* – inspired by “Our Poor Individualism,” by Jorge Luis Borges
For our neighbors in Asia, introspection is as much a political, social, and economic endeavor as it is a personal one. In Japan and Korea, leaders consider it a most honorable deed to step down from their posts when they become mired in scandal. In Malaysia, even the most corrupt politicians get the scurples long enough to be caught.
Singapore – almost always the case study for good governance and economic progress (the very antithesis of Gunnar Myrdal’s “Asian Drama”) – discipline is intertwined with introspection; enough that doing things “our way” may create diplomatic tension, but ensures domestic survival.
In the Philippines, it’s different. We engage in retrospection more than introspection. We pray more than we meditate. We cast blame and assert that the answers are out there, more than we do look inward and find the answers from within. We look externally; hence our poor introspection.
A great part of the Filipino mind, at least in my estimation, is a bystander; an external body in a cosmos of external bodies. Society is perceived as somewhat external to the individual, therefore one cannot be part of a problem, neither part of a solution. Most of us take the roles of “observers” in the grand scheme of things, even if we ourselves reap the benefits and suffer the consequences most directly. The problem is out there, out of our hands, and therefore those with a greater and further reach should take care of it; should it be further out of reach, the answer is in divine intercession.
We’re detached, we’re observers and visitors, that the usisero somehow comes naturally to us.
Since the problems are made external – either by will or duress – the solutions are almost always perceived to be external. The “benevolent dictatorship,” or the heavy-handed iron-fisted rule designed to “discipline the Filipinos,” once again puts the solution at a distance from the personal. Either by will or by duress, the solution is always external: either it’s the business of authority to solve the problems, or we walk away to find greener pastures outside the Philippines.
Social discipline is not mere obedience to the rules, subservience to authority, or whatever is external. It is a consciousness that comes with being part of the cosmos, that all existence is weaved into each other, that even being a bystander has great consequences upon anything and everything that we do. Social discipline is precisely that: something not external and enforced, but from within. That maybe we can take some time out of the cycles of blame and criticism that confront us on every embarrassing situation, and discover that the road to recovery begins with feeling, from within, what’s wrong.
Perhaps when we get close enough to the situation, own the problem and discover the solution from within – when we start to introspect – can we be in the right footing to achieve and sustain progress.
Yet it is this perception of externality and non-involvement that may result to our problems. Taken alone, no amount of personal discipline and no degree of iron-fisted rule will ever create the self-reflexivity necessary to realize that all personal actions have a consequence in society. If there’s anything our Asian neighbors can teach us, it’s that being in touch with our place in the Universe gives us the best possible perspective of how we can affect things from where we are. It is not a mentality of prayer and external energy that gets us moving as a nation; and while we should extend our awareness outward, we should not forget to look inward.
While patriotism and nationalism are not in short supply in the Philippines, inward reflection is. Introspection, for us, is a luxury; our universes end in heritage and patronage. Our responsibilities end in anatomical reach. Somehow we’re outside of our problems, which is perhaps the problem we have to contend with.