Thursday, April 19, 2007

The moderate citizen ... from YOUNGBLOOD of

The moderate citizen
By Arnil Paras
Last updated 02:00am (Mla time) 04/19/2007

MANILA, Philippines -- I wonder if some Filipinos who participated in Edsa People Power I (or any of the other so-called Edsas) have lost faith in the reformative powers of People Power. If the answer is yes or leaning toward yes, I would not be surprised. Such loss of faith could have been caused by the realization that People Power did not engender abiding positive changes. Things just don't seem better 21 years after. I have heard someone say: "Twenty-one years ago, People Power in the Philippines toppled a dictator and inspired democratic change around the world. But here at home, the promise of better times remains unfulfilled."

There are certainly different ways of explaining, understanding and solving the perplexing problems of Philippine democracy. I have mine:

Many of us consider ourselves as "just citizens" and feel powerless to change things in our society. Although we may not condone wrongs, we feel muted and minute compared to the colossal problems of our country. And so we feel that our citizenship is useless.

But democracy depends a lot on its citizens because, unlike alternative political systems, it devolves a lot of responsibilities to the people.

I believe there are two false and extreme kinds of citizens: the deficient and the excessive. The deficient citizen is one who conveniently retreats to his own private concerns without regard for his duties to society. He sees himself primarily as an individual, apart from the rest. When he is criticized for his apathy, he declares with so much conviction: "Iisa lang ako, ano ba ang puwede kong magawa?" ["I am just a single individual, what can I really do?"] Since he thinks he has successfully shielded himself from the duties of citizenship, he passes the responsibility on to others. He is deficient because his citizenship is slightly used, if at all.

The excessive citizen is one who suffers from the "I-will-save-the-world" complex. He thinks the exercise of his citizenship is fulfilled by joining rallies. Not that this is inherently wrong, but his participation in rallies is motivated less by the spirit of reform than by the passion of hate. And so, he becomes wary of others. He is excessive because his exercise of citizenship borders on recklessness.

Between these two false extremes is what I call the moderate citizen. This is not meant to glorify mediocrity. The moderate citizen is not one who is in between the good and the bad, the hot and the old. He is not the gray area. He is the one in between the deficient and the excessive, where the golden mean lies. Just as the virtue of courage is located between cowardice and recklessness, so does the moderate citizen lie in between the deficient and the excessive.

The moderate citizen knows that he must live in solidarity with others to attain society's common goals and aspirations. Not through the means of the reckless citizen, and certainly not with the apathy of the deficient citizen. By exercising justice, honesty, diligence, nobility, excellence and all of the other human virtues in his workplace, at home, in school, at the Edsa highway, at the mall, the moderate citizen contributes to the development of Philippine society. Indeed, his everyday life becomes an opportunity to promote public order and peace, freedom and equality, justice and solidarity, and respect for human life and for the environment.

Changing our society will require more than People Power. That movement was successful in replacing our leaders -- two of them in fact (and maybe the incumbent). Yet reality shows that changing our leaders through mass demonstrations is not the panacea. (In case you haven't noticed, please look outside the window.) I'm sorry for being anti-romantic, but nation-building is more boring and silent, and it begins by changing our individual habits. Every citizen must strive to fulfill his daily duties in order to change society.

I have shared these ideas of mine with others, and they have gotten a lukewarm response. "Good idea but unrealistic!" some people said. "You must be dreaming!" others have jeered.

Maybe I am really dreaming. But, as C.S. Lewis put it, "To know that one is dreaming is to be no longer perfectly asleep."

Arnil Paras, 23, is a graduate of the University of Asia and the Pacific, and now teaches at the same university.

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