Love of Country Thursday July 25, 2024 EDT 
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lucid thoughts

Love of CountryJanuary 10, 2007

Love of Country

A Seed was Planted
I still distinctly remember the date and place: May 6, 2004 at Mon Repos Hotel in Geneva. I was having a conversation with a Filipina who chaired the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights at the United Nations, Switzerland. Our topic shifted to all directions until we touched off on the concept, love of country. She carried on a winded monologue on the subject claiming it to be the root cause of most evils in the Philippines. I was a captive audience but what I was hearing was beyond my comprehension. It sounded like a professorial dissertation from 50,000 feet above sea level. It just went over my head. It was then I realized that aside from the dictionary definition of love of country, I didn't know shit about it. As a balik-bayan returning to the Philippines after a 20-year absence, it remained a thought-provoking of country.

Philippine Slice of Life
Having been accustomed to North American ways, everyday on-goings in the Philippines were startling. Counterflow? There was no such thing 20 years ago. Street kids converging on a private car asking for alms? Unprecedented levels of air pollution? But there's a law in place to curtail that! A passerby throwing his litter on the sidewalk? A political system mired in corruption? Oh well, what else is new? It would seem a no-brainer - counterflowing snarls traffic and creates grid lock. Why do it? Since we all breath the same air, why not fix your engine for cleaner air? Do we even need a law to make us do that? I didn't understand.

The pivotal turn came when I was invited to teach CWTS (Civic Welfare Training Service) at the University of the Philippines (UP) to a batch of graduating students. CWTS is the civic equivalent to the mandatory military training every university student undertakes. It was a program of giving back to society. Since there was no teaching materials, course outline or modules, I resorted to Google my way for teacing aids.

Starting Them Young
It was then I learned that in more progressive countries, civic training starts from day 1, from the elementary levels. It's a progressive program that's an integral part of the school curriculum. They continue to take it until they graduate. It's essentially a good citizen training program. With that, they grow up seeing themselves as an integral part of the nation-building process. Their participation becomes the building block cementing a state's foundation. we have that collective psyche in the Philippines? I'm afraid not. It's not instinctive. It needs to be taught, and more importantly, it needs to be practised and experienced...and teaching it for the first time when the students are on their way to graduation seemed like too little too late.

The Candy Wrapper Incident
Love of country is elusive even to the intelligent and highly educated. Here's one for the books. When I was still residing in Canada, I would have an occasssional guest every now and then. I picked up a guest from the airport and the first thing he noticed about Canada was its cleanliness. However, even before he can finish his praise, he'd already thrown away a candy wrapper from my car, as a force of habit. Yeah...this same guy who just told me Canada was pristine because it was so clean. When I called his attention to his littering, the reflex response was, "...nobody saw me anyway". When I looked surprised at the response, he followed up with, " was just a small candy wrapper". When my jaw fell, he even added, "...others do this too". It took a while for the whole thing to sink-in until he realized what he did was wrong. I never saw him litter again after that incident.

No Connection
What I'm trying to say here is, there was no connection to him between the concept and the act. It was all abstract. His education and social totem-pole ranking didn't help him understand what just took place. Why? He hasn't learned it, let alone practise it. It's not part of school curriculum (unlike other countries), the church never talked about it, his peers didn't know shit about it either, and his folks was, "...say what?". The government? Don't even get me started with that.

We All Pay the Price
It was a minor incident that nonetheless underscores how oblivious people can be to this fleeting concept - love of country. They don't see their actions as part of a nation-building process. Each one to his own, or worse, each one trying to outsmart the system (as in being the first guy to start the counter-flow, or being the guy to bribe the emissions agency so he doesn't need to clean up his exhaust). If everyone tries to outsmart the system, then the system fails...and we all suffer for it. I look around me and the signs are all there - traffic grid lock, pollution, mandatory U-turns instead of an open intersection, etc.

Wimping Out
As compelling the need is to teach CWTS, I didn't take the job. I wimped out on it. I didn't even know where or how to start. It seemed like putting band-aid on a patient who was fatally hemorraging. I didn't see it as teaching CWTS but getting them started in appreciating something bigger...something more comprehensive - love of country. I was overwhelmed. How could I? Just weeks before at the Mon Repos Hotel, I didn't even know shit about it.

Ending Thoughts
Love of country remains elusive, but I'm getting a grip on it. I'm more aware of my actions and how it translates into a nation-building process. I see myself being part of a collective whole. My actions ripple across and affect society which makes taking responsibility for my actions imperative. I'm not an insignificant drop in the bucket. Collectively, this drop is a powerful deluge.

On a national scale, civic training or good citizenship should be an onging part of the school curriculum, and it should start at day 1. That is the compelling issue. Is there political will to make that happen? With President Arroyo slashing the budget for education and funneling money in her war against the 'insurgents', the future doesn't look too bright.

--- TheLoneRider

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Reader Comments:

May-i Fabros
(Jan 13, 2007) love of country...where do i begin...

it was a beautifully written piece, but what struck me was the fear and sweetly-composed rage at the end of the piece...the future doesn't look bright.

as long as children are born and the sun rises each day there is hope, but with this is the responsibility to insure that the belief that things will get better will happen...little things count...everything matters...words, gestures, thoughts...that abstract idea of love of country can be made real, tangible and you start with the idea that things are possible and then you move from there...use the rage and passion to move forward, look beyond the traffic and dig deep...utilize rage and passion to redefine things, though it is ideal to start them young, to integrate loving their country in loving themselves, we have to work with what exists, we are co-responsible to how things are and how things turn-out...and talking to graduating students who perhaps don't give a shit anymore because they all feel helpless and scared and just simply numb from everything is one way of triggering that sense of responsibility...we are the best campaigners of our thoughts and ideals...although it seems that it would have an a book you read one time in your life that didn't do nothing for you, but after a few years you remember that book and what it means to you now, i am hoping that that would happen when we try our best to rattle people to their core, when we tell them our hopes and dreams...words have a life of their own...we should not forget that...

the future looks bright. imagine if you did not have that conversation in geneva would you even give a shit now as to how the government allocates the national budget.

it does look bright. for as long as there are people like you, like us who will never stop trying to make things better for ourselves and for others...

as ben, the cow said in the movie Barnyard...a strong man is one who lives for himself, but a stronger man lives for others

***I was reluctant to end it on a pessimistic note, but I didn't see light at the end of the tunnel. Trust me, I tried looking for that light but it eluded me. Your insight brought perspective back to where it should be. Thanks for the words of encouragement. -- TheLoneRider

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