Thursday, November 13, 2014

Are we a nation of malcontents?

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

Here is a story that is so unlike the rest, so different from the endless tales of misery that have been served us in the past days leading up to the first anniversary of a world-class disaster.

I am sharing a Facebook post of my good friend and colleague, Rochit TaƱedo, who traveled to Samar after the wrath of Supertyphoon “Yolanda” leveled much of Eastern Visayas last year:

“The women of Samar were quiet, uncomplaining, after a long zombie period of looking for their dead. After a month, they were given vegetable seeds. After a week of looking for a patch of land where they could plant (since, after digging a foot deep with bare hands, it was still all muck and sand all around), they found a patch uphill, cleared it of logs and branches and planted.

“When the little seedlings appeared after another week, pandemonium broke. They screamed so loud and cried as if a dam had burst. That’s what happened when they saw how life could start changing.”

After reading this, I wanted to also scream out loud. I clicked “Like” and posted a comment. That FB post gave me an Aha! moment that opened a bright landscape.

Knowing Rochit, I could safely conclude that she posted that to spray clean, sparkling water on the corrosive negativism that has been eating at our spirits, to blow away the swirling ill wind that throws us off-balance.

“Corrosive” is the word. Even while the survivors of Y continue to rise from the ruins, there is the ruinous cacophony from naysayers that accompanies the heroic efforts of individuals, groups and institutions, even of public servants. For these so-called “negas,” something is always wrong, they should always find something wrong. But the silent workers just keep on, without counting the cost or thinking of recognition. They keep making quilts of hope away from the attention of the media that have a predilection for the dramatic and the cinematic, for sound bytes that pit one against another.

There will always be the self-styled malcontents that never run out of complaints, demands and negative criticism, who bellyache even with full bellies on behalf of, or so they say, those with empty bellies. Nothing is ever good enough for them, nothing is ever done right, most everyone is better shown to be miserable.

When CNN reporters parachuted (as in parachute journalism) into Tacloban after Y leveled much of the Visayas and gave government a dismal grade of “I” (for inefficient), the perennial malcontents were delighted. Those reporters of the media giant that had not seen anything like the fury of Y anywhere in this world in their collective lifetimes gave an unforgiving verdict. Like we needed to hear it from them.

This is not to say that giving verdicts and judgments is to be eschewed. When things are not done right, when funds are stolen or wasted, when the wounded and the sick evacuees are not cared for with urgency, someone has to sound the alarm, someone has to raise a voice. But one can tell when criticism is made not so much to help those in need as to call attention to the critics’ own agenda—political, ideological, whatever. Like they know better, like they know best.

They are the professional malcontents who promote a culture of discontent. Not dissent, mind you, which is more up-front and in-your-face, something we had during the long, dark years of martial rule when we fought the Marcos dictatorship.

Sowing the seeds of discontent or promoting a culture of discontent for its own sake or for some hidden agenda is insidious, like a virus that wreaks havoc in an already fragile body.

When I have some quiet moments I like to feel the air and contemplate a little. Contemplation, they say, is a long, loving look at reality. But what do I sense but this reality, the toxicity, the rage that is oozing out in various media—social media, mass media.

I turn to Wendell Berry, 80, well-known conservationist, poet, novelist, essayist, professor, lecturer, philosopher, Christian writer, farmer and defender of agrarian values and small-scale farming. (I shared this some years ago.)

“When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”

Yes, the peace of all things wild. The birds of the air and the lilies of the field, locusts and wild honey. The carabao in the meadow, the fireflies ablaze in the trees, the corals in the reef, the creatures in the forest, the music from without and within.

I think of that day last year when the storm and the sea surged to claim and wreck countless lives. I think of today while reading poet Mary Oliver’s “House of Light,” on her beholding a hermit crab on the seashore.

turning its back/ with every tide on the past,/ leaving the shore littered/ every morning// with more ornaments of death—/what a pearly rubble/ from which to choose a house/like a white flower—// and what a rebellion/ to leap into it/ and hold on,/ connecting everything,// the past to the future—/which is of course the miracle—/which is the only argument there is/ against the sea.

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I just received a copy of “The Genius of the Poor: A Journey with Gawad Kalinga” by British journalist Thomas Graham who quit his job, immersed himself in these islands and struck gold. I will write about it next week.#