Dear Xavier Kid Who Bagged Groceries

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In the interest of “sober perspectives” – which again is ironic considering the nature of the word “sober” and my often incoherent rambling – please read this article from The Philippine Daily Inquirer.

You’re a very fortunate kid, and I don’t mean that in the stereotypical and undeserved “rich kids of Xavier School” sense.  I mean it in the sense that you had an opportunity many of us – admittedly – never had, and that’s to spend four days being a grocery bagger at SM.  I’m pretty sure that years from now, everyone who read your article will hold you accountable for whatever promises you made for blue-collar workers.

Many people have criticized you over the past few days, many people had more than a few things to say to you.  And – admittedly – at first I was irked by the lessons you learned in that stint bagging groceries.  Perhaps what irked me the most was the innocence of it, or maybe the naïveté of it.  I’m old, maybe a bit jaded, had one too many groceries bagged over the years that I tend to forget the importance and value of these people in my life.

I thought about it, and I had a change of heart.  Maybe I don’t agree with the entire idea of immersion entirely, or perhaps with the lessons you learned.  But I’m glad you learned a lot from immersion, but there’s also that other place we need to be immersed in: life.  I don’t claim to hold a monopoly on the right way to view it, or the proper way to see it.  But hear me out for a bit, if you will: I’d like to share in your lesson, too.

Here’s the thing: when you grow up and you start pushing 30, you start taking grocery baggers for granted.  Lots of people who make life convenient become invisible, and perhaps even irrelevant.  A man selling fishballs, for example, is invisible.  The woman keeping the tricycles in line while she peddles newspapers: she’s invisible.  I’d be totally stretching it if I’d say that I’m genuinely curious about their lives every day.  And the opposite holds true, I guess: maybe I’m invisible to them, too.  I don’t have to buy fishballs from the man, and I don’t have to ride the tricycles the woman keeps in line.  As cold as that reality is, that invisibility is perfectly normal and acceptable in society.  It’s just the way it is.

I’m happy that you learned a lot about the value of hard work from them.  Thing is, though, those are lessons and values you can learn from your parents and your teachers and your peers.  But being genuinely curious and caring for the people around you – to make them visible to you – is something that you have to hold on to as long as you can.  I’m not saying you should bag your own groceries or slice your own chicken, or have “empathy for the poor” on the basis of privilege.  Far from it.  By going through that immersion you entered a kind of work that lots of us can only imagine, really.

See, as you grow older, you get a little less curious about people.  You get a little less curious about society.  As you navigate through reality, you take a lot of things for granted.  I’m a firm believer that it is curiosity that fuels the world and makes it move.  If there’s any reason why the world’s lacking so much today is that we never really care about the other, and only care for them when the occasion calls for it.  Sucks, but that’s the way things are.  But you also did something so few of us have done: to bring to light the struggles of people that we generally forget.  People we glance at, but don’t see.  That counts for a lot, in a world full of iPad iterations and soap opera endings and GIFs from Buzzfeed.

And to see them means a connection that needs to be explored.  A line that needs to be filled in, strengthened, and improved.  To see the other is not to make yourself feel better, but to dig deeper into that gaze.  In a word: empathize.

I’m really not one for saving the world and making it a better place – maybe when I was younger I also had your dreams and ideals – but I do believe in the value of curiosity.  Like you, for example: your curiosity brought out the issues and concerns of grocery workers and thrust those into the limelight.  That’s a good thing.  Curiosity may kill the cat, but it also keeps the mouse out of the hole and venturing for his cheese in the world out there… or something like that.  If anything, stay curious.  Hold on to that curiosity as long as you can.  And the constructive, well-intentioned criticisms hurled against you?  Those are good things that add to the pool of curiosity and action in this world.  Steps to empathy, if you will.

I think that’s a good lesson to be learned, too.  Maybe not as life-changing or profound or exciting, but that’s probably something I’d take to heart.

If there’s anything I learned from you, it’s to stay curious, and hold on to that curiosity for as long as I can.  To take steps to empathy.  And maybe try my hand at bagging my own groceries one of these days.

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