Thursday, December 26, 2013

Lessons in humility

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

I have three precious things which I hold fast and prize. The first is gentleness; the second frugality; the third is humility, which keeps me from putting myself before others. Be gentle and you can be bold; be frugal and you can be liberal; avoid putting yourself before others and you can become a leader among men.”—Lao-Tzu

Much has been said about the standoff between Makati Mayor Junjun Binay’s convoy and the Dasmariñas Village security guards who refused to let the former pass through a gate which was supposed to be closed at certain hours of the night. There was another gate close by that was always open.

Use the other gate, please—that was the guards’ instruction. There was no emergency situation.

The mayor’s party (that included his armed security and his sister, the newly elected Sen. Nancy Binay) just had to have their way. The police were called in; they lifted the barrier. The poor guards were “invited” over to police headquarters. All these took so much longer than if the convoy had just turned around and went to the other gate.

What is so wrong with turning back and using the other gate? What was that exercise all about?

Some officers and residents of the posh village were not pleased that their hired security agency’s head apologized to the mayor. They hailed the guards on duty who tried to stand their ground.

It was the Inquirer that first came out with the story and the video footage for everyone to draw conclusions from. The footage has since gone viral on the Internet. And the Inquirer has since published an editorial to stress what that footage showed and meant.

From the mayor’s father, Vice President Jojo Binay, there has only been defense for him. As mayor of the city he deserved some courtesy, the father said. Unhindered passage even in a private subdivision (where foreign diplomats who hold offices there are not exempt).

From the public there have been a lot of negative reactions, which showed that people still cared that simple rules are followed even by those in power who are supposed to set the example.

I am not one to lecture on the virtue of humility and go on a bashing spree. No need to name and shame the Binays for all eternity; they already did something to themselves. The deed cannot be undone. But a simple apology would have been an easy way out after the fact. No alibis, just a simple “Sorry, we won’t do it again”—and that would have been the end of it.

We have our lapses. A simple act of contrition, especially from one of the most powerful families in the land, would have gone a long way. It could even have earned pogi points, jaws would have dropped, “wow” would have echoed across the land.

I learned this for myself when, after I made an honest mistake of misquoting a well-known and respected person, I devoted a whole column to apologize. Nobody tossed a rotten tomato in my direction. Instead, I got a rain of congratulations from friends and people unknown to me.

This is not to say that I don’t have my shameful lapses in humility. Like once, while I was caught in a crowd reaching out for a just-off-the-press statement that I needed for an article, I had to squeeze myself to get ahead, while saying out loud, “I’m from the media, I need that badly now, please.” I snatched what I wanted but, later, while driving away, I felt so ashamed of myself.

There is that pesky little inner voice that tells us that we are stupid when we are stupid. The opposite of humility is not necessarily pride but attachment to power (or stardom), or the lust for it.

By the way, we journalists are not exempt from car number-coding days. Traffic aides are not supposed to honor press IDs. I’ve violated this only a few times when I was running after a story, but I was ready to be caught, issued a ticket and to pay the fine.

What transpired in Makati on Nov. 30, the video footage of which has been viewed by many, can be useful and instructive as a situational example for lessons in humility. For both adults and kindergartners. No naming and shaming, just the presentation of the real-life situation.

There are so many street situations caught on cell phones and video cameras by ordinary citizens and which can be used as examples of values, either good or bad. Or which can generate discussions among the young in order that their sensitivity toward others would become more refined. Remember that recorded road altercation between a motorist and a traffic aide that ended with a fist blow from the former to the latter? And that one that showed a passerby on Edsa taking off her jacket, kneeling down, and giving her jacket to a street child?

Actress Anne Curtis, who displayed bad behavior while in a drunken daze, simply came out to say she was sorry and so ashamed of herself. Others of similar stature and who have deliberately offended others because it delighted them, and who later received public censure, have not been as contrite.

Media technology has given us glimpses of the good and the bad, the heartwarming and the anger-inducing. So many images of how to be humble and caring, and how not to be. We need to learn lessons. Humility, it seems, has taken a back seat to the quest for stardom, popularity and power.

A quote from St. Augustine (354-430): “Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending. You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds? Lay first the foundation of humility.”

Wishing you a God-drenched Christmas season. The year ahead will be a year of pleasant surprises for this nation. Remember, I said it.