Ubiquitous

Typhoon Maring, coupled with Habagat 2013 (is that what we should call it now?) and the Million People March in Luneta all but overshadowed National Heroes’ Day last Monday, August 26. Or perhaps the march was in celebration and commemoration of the holiday. Regardless, I would just like to share something that I’ve always firmly believed about heroes.

It is easy to create mythical representations of our idols. Jose Rizal was the Filipino genius, gifted not only in the mind, but active as well, with the body (he was a boxer) and the heart (he had a lot of special someones). Andres Bonifacio was the champion of the masses and the spark of the revolution. Ninoy Aquino represents the contemporary figure of a bayani – selfless, courageous and patriotic up to the moment of death. We examine ourselves and find ourselves terribly lacking – what do I have compared to these giants? I can barely pass my subjects, let alone pass sweeping reforms in my country.

It is also easy to despair at our smallness, at our seeming inability to do big things and create grand movements. But it is very counterproductive to view ourselves in this matter. I have always believed that heroism is not confined to the deeds of the powerful or the famous. Heroism can be put into action in our everyday lives. Generally, I believe that heroism is any deed and every deed that has shown love or concern for someone.

Consider how the mother wakes up thirty minutes early to prepare breakfast for her kids before they go to school, or how she patiently reviews her bunso for his exam even after a tiring day at work. Think about the jeepney driver who endures the smoke and the heat of the road every single day just to provide an education for his children and food for his family. Remember the student who studies very well for a test because he knows that his education is being paid for by the Filipino people through their taxes. Such actions are not recorded in the national archives, nor are they proclaimed in the broadsheets. But they are acts of heroism nonetheless. For each of these acts is done ultimately out of love or concern for another.

The reader would probably contend that it is naïve to think of these as “acts of love” all the time. And indeed, that is true. The mother may sometimes wake up in a bad mood and shout at her child for being slow in the morning. The jeepney driver may find his job unfulfilling and may simply think of getting through the day. The student may ignore the fact that he is blessed to have an affordable education and become lazy with his schoolwork.

This is where I would like to add that heroism is any deed and every deed that is ultimately done out of love or concern for another, even if these acts may tend to become repetitive or unfulfilling in the present moment. Heroism to me is forward-looking. The act denies the present self of satisfaction (or in an economist’s terms, utility) in order to obtain some future satisfaction or utility.

It now becomes clear that heroism diminishes our self-centeredness and expresses one’s selflessness. This is consistent with the mythical actions of the giants that we idolize and adore: Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio, Ninoy Aquino all committed an act so selfless – they died for their countrymen in the hope that they would one day be the free and just nation they dreamt it to be.

I would argue that it is not the case that heroism cannot be done unless one is excessively wealthy, popular or educated. Heroism is ubiquitous – it is anywhere and everywhere where one would care to look.

The American cultural anthropologist and writer Margaret Mead had this to say, which I find most relevant in celebration of National Heroes’ Day:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Let’s start a revolution right now.

– Danilo Lorenzo S. Atanacio (2012-57960)

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2 thoughts on “Ubiquitous

  1. Another thing to ponder upon, I think we can focus on the essence of being an economic man and try to compare it with our common perceptions of a hero. Homo economicus, as conceptualized by Adam Smith is a rational being that seeks to maximize his benefit and only looks after his self-interest. A dehumanized being, the economic man is selfish and self-centered that sees personal ties with others as detrimental in furthering his personal gains. In contrast to this, the “hero” is the perfect epitome of the very essence of humanity – the capability of great compassion towards other people. Big or small act, the hero has always transcended from the “self” to the “others”, always desiring for the betterment of other people.

  2. @Jeun, I personally think that the trait that separates a hero from the ordinary man or woman is his or her ability to empathize. If he or she can see the consequences of what he or she does to another person (whether consciously or unconsciously) and he or she realizes that these actions have implications on another person’s life, then there is an incentive to do good deeds or to avoid committing evil deeds. Ultimately, it is this sense of “shared” existence with others that a man or woman takes into account when he or she commits an act. Psychologists and neurosurgeons have already recognized that there are mirror neurons in our brain that allow us to feel what another feels even without having to undergo the same experience. Can this be what can help us define ourselves as “human”, separate from other animals?

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