We can be heroes


James Abadia

National Heroes Day, held every August, celebrates no hero in particular. The National Commission for Culture and the Arts’ (NCCA) website states that a committee in 1995 recommended nine Filipino historical figures as National Heroes. To this date, no action has been taken on the recommendations as the NCCA explains that any such proclamation might trigger bitter debates. President Duterte recently demonstrated this when in an interview after the May elections, he said he would raise Lapu-Lapu to the status of National Hero. But beyond the debate is the simple fact that our heroes’ stories are written to inspire us to become better Filipinos, if not Filipino heroes ourselves. Yes, there can still be heroes and villains in this day and age when our greatest challenge is to navigate rush-hour traffic. Recently giving the commencement address at Harvard, American film director Steven Spielberg enumerated the monsters of racism, homophobia and ethnic, class, political and religious hatred as villains to be vanquished. In our country, the biggest villains are powerlessness, hopelessness and apathy–powerlessness to stop the further spread of social problems such as poverty; hopelessness that whatever we do will amount to nothing because of overwhelming odds; and resultant apathy or disconnectedness from our communities because we firmly believe that whatever the problem, it is the government’s job to solve it.

But we can be heroes. We need to be heroes. A savior who waves a sword to scare away the monsters cannot do it alone. It takes a nation to solve a nation’s problems. We can always help our country, city or barangay in several ways by having that mindset and discipline for growth.

Growth, development, transformation, progress–they are interchangeable. This is easily said but difficult to do since these require us to challenge mindset. In the same speech, Mr. Spielberg offers a guide. He points out that aside from listening to conscience or the voice that shouts, “Here’s what you should do,” we need to listen more to the intuition that whispers, “Here’s what you could do.”

Joey Ayala’s 2013 engaging TEDxTalk has garnered over a million views in YouTube. In it, he advocates a different way of singing the national anthem, among others. If he had listened to his conscience, it would have told him that his entire lecture runs counter to the Flag Law. Instead, he listened to his intuition, and delivering that talk defined his character as an artist and musician and made us appreciate our national anthem better.

This very same line of reasoning is seen in the Gospel of Luke. Beyond following what is written in the law, Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan who went out of his way and helped an injured man, in answer to the question, “Who is thy neighbor?”

Life is filled with moments that are opportunities for growth. Recognize them, and aside from listening to conscience, listen to intuition as well. Look at your city or barangay. Look at what can be done. Volunteer. Contribute your expertise or help in anyway you can.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, in his poem A Psalm of Life, wrote, “Not enjoyment, and sorrow, Is our destined end of way; But to act, that each to-morrow, Find us farther than to-day.” The ability to challenge mindsets is just one side of the coin. The other requirement is the discipline to examine oneself daily and measure whether you have progressed and truly made a difference.

It is not enough to volunteer in your city or barangay one day and disappear the next. Volunteer–and then see whether your actions have made real a difference. Remember, however, that growth is a process. Think about the three 3 “T’s”- Things Take Time. If after a certain period there is no real difference, go back to suggestion number one and try again.

Writing this, I might sound like a dreamer, but quoting John Lennon, “it’s easy if you try”. The fact is that there are organizations and Philippine government agencies dedicated to the growth mindset and to the discipline of measurement. One just has to google “Islands of Good Governance” to read about their breakthroughs and progress. And if your city or barangay is not quite there yet, heed the call of Mr. Longfellow when he said, “In the world’s broad field of battle, In the bivouac of life, Be not like dumb driven cattle, Be a hero in the strife.”

James Abadia is the Social Development Division Head of the Ramon Aboitiz Foundation, Inc. He was previously the city administrator of the local government of Mandaue, Cebu and continues to advocate governance reforms as an Associate of the Institute for Solidarity in Asia (ISA). To learn more about his role in helping to transform Mandaue, visit isacenter.org.


James Abadia


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