Your article on yesterday’s Youngblood column really captivated me. I hope you don’t mind that I’ve referred to you in the familiar, as opposed to the formal. Your words were once mine and so I feel a deep sense of recognition–mine, of your current disposition, and yours, of what mine used to be. I appreciate your honestly and your openness to questions. These are foundations one must nurture to build a spine to tread a course that’s uniquely your own. I hear that in your writing and the sound is sweet, similar to the sound of a flowing creek in the mountainside.
Your desire for freedom, for the triumph of good over the many injustices that plague our fellow men and women really moves me. It’s the world’s way of saying that sometimes we do not have to be like Atlas, carrying the weight of the world solely on our shoulders. I am selfish at times and I bear it forgetting that there are others, like you, who share this anxiety, this dis-ease over the way things are. In your own essay of what you know to be (un)freedom, I hear you ask, sometimes angrily (and rightfully so): WHY? Why must things be the way they are? Why are we so complacent when we could all be asking the same of the world? I hear in your voice the alienation that Marx so clearly identified and though his words have been used and abused so callously, I ask that you trust what you’ve felt yourself. Ignore, for a moment, the din of critics, of our teachers, of theories and books–even of our friends who might call us out on being so predictable. In the quiet room of your mind, allow yourself the feeling of being alone, of being alien–to others–but never to yourself. Nurture what the poet Rainer Rilke calls, solitude.
In this choice of ours to care so much and to hold so firmly to our convictions, we will often need the gifts afforded by our solitude. Many will criticize you for your questioning and regard you as a gadfly without even giving you the courtesy of a question as a premise for a conversation. Already you are being told that your youth and inexperience do not qualify you to come to these conclusions.
You are being told that the same academic institution that gave you the freedom of choice, to think or not to think, lacked in educating you for “the real world.” The same people whose taxes funded your education now doubt the gifts they’ve endowed you with. Really? Well. Thousands of students pass through those academic halls year-in and year-out. How many of them have given a thought to their lives? How many of them have probed beyond the necessary yet mundane realities of their days? I am not even asking how many of them have thought of the real value of being young and Filipino in a country like ours. I am only curious to know if the multitude has chosen to think, just THINK, as you clearly have.
They’ve asked you to learn the ropes of life so you can fix institutions, like UP, and make them run better, then they close by counselling you against giving excuses. I agree, you must never dish those out. We have no room in our hungry, burning bellies, for excuses–so do not listen to theirs, no matter how seemingly well-meaning they are. It is the folly of the elders who perceive themselves wise to tell the young that they must fix what they have left broken. Learn early on to distinguish between the truly wise and the mediocre.
Your responsibility, as a student, is to get an education. So get one. Learn as much as you can from your professors who are generous to share their knowledge, their reading lists, their own musings. But beware of their dogmas. We all have them but it is not our place as teachers to replicate them into sweaters for you to wear until they become second skin. They are for you to try on, to cut, and form into other things. Discard them completely if they do not answer what calls to you in the dead of night. Relish the feel of ideas coming over you when you least expect it. Enjoy the pleasures of good books and find, for your own sanity, a pool of friends to speak with about everything and nothing. Bounce off each other extremes of trivial, noteworthy, and sacrilegious over good music, cheap oily food, and long nights spent asking–always, asking–“WHY?”
For each of our failings, we will be judged according to our alma maters. The critics will deem our schools lacking, catering only to the few, coddling the elite. Those who cry out in our defense will do so with the added pinch of nostalgia, claiming these institutions are not what they were in some heyday of yore. Right.
Our critics ask the university to find you employment. They consider your education only as good as the value that society gives you in accordance with your pay-check. Here you can already learn much about our country. The value of an education in the Philippines is so cheap and shallow, at least until it earns you higher figures.
Grow up or grow bitter? What kind of life is this that narrows choices down this way? It’s as if you’re being asked to grow familiar with your anxiety and certain of regret. Please, I implore you, do not pay heed to these commands just yet. Instead, listen. Listen because even the oldest, most jaded, most cynical, of our people still harbour hopes and it is our responsibility to acknowledge them. They will not always admit this, of course, but if you allow them to respond to earnest questions, they will betray their own self-image and remember what it was that once gave them a spring in their step. This, my friend, is the true gift both generations give to one another. It is the privilege of both the old and the young–a shared right of passage that allows both to bloom, one into the grace of old age and the other into the fertile grounded-ness of the present.
You will need to apply the praxis you speak of because it is the only way to do justice to all our shared hopes and visions. Praxis will allow you to test the certainty of theory against the uncertainty of the world. Our words in the academe are our only economy and grounding them on substance is what ensures the integrity of our institutions. This is not blind allegiance to the academy but rather, a bold acceptance of the scholarly life–however difficult it may be to live our questions.
Everyone thinks those who don’t do, teach or study, as you and I have chosen. They may be wrong but if our output isn’t commensurate to the task of expanding knowledge and exploring the depths of meaning, then we are just as they say we are.
In practice, you will enjoy the chance to try different things. There will be an option to fail and I hope you do, preferably on a magnanimous scale that shakes you out of your stupor, out of your comfort. If it breaks you completely, you will have defined “struggle,” overcome it, and you’ll no longer accept it for it’s own sake.
You will triumph in the end because you will still be YOU–you with the questions, the one who nags this country back to its senses. I know you will succeed.
In the meantime, thank you for this rare chance at authenticity. You’ve given me much to think of and aspire to. Here’s hoping our path’s cross one day and when they do, I hope the road finds us both a step closer to freedom.