The midterm elections just ended in the Philippines. It was no surprise that people went to social media to voice out thoughts, feelings, anger, frustration, judgements, prayers, grief, hope, love for country. A battlefield of friends and hearts and sarcasm and shares, a raging mixture of venom and cure-alls. People versus people, people for people.
I was part of the millions of Filipinos who celebrated Duterte’s landslide victory in 2016. I liked him. I never understood the ways of politics and absolutely hated the unending cycles that, to me, nurtured nothing more than a nerve-network system of corruption feeding on greed, power and stupidity. And then here was this figure of a man – with so much hate in him and misunderstandings around him – rising right in the center of all that I hated and didn’t want to understand. I clung to him.
At the time, I was going through anxiety. I hated what the world was coming to. I was then on a mission to save the sea turtles in the oceans, eradicate plastic, create world peace, and find happiness – all very ambitious and cyclical pursuits that made me feel like I was drowning.
I couldn’t understand why people weren’t in mass panic over climate change. I couldn’t understand how we were all creating so much garbage, physically and spiritually. I couldn’t understand why people thought we were the superior beings who get to decide on morality when our stupid actions and/or non-action have wiped out entire species and God-given resources. I couldn’t understand how religions could talk about the value of life while enabling utter ignorance and unstoppable population growth that thrives in poverty and oppression. I hated the human race. I thought someone should wipe us all out as soon as possible.
Hate attracts hate
Naturally, I supported a president who announced that he was going to start killing people.
Here was my basic argument: how could people rally for the death of drug addicts who raped their own children while an innocent baby sea turtle just suffocated on a plastic straw and yet people still won’t make an effort to skip the f^&#!* straw?
I was so drunk in my own saltwater and waylaid by the unethical logic I perceived the world to be set up in that the only pathway I saw to peace and order was by way of a destruction highway. And no water is running under this bridge. No one is forgiven. Sea turtles over people. Oceans over societies. My fears over your fears. My peace over yours. You go stand there while I stand here.
This mixed state of nobility and suicide isn’t an extraordinary place to find oneself in. I mean, look at the Old Testament and McDonald’s happy meals. Confusion and contradictions are more common and internal than we think. This push and pull between ignorance and control, between goal and convenience, between innocence and power, between participation and apathy, between so-called “right” and so-called “wrong.”
I still support a few things about Duterte until now, especially his personal attacks on Catholicism. I also still want to save the sea turtles. But what I want to talk about here is not the politics of another man or the death of the oceans, no matter how relevant or important Duterte’s role or the ocean’s significance as a life source may seem in how the world is playing out and losing right now.
The politics I want to talk about is purely mine.
My candidacy, my platform, my self-governance, my problem. Because, in the face of my anxiety, I had been forced to realize that I am actually the most important player in the game, if not the only one.
Something was wrong with me. I wanted peace, I wanted love, I wanted the world to be made up of good people. But my desires caused me to be angry, to agree with hate, to judge others and make decisions on whether they were being good or bad. The stronger my convictions became, the harder it was to brush off this growing sense of inner conflict.
I was confident about my opinions when I looked at other people. I wasn’t so sure when I looked at myself.
And when I started to really pay attention, two things started becoming very clear: 1) The more determined I was to want to see change in others, the more helpless and hopeless I felt; 2) the “wrong” things I consistently saw in others and in the world – anger, weakness, hypocrisy, judgement, lack of will – were only easy to point out because they were recognizable to me. Meaning to say that they looked the most obvious and familiar. And they can only be this obvious and familiar because I recognize them well in myself.
These observations led me to two more realizations: 1) It’s harder to look at yourself than others, because you can actually and definitely should do something about yourself and then, yikes, that would be a real responsibility; 2) if I translate my realizations on a bigger scale, then the global unrest that is happening in the outer world is simply the result of an entire nation’s inability to confront its collective inner turmoil.
The problem is it is not – it is never – about THEM. It is all about me.
Trump and Duterte became worldwide sensations and everybody had an opinion. Relationships were breaking apart because of one or the other’s strong sense of identification with one or another. It was disturbingly apparent that these men were representing something so much bigger than themselves and their own country, identity, and ego. After all, they WON. They won votes, support, love, loyalty, faith. But they certainly didn’t win because of who they are. They won because of what the world is.
I couldn’t help but see the battleground of the world as the exact same thing that was occurring deep within me – an eternally noisy and opinionated debate on what is right or wrong; what works and what doesn’t; what love is and what it isn’t; where peace is and where it is not; this is who I am or, no, maybe that is who I am; I should do something but I can’t do anything because I am what I am. Say whuuuut.
The more we cannot control or face our doubts about our own lacking or understanding, the more we look, criticize, and blame others. If we can look far away and throw the accusation to the people standing the farthest from where we are standing, the less likely we will have to sit still and check in on ourselves.
Change is coming.
That was Duterte’s slogan. But a few months into his presidency, as some were satisfied and some were aghast, it didn’t take long before Filipinos started chanting to one another: “Change starts with you.” It was in a mix of accusing, mocking, inspired, encouraging, and begging voices. Because people continued fighting. And no matter what was done, someone would be happy and someone would be mad. Somebody would win and somebody would lose. Winning and losing happens to everyone and happens every day, and yet never has the play become so loud and undermining and massive. What’s amusing is people keep picking the sides to the left and right of “Change” while “Change” sits melancholy in the middle – alone and friendless, but happy – in a noisy world that continues to bang the big drums.
If there is a “Game of Thrones,” today’s society is the “Game of Throws” because everyone is just constantly throwing whatever they could at each other. You did this, I didn’t do that, what about the time he did this, we’re not talking about that we’re talking about this, what about her, what did she say, what did you ever do, I didn’t do anything, exactly my point, *smiley face emoji*, you should be taking a stand, ok, that’s too much, sit down now, go away, unfriend.
So now, we have called out each and everyone’s major and everyday bullshit. From our ancestors’ faults to the mistakes that their great grandchildren will possibly make next week. There is no turning back and we are all totally lost AF. It stinks everywhere. We have all, together, made a complete mess for ourselves.
We so often wonder where we could start cleaning up.
How about here? Let’s start cleaning up here.
We have the opportunity to face the problems. Do we, in our shame, face each other? No. There is no need. Here is not where people in separate paths should face each other for yet another provincial championship match. Here is where you face yourself, only yourself, with no other judge but yourself.
Everything is subjective. Everyone has a different mind, has a different heart, has a different upbringing and environment. We all have different perspectives, different patterns, different journeys. We all live in our own chaos. No matter if we seem to have the same upbringing, education, country, faith, or spoken language. No matter if ‘we’ are poor and uneducated and ‘they’ are entitled and rich. We all see our ‘here’ differently.
But what we all have in common is that each of our own individual and unique truth is always true to us. This doesn’t mean, though, that we always have the wisdom and courage to see it and be able to live it out.
I am not talking about your political stand or your knowledge of society or history or what you can do about that neighbor who sells drugs to minors. I am talking about how you live your small daily tasks, how you speak to others and to yourself, how you show up for the people you love or even for strangers, how you work, how you are not judging someone else right now even though they just totally judged you.
Change, as well as integrity, is a pursuit and a process of undertaking, and it is long and tedious. If you cannot do the small things for yourself, how do you expect the big ones from the world? The world will not immediately change when you tell it to. People will not go ahead and change just because you tell them to. How many times have you told yourself you won’t touch the chocolate cake anymore, you will never go back to that one relationship, you’ll go visit your friend, you won’t eat after six, you will believe in yourself, you’ll start writing in your journal, you’ll exercise every day, you won’t fight with your mom, you will be kind to strangers, when someone throws a rock at you you’ll throw back a sugar-free all-organic version of the sinful chocolate cake that was your entire pathetic ruin?
How many times in a day do you fail to be the person you want to be?
Please don’t think the message is that failure is inevitable. Failure is irrelevant. I am saying that change is an action that you take. It is a practice. A practice on shedding, adjusting, chemistry, engineering, unfolding, uncovering, movement, letting go. Change is the elusive essence of all works of science and religion. Change is athletic ability. Change is mastery. The problem is, we keep thinking that the work is only for the scientists, the priests, the Olympic teams, the sages and the politicians. And thus, it follows, that we think that failure is also their fault alone.
We keep thinking that unity is about different individuals or the whole world coming together when we can’t even begin to unify the thoughts in our heads and the actions of our hands. We need to be able to begin the process our own transformation – our own inner unity – before we can begin seeking it out in others. Even if you want to change something drastic, you must still take the first steps towards regular and committed practices that will enable and affect that change.
The pattern of the universe is not something that is fixed. The universe does not break down on a Tuesday and then gets fixed by Wednesday. Everything is an ongoing process. Your community is an ongoing process. You are an ongoing process in your own little innocent neighborhood.
If you want to contribute to the change, if you want to work with the process, stop reacting. Act.
They key is to act and not react. Once you master the difference, you have power over everything.
You are free to create the world that you want to see. If you put your power of creation into action, starting with yourself, it will start to reflect in the world outside. It may not change the whole world, but it changes the world that you see. Isn’t that powerful enough?
First, it will be small and nearby reflections. Maybe just in your room and on Sundays once a week. But the more you create only for yourself and not for anything or anyone else, the more your world will be your creation, reflecting back what you have created for yourself to see and not a world that is out of your vision or control. Your perspective and your view is as big and as small and as pretty and as ugly as the potential that you are willing to uncover.
You make a difference. When you are in that wave of people herded together as a whole, you subtract the impulsive wave and what is left is you. That’s what it means to make the difference. Be different. Stand for yourself. We are not all black and white. We all need to learn to cross the imaginary borders and be able to go back and forth, around the shadows and into the light.
When all we know how to do is react, all our actions are coming from the truth and reality of others. But what is your truth? But what is your reality? This is different from identifying with a cause. If it is already an existing “cause” in the world, it has already been created, defined, edited, generalized, reduced, manipulated and fought for by a whole bunch of other people. What is the movement of the world within you? Act on that. Act on yourself, for yourself.
Action comes from truth and love and being. Reaction comes from defense, fear, weakness, insecurity, comparison, shouting over walls. When you act, you are creating action based on what is true to who you are and why you are here. When you react, you are acting based on the truths (and maybe lies) of someone else. You are acting on another’s actions, which have nothing to do with you. If you continue to react more than you act, you will always be a cripple. And you are then also crippling the world around you.
There is work to be done everywhere and you are all it takes.
Start with clearing your mind, look at how cluttered it has become. Look at how beaten up you’ve allowed your heart to be. Why are they always fighting, your mind and your heart? Why are they in conflict? Do some spring cleaning in that head of yours and set up some healing oils for your heart, so they can start remembering what peace is like and make their way back to each other and be able to talk about their truth and listen to each other and know exactly what they’re going to tell you so you can act. Then you – all those agreeing parts of you – can start playing the role you were always meant to be in.
Learning how to act takes time. And good space for openness. Make space for yourself so you can grow, listen and create. I started my personal journey when Duterte was elected president, and even though I cannot do anything about his choices, the people around him, and the world around me, I know my change is ongoing. My change has just begun.