Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Do As You Please

I think each and every one of us has tried doing what we want, even if it comes at the cost of other people. We do as we please, as if we're answerable to no one. And more often than not, there's someone that stops us or scolds us, whether it's our parents, our teachers, our employers, or our peers. The most common excuse I've heard is "it's my life, let me do what I want". I can't deny that we have free will and that we could possibly do what we want. But as for whether we own our lives, that's where I beg to differ.

For the most part, I think most of us underestimates our worth. I don't think we own our lives entirely to ourselves simply for the fact that what we do not only affects us but affects other people as well. As much as we want our lives to be as private as masturbation, it really isn't. We're born with relationships and our words and actions reflect on the people we have relationships with. If you don't believe me, just look at your name. Your whole name. What does it say? Mine is Charles Tan. I'm sure that already tells you a lot about me. And who my family is. I mean my last name already associates me with my parents and relatives. Or perhaps even other people you know that have the same last name as me even if I'm not related to them. How I speak and what I do not only gives you an impression of myself but of those other people as well. We can't help it: we human beings make associations and generalizations. They're not always true or factual but we make them nonetheless. If, for example, I lied to you, then one of the impressions you could make is that all Chinese are liars, or at least those with the family name of Tan. And you in turn will share these impressions with other people you meet, either consciously or unconsciously. I've caused a chain reaction simply by existing. Like most things, our ability to do this swings both ways. It could be used for people's benefit, or to people's detriment. Which is why that to a certain extent, I think it's everybody's duty to be responsible.

Maybe you don't care about your family. There are other relationships you're involved with. I, for example, am associated with a lot of people and organizations: my school, the university I studied in, my religion, my nationality, my occupation, and my friends. The good things you do reflects on them. The bad things that you do reflects on them as well, whether we intend it or not. We once had a speaker at my alma matter during the impeachment of former president Joseph Estrada. The speaker was an alumni from UP and he talked at how proud he was when Marcos was elected into office. And then felt shame at the events of Martial Law. And didn't Ateneo also take pride at its high-school dropout when he became president of the Philippines? Of course now that former president Joseph Estrada was being impeached, the speaker felt that things were even between the two universities. See, even if you occupy a powerful position, you're still accountable to a lot of people, whether it's your countrymen, your alma matter, or your family name. You just can't say "I'll do it because I feel like it", at least not with the "important" decisions. And I highlight "important" because some of the things we deem unimportant are actually important and vice versa. For example, deciding what food you'll eat or not eat might not seem like an important decision. But perhaps you're a hero to a number of people and you know how people feel about heroes, they're admired and often mimicked. If you drink alcohol and smoke, chances are, other people will drink alcohol and smoke as well.

I was just reading John Maxwell's The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork and one of the things he pointed out was how one bad apple can ruin the whole bunch. And it's happened in real life. I mean I attribute the not-so-good reputation of Christianity to a few rotten apples. I mean let's face it, not all Christians are good Christians. Yet what turns off a number of people aren't the good Christians but rather the bad ones, perhaps those who are hypocrites, or the ones that take advantage of other people. And I've seen this also happen to organizations ("I don't like to join that group because I don't like this person") and even countries ("Arabs attacked our nation so all Arabs should suffer"). We know it's not right (both on those who are actually performing the wrong deeds and those making the false conclusions) yet it's pervasive in most cultures. So what's the solution?

Obviously, one way is to think things thoroughly and not make shallow generalizations. One can do this by understanding the other side and where they're coming from. Or actually taking the time to investigate things and not be dissuaded by the actions of a few. It's easy to say but difficult to implement, is it not? Well, there's also another way. It's to be good examples yourselves. I mean if people don't see wrong behavior, they can't make wrong generalizations. Perhaps that's even more difficult to implement. Yet that's something we should all strive for. Caution and discretion is something we should exercise in everything we do, not just when the spotlight is on us. Because honestly, there are times when we don't know that the spotlight is on us. There'll always be someone watching, listening. Those who live consistent lives make the best role models.

When I get the urge to simply do what I want, I ask myself whether what I'm doing is aligned with my beliefs, my standards, and how it affects other people. That doesn't mean I can't have a good time. Contrary to popular belief, having a good time isn't always doing the wrong things. Have you given a gift to someone? Or helped out a friend? Did you feel good? Now was that a bad thing? And of course, if you don't think it's wrong, it's okay to do it. I mean some people condemn drinking. For me, what's apprehensive is either obsessive drinking or drinking too much. Moderate drinking (which is actually less than what most people would consider "moderate") is fine. But just because I said that does not give us an excuse to do whatever we want. I espouse the belief of doing what you think is right, or at the very least, something you aren't ashamed of letting other people know you're doing. And of course, along those lines is not being a hypocrite.

One cannot simply live as if we don't owe anything to the world. It's often stated that along with freedom comes responsibility or duty. Hey, even if we kill ourselves, we don't absolve ourselves from the rest of the world. Somebody has to pay for the funeral, and somebody will mourn losing you. If you think your life is meaningless, think again. Your actions have an effect on someone else, whether directly or indirectly. We exist not merely for our own sakes, but for other people as well.

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