Wednesday, July 28, 2004


Have you ever wondered what life would be like if one aspect of you was changed? One of people’s biggest complaints about me (but not the only one) is the fact that I’m skinny and underweight. Which, of course, is true, but I’ve been that way for most of my life. I’ve known no other lifestyle except the one I’m currently living. For me, being skinny is normal. The Charles that you know wouldn’t be the same Charles if he wasn’t the skinny, underweight kid you knew.

For some strange reason, me and my immediate family are all skinny people, even if our cousins and other relatives are all big, fat, and probably weigh thrice as me. Not that my parents didn’t try to change that fact. If there was anyone who wasn’t content with who I was, it’s my parents. As early as three, they’d (or rather, the maids) fed me everything that was on the kitchen table. Even when I said I was already full, they didn’t believe me. So it really isn’t my fault when I vomited the food that I ate afterwards, and this would go on for five times a week. Because as early as three, my family never listens to me, even if I knew best.

When I was five years old, we transferred houses and I moved to a village where my neighbors actually had kids who played on the streets. I’d join them and would pass through their gates despite the bars. I thought that it was fun that I could sneak past their houses, and of course, this was possible because of my small size. Of course it was also at this time that I realized people pitying me didn’t only extend to my family but to everyone else. People who saw me would comment on how skinny I was and would offer me food, as if I wasn’t being fed at home.

If you want to survive the heat, try losing some weight. I was never a fan of electric fans of air conditioners, mainly because I didn’t feel hot. I obviously don’t have enough fat to generate heat for my body, but that isn’t a bad thing in a tropical country such as the Philippines. Unfortunately, I slept with my parents and they needed air-conditioning. I told them I was feeling cold (and actually had the snot and sneezes to prove it) but they still refused to believe me. Even during the days I was sick, I was nonetheless confined to an air-conditioned room. Never mind the fact that part of the reason I was sick was because I was freezing.

Several years later, I won partial independence from my family by moving out of my parent’s room and moving into the guest room, where I could live with neither electric fan nor air conditioner, and I could eat at the rate I wanted. I didn’t really need the three-meals a day which is average for most people, but I could subsist on two, and have some snacks in between. Life in high school consisted of eating breakfast at home, begging money from my classmates during lunchtime so I could purchase that P9.00 donut (approximately $0.20), and then going home to eat dinner. Did it work? Hey, I’m still alive right now aren’t I?

In college, one of my sports was running. I was a fast runner (although definitely not the fastest) despite my lack of previous experience or training. Of course part of it can be attributed to my weight. And even before that, I would walk several kilometers carrying my heavy bag in hopes of saving money (rather than pay for commuting). Now, when most friends think of me, they usually associate me with my big bag, and walking great distances to get to my destination. Oh, and they rarely see me eat as well.

I don’t see myself as disadvantaged. In fact, part of my strength is the fact that I’m underweight, and I’ve maximized that to my advantage. It’s not a handicap and I’ve lived my life no other way. If anyone has a complaint about my figure, they’re probably insecure. My weight doesn’t bother me so it really shouldn’t bother you.

Monday, July 26, 2004

In Man's Image

It has always worried me that many zealous Christians usually refer to human superiority by quoting a certain passage in the Bible: “God created man in his image…” To me, that statement, while possibly containing several theological truths, only proves the humanity (in both a positive and negative way) of the writer. Because such a philosophy is far from unique. Or rather, it’s a juxtaposition of our innate wishes.

What I mean by our “innate wishes” is that within each and every person is a sense of pride. And along with that pride contains to one degree or another a certain narcissism. To put it in another way, the closer something resembles us, the more appealing we find it to be. In the case of Christianity, our God appears to be like us. The only difference between Christianity’s God and the Greek’s gods is that we resemble the latter not through the power of the deities but rather plainly assumes it to be so. Of course there is a big development from the latter to the former. Greek gods, after all, are pretty much like super-powered humans, with all the flaws and weaknesses that go along with humanity. That’s not present with Christianity’s God, although following along those lines, it really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that in order for us to be saved, God took on a human form. Jesus could be understood as a reconciliation between what we wanted our God to be and our innate form. God did not create man in his image but rather we created God in the image we wanted to fashion.

So humanity is a narcissist society. It is not only reflected in our religion but in the way we live life. One has to merely look around our surroundings to find that we usually associate with people who have, at the very least, one thing in common with us. It could take the form of blood (because like it or not, we do share characteristics with our ancestors, siblings, and most probably, descendants) in the case of family, or land or an ideal, in the case of country. Some people even have loyalty to their alma matter, and form a certain kinship with complete strangers upon the utterance that they came from the same school (or suffered under the hands of the same teacher).

Taking it to another level, what people usually look for in their husbands or wives is something that resembles them. The most stated characteristic (at least in my experience) of the traits we want in our boyfriends or girlfriends is understanding. And someone similar to us, at the very least in attitude and perspective, is in the best position to tolerate and understand our needs and habits. We’re attracted to people who are more like us than not. That’s why people usually start off with common interests in introducing themselves. Because anything common usually paves the way for close bonds. Even common adversity (such as a common enemy or being stuck in an elevator with no way out) can be a stepping stone for relationships.

Of course the other attitude we could take is that we’re not looking for people who have common traits as us but people who fulfill our wishes or fantasies. I mean the Christian God is like that. We’re not perfect, so we want him to be perfect. But in that relationship, we’re still inevitably relating to ourselves since a part of God is what we want ourselves to be. Similarly, that’s also something that could happen in the pursuit of our partners. We’re not looking for someone like our flawed selves but someone who can transcend us, someone who can solve our problems. In other words, we want to change, but since a particular change is beyond us, we hope to find it in someone else. Yet in the end, that trait is only important because it’s important to us. Once, say, we’ve gained a certain characteristic we previously did not have (such as being popular in college when you were unpopular in high school), that trait in the other person seems less attractive and exotic. At the very least, that shared experience becomes a common ground for you and someone else.

The interplay of who we are and who we want to be is carried over to our offspring. Parents usually have two mentalities when it comes to their child: either their child becomes like them (such as the pride one feels when your son or daughter takes up the same profession as you did), or that their child becomes someone they aren’t (such as a poor man wanting his son to become a rich doctor, or the housewife wishing that her daughter won’t get pregnant at an early age). Again, it really isn’t surprising that this is the stance most people take. The greatest hurdle of empathizing with other people is that for even just a few moments, we must feel what the other person is feeling rather than feel what we are feeling (of course the talent of the best empathic people is that there is no “other”; what the other person feels, they feel). And raising a child is a full-time job, and the only experiences we can draw upon are those we’ve personally experienced.

I’m not really condemning our tendency to gravitate towards what’s similar to us. In fact, a probable reason that we’re still alive on this Earth and haven’t blown up each other is the fact that we associate ourselves with humanity as a whole and find something similar in one another. We all have shared experiences; each and everyone of us, for example, knows what it is to laugh, what it is to cry. But as much as we share something in common, our differences sometimes gets the better of us. We wage wars because the other nation is different from ours. We ostracize people because they’re strange and queer. We even don’t get along with other people because they have an opinion. What we forget is that while there are things that can’t be changed, there are still lots of things that can be. We have free will and can overcome hurdles. If we killed someone just because they’re different, then we’d truly be alone in the world. And in the end, that is a narcissist’s greatest fear, to realize that you’re alone in the world not because you’re unique, but because other people found you to be repellant.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don't

It’s been my experience that many Filipinos are afraid to directly hurt other people. It can be something as simple as declining to go to a person’s birthday party (and saying something like “I’ll come late” instead) to something as complex as breaking up a relationship (“I’ll stay with him/her even if I don’t love him/her anymore since his/her grades have dropped whenever I’m away from him/her”). It doesn’t matter that in the long run, the other person will get hurt, just as long as it doesn’t originate from them.

What’s wrong with this kind of mentality is that the other person will inevitably get hurt. In the case of the person who invited you to their birthday party, he/she will be hurt just as much when he/she doesn’t see you around when the occasion arrives. Yes, you won’t be there to see the other person get hurt, but he/she will get hurt nonetheless (and because he/she suffers from the same mentality as you, he/she won’t mention it the next time you meet). With the other situation, you’re giving the other person false hope. When you finally get fed up with him/her and break up, the other person will suffer the more grievous wound. You can rationalize that you’ve been the martyr all this time by staying in the relationship even when you’ve already given up on the person at an earlier date. Unfortunately, your former significant other doesn’t have the same kind of rationalization to blunt the blow.

With the former situation, you’re just being plain selfish. You’re not removing the other person’s pain, merely moving yourself away from the scene so that you don’t see it. It’s a kind of self-delusion. You think that “if I don’t see it, it doesn’t happen”. Unfortunately, that’s not how the world works. You’re merely lying to yourself.

With the latter situation, there is a kind of concern for the well-being of the other person. Unfortunately, it’s a short-sighted view of things. It’s short-sighted in the sense that it only concerns the present, as if the future will solve its own problems. And since you’re concerned with the short term, you take the easy route, the one that has no immediate consequences. Unfortunately, as I said before, you nurture a sense of false hope with the other person. Usually, the longer you associate with a certain person, the more difficult it is to severe your connection with him/her. In this case, the other person will love you more as time passes by, increasing the pain he/she will feel when you inevitably break up. At this point, it’s a “damned if you, damned if you don’t” situation. You’ll hurt the other person irregardless of when you break up. Since inflicting pain stops being an issue here, the real question is how much pain are you willing to inflict. If you break up with the other person sooner (or even not agreeing to get into the relationship in the first place), sure, it’ll hurt the other person, but not as much when he/she has gotten quite acquainted with you. If you make the break up later, the pain you’ll inflict will be much, much more, although such repercussions aren’t immediately apparent at the time you made the decision.

Of course that’s not to say that all our roads of action lead to pain and suffering. However, there is truth to the cliché saying “you can’t please everybody”. And similarly, you will end up hurting other people inevitably (since we are human after all, and not perfect creatures). That being the case, we should stop being afraid of hurting other people, especially if it comes at the expense not only of our lives but of the other person’s as well. True friends will forgive you for your directness and flaws, while with less-forgiving people, it’s only a matter of time before they get mad at you for one reason or another. It’s always been my philosophy “better now rather than later” because I do form bonds with people the longer I get acquainted with them. If they can’t take me as I am right now, then they’ll probably be less tolerant of the skeletons I keep in my closet.