, how I wished he’s here on my birthday, or how I didn’t get more playtime than I would’ve wanted.

A few years into the obsession, I expanded my reach by also writing to my friends, classmates, and ex-SOs about the most random things — serious, trivial or both. I think everyone that I’ve gotten close to has, at one point or another, received a letter from me. I was never ashamed of it.

I also received hundreds of them, which I still keep to this day. It’s not only the romance and drama that attracts me to it, since people tend to be at their most unfeigned (emotionally) in their letters, but the mere accessibility of nostalgia is also a welcome invitation. Even to this day, I never really gotten over the high in letter-writing. It’s writing at its most primitive yet it can take you to places beyond your imagination, sans the help of WiFi and the imposing 140-character limit.

It’s a lost art now, sadly, but I’d take handwritten letters over any means of expression any day in any of my possible lifetimes. Believe me, nothing can make you laugh, cry, or feel so loved than an honest letter from someone you care about.

Anyway, I’m posting this letter from John Steinbeck because it’s one of the loveliest letters I’ve ever read in my life. This is his letter to his son, who confessed in their previous correspondence that he’s in love with a girl he met in boarding school. This is just too sweet, and too valuable, not to share. Read the rest of this entry »

All is forgiven

A month ago, the Supreme Court granted judicial clemency to a former Pampanga judge, which lifted his perpetual ban from government service after being charged with a sexual harassment case 16 years ago.  He is 71 years old.

Judge Hermin Arceo was dismissed in 1996 after harassing his female clerk. His advances ranged from giving her a lascivious poem, making sexual gestures using his forefinger, and rubbing his lower part to her behind. Arceo was deemed unfit and unworthy by the Supreme Court to dispense justice, as his “actuations, if condoned, would damage the integrity of the judiciary, fomenting distrust in the system.”

But in an eight-page resolution, 16 years later, all of that was forgiven. The court en banc granted the petition for reprieve. Even if he’s way past the retirement age, the Supreme Court doesn’t doubt that “he could still be of service to the government in some other capacity.”

This recognition of restored credibility stems from his successful post-judge work. Arceo went private and moved on by providing service to poor litigants, neighbors and friends. It’s amazing what 16 years can do. During that time, he got commendation from esteemed colleagues, and won the 2011 Gawad Bunying Abogadong Bulakenyo award. Basically, he turned his life around.

For an ex-offender to recover positively from a huge setback is rare, if not ambitious. To get back on one’s feet to the point where your past mistakes can’t entirely haunt you is an incredible achievement.

Arceo behaved like any man probably will at least once in their lifetime, except of course, he was expected to act more honorably and to be more morally superior than the rest of his brethren. Great power comes with great responsibility, and also demands the highest level of decency. The Petraeuses, Strauss-Kahns and Weiners will attest to that fact. Powerful men tend to make reckless choices when it comes to the calls of the flesh. Others blame this on biology, while the rest banks on sheer morality.

However, no matter how scandalous and reprehensible the act, everyone deserves a second chance (at least by law), in the condition that one shows remorse, repairs the harm he’s done and makes an effort to be a changed man — a more honorable man. It’s the highest form of restorative justice.

Second chances are a luxury that not many can afford. It all boils down to trust, this thing of beauty that once shattered cannot be put back to pieces. When people are robbed of confidence to trust someone, they tend to be less forgiving and more judgmental. Naturally, it’s hard to forgive people who did you wrong when they’re supposed to protect you. Arceo was a weak man, sinful and dirty. But after that moment of weakness, Arceo chose to repair the harm by refusing to be defined by his transgressions. The Supreme Court’s clemency proves that the country’s judicial system can still be fair and sympathetic. They punish your sins and reward your atonements.

At 71, Arceo may not have that long of a life to continue to prove that he is not his past mistakes. No one really expects local courts will be contacting him anytime soon for his services. He probably wouldn’t want that. But the decision puts more weight on character redemption than reinstatement. At least the Supreme Court gave a reformed man his second chance, probably his last, to live his life with absolution.

At least in the eyes of the laws of men, he is redeemed. He is forgiven. 

*This is an editorial (slightly tweaked) I wrote for my Journ class. Full story here:

According to Benjamin

To start 2013 here, I thought I’d share some good old virtues from Benjamin Franklin that we can definitely keep in mind as we enjoy another awesome year. It sounds old and probably trite but its value is timeless and its intentions right. Happy New Year!

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A repost from the great Maria Popova.

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