Some people say – even believe wholeheartedly – that it’s hard (if not impossible) to find good men among us. And yet our world is replete with references to the good that men can do, not least in the realm of politics. Every politician, come election time, is a champion of “good governance,” with every party and coalition toeing and toting the line of “good government.” If these notions of good are so common, why is it difficult to find good people?
The short answer is, it’s not.
The ancient Greeks have often referred to two things we take for granted these days: “the good life,” and “the common good.” These notions came up when the city-states were at their lowest, when the populace had to be reminded of the great things that they can achieve. Plato had Socrates, Thyucidides had Pericles, Aristotle had his examples in city-states. Good is something founded on what is real and true, and is often taught by way of example. To deviate from the rigors of theory, I hold this to be true: the good life is enjoyed by people who are united under a common good. And the good life is enjoyed by people who are, in common, good.
Let’s get back to that phrase, “good governance.” Governance is easy: anyone familiar with how bureaucracy works, or how to run the process of government, can make a government work. But for governance to be divorced from its place in electoral sloganeering and married to every aspect of our lives, we need good people in government. And there are a lot of them – the unrecognized, the low-lying ones from barangay halls to Congress who defy the cynical view a lot of us have of government and do a very good job.
Being good does not mean being a paragon of virtue. Watching out for each other’s welfare, and putting this country’s progress near the top of one’s priorities in life, are only two of the many simple things that qualify for being good. The good citizen, as Aristotle writes, need not have the virtues of the good man, yet that does not mean that we should aspire and strive only for the bare minimum. Having a good citizenry – one that knows what’s at stake on the way to progress and raises a hand up to be counted – creates and sustains the good institutions that foster and nurture the greater good. The most a good man can do is to inspire; it is up to good people to carry that vision forward and make it happen.
I wrote before that there’s really something screwed up with the world when simple things like paying your taxes, dissenting where it is necessary, cleaning the environment, and raising a hand up to help in the improvement of the country – to cut the laundry list short, the minimum requirements of citizenship – become acts of heroism. We should be good citizens at the minimum. Good people at the absolute.
Tonight, we mourn the passing of a good man in Secretary Jesse Robredo. Some of us ask, “Why do good men die so soon?” The truth is, they don’t. As long as there is life, there’s hope – and a hope for a good life at that. We are all capable of doing good things. That anything we do from this point on – as good as any other time – must be for the common good, for we all have goodness in common. There will be a few of us who are demanded to be as competent and as extraordinary as Robredo in the way of planning and administration, but this is a time – as good as any other time – for us to be good people. To be good citizens, to have a stake in the nation’s progress.
As Jesse Robredo and the good people of Naga City taught us over the years, good governance is when good people govern good citizens, and govern well. It’s not difficult to find good people – not at all, there are a few more and a lot more – when we do good. We ourselves need to be good people. We need to realize that we have a lot at stake in this nation’s progress, and we need to act on it.
We mourn the loss of a good man tonight, but among us there are good citizens – good people – who will one day make good on the promise of a great nation.