Opinion‘Us’ and ‘them’
‘Us’ and ‘them’
September 17, 2014
September 17, 2014

Marinel Mamac - Pulp Diction

Last week, President Aquino spoke to the press about the mayhem that is Metro Manila’s MRT3 line, promising that new units are being bought to replace and append the old ones.

What stands out in his statement though is that he is once again blaming this issue on his predecessor, former President Arroyo. Apart from that, he pointed out that he had several other problems on his mind at the time, and had not yet been able to attend to the plight of around half a million daily commuters.

I may not fully understand the gravity of being a president of an entire country, but I do know that it’s not quite the best plan of action to answer people’s suffering with pointed fingers and complaints about having a lot to do. Not even by a long shot. It’s revolting.

I am not saying that these other matters he had to attend to – the Ebola virus and the Filipino peacekeepers in Syria, among others – are not important, as these also affect Filipinos gravely and indeed, must be paid attention to. Neither am I claiming that former President Arroyo is guiltless of any crime, MRT-related or otherwise. But one can only wonder for how long President Aquino will continue his habit of blaming his predecessor, his political enemies, and external factors – everything and everyone except himself, really – four years into his presidency. Along with this bad habit is his insistence that those who criticize him are enemies of the Daang Matuwid that he has made exclusive to himself and his supporters.

But perhaps our dear president’s woeful resistance to criticism and questioning might not be all that rare. History is rife with the persecution of people whose ideas ran contrary to those in power, and centuries of people being burned at the stake, ostracised, shot, or threatened as a result of their dissent does not paint a pretty picture. Passive agreement is preferred to dissent, and those who question or critique authority or widely-accepted ideas are deemed nuisances to an otherwise perfect society.

One thing this resistance to questioning and criticism fails to consider is that there is so much more to gain in other people’s intelligent dissent than their passive agreement. I think – and I’m sure many of those who were persecuted at the hands of authorities, President Aquino’s own father being one of them – that a world without opposing ideas is a dangerous place.

In his book, The Wisdom of Crowds, James Surowiecki explains that decisions made collectively by a group of actively thinking people often have better outcomes than those made by any single member of the group. The best decisions, Suroweicki argues, are those that are a product of disagreement and conflict.

In light of this, there is a need for us I think, as a society, to work on how we view criticisms and arguments that clash with our own. We have to recognize that by silencing an opinion, we might, for all we know, be silencing the truth.

You don’t have to be the president of the Philippines to meet people who disagree with you on some things or criticize your work. Whether this be an opinion you believe steadfastly in or an entire project that took you months to complete, there is always a possibility that someone will disapprove of it so strongly that they let you know through a comment or conversation.

I admit that there are times when my first reaction to criticism like this is anger, and that is something I have to unlearn. It’s just that it is a lot easier to be angry than to admit that you are hurt. It’s easier to flat out refuse to listen to differing opinions than to confront the possibility of being wrong.

You can put so much effort into something and believe in it with all your heart, so much so that a not-quite positive critique can crash your entire world. But then you have to remember that this is not a reflection of yourself, nor is it necessarily a reflection of your work.

Today, there is more disagreement among us than ever, given that our ways of communication have allowed us to be heard in faster rates and by more people. This leads to conversations about nearly everything, particularly online. Much of these conversations are among people who disagree with each other, and I think this is because when you agree, there are less things for you to say. Those who disagree have the opportunity to explore ideas that others may not have considered just yet.

This is not to say, of course, that all those who disagree have good reason to. When you read enough articles online you realize that many of the responses are ad hominem attacks on the writers, or just name-calling. While I do not endorse this method of arguing – and calling comments like these “arguing” is kind of a stretch – I do uphold their makers’ right to free speech.

What I am arguing against is this culture of resisting contrasting points of view and automatically shunning people who have them. More often than not, those who question status quo are deemed as trouble-makers. In President Aquino’s version of the truth, these people are those who are against his Daang Matuwid. On a more personal level however, I believe the popular term would be haters.

It is true that the commenting culture leaves a lot to be desired. One thing that must be kept in mind is that free speech does not equal validity of argument. Their right to free speech does not make their argument valid or worthy of discussion; it just means that they are free to express themselves. Whether or not it is worth anyone’s time is up for question.

But when you’re faced with criticism, verbal or in writing, implied or explicit, it is important to remember why you are doing what you are doing in the first place, and go back to that.

Criticism isn’t necessarily a betrayal. It is not always negative or destructive. When you weed out the comments intended to just harm or attack you, you might find ideas that are for your own good. This kind of criticism means that there are people who are willing to examine something you may have missed out on in your work or other things that many of us might otherwise take for granted.

In the case of our president, the man to whom we have entrusted the care of our nation and who is sworn to preserve and defend our constitution and do justice to every Filipino, perhaps those who speak out against his projects may, in fact, not be against him at all. In many cases, these people had so much faith in the president that they had expected the best of him, and are actively trying to bring that out.

It’s not that all of those whom Aquino has branded as enemies have good intentions, but with the way he automatically retaliates in anger or blames other people, he may never know the difference. The same goes for many of us and those we see as haters, I suppose.

At the end of the day, in the pursuit of the truth there is no “us” or “them,” only status quo, and those who see the need to change it.