Man of Thought, Man of Action

Why do you need to write?

Of the various ‘thought provoking entries’ I asked for in Facebook, it was this that won out. Simple, straight to the point, and precisely the question I needed to answer. See, I have these regular struggles against writer’s block and more often than not, it wins out. But in rare times when I have not much else to do — such as it’s our summer break now — I take some extra effort to duke it out and try to win. So here’s an attempt.

Why do I need to write?

I’ll start with the most honest: it is, quite simply, one of the few talents I can say I have. I know I have a genuine ability at it, and at times I can be rather good, thus I feel it all goes to waste when it is unused. Of course, blogging isn’t where all my writing goes; those are vastly different activities. But as of late I’ve been more of a pragmatic writer — anything and everything from school position papers, to replies to formal queries from parents, and even love letters. In all these though, I feel like I am too busy laying down a case, settling an argument. I miss being more spontaneous, unhinged, and to put it bluntly, creative.

When I was more spontaneous, I saw writing purely as a means for me to tell my story. The events in my day were all made to make sense within a larger story. But I was younger then, too. The world still revolved around me and my whims. The plot grew thicker eventually, and soon enough I was entangled in a forest of weeds and vines — all of my own making. I fell prey to the narrative fallacy — the thinking that if it didn’t fit my story, it did not exist. I eventually missed out on life — the grandest story of them all — as I remained fixated on writing mine. As the years went on I eventually let go and let whatever happened happen.

Perhaps I should focus on simply chronicling and reflecting on my life’s events? That’s possible. I’ll just need tremendous inspiration and perhaps something that comes close to what I can consider a genuine spiritual experience such as this — in 2007, some students and I went on an immersion in an Aeta village in Pampanga. I wrote of our time there in one of my favorite works of all time, We All Have Our Eden.

So perhaps the problem isn’t that I can’t write, but I need something to write about. Perhaps I’ve been living in the city and running the rat race a little too much these past years. While I’ve had opportunities to break the monotony — I’ve done some traveling at least once a year — something’s missing. And whenever I revisit my time in Sitio Target five years back, I am reminded of what inspires me: being humbled, uprooting myself, and having a genuine encounter with the human face. Profound stuff, I know. But just imagine the feeling of being physically lost in a new place with little resources available to help you find your way — that feeling times a hundred.

In this sense, writing to me is an inherently spiritual exercise. It’s part cleansing, part prayer, part reflection, part benediction. It helps me come to terms with experience and serves as a reminder of where I am meant to be and who I am supposed to be. That I have been unable to write as richly then can perhaps be taken as a sign that I have yet to be somewhere, yet to be someone. A disturbing thought. But hopeful, too.

However, this isn’t the only dimension to my writing.

Besides my experiences, I’ve also written about politics and my writing, from time to time, has been a political act. I’ve already given too many thoughts on what ails Philippine society and how it must be fixed. I’ve chimed in on school policies. I’ve spurred debates. I know I have an audience who agrees with me; I know I have an audience who disagrees. But I was younger then, less mature. Then I had this notion that words, in and by itself, can rock a system to its core and instigate change. But on the Internet where one is really just one voice among millions, what sets one apart? It isn’t the verbosity, the clarity, or the fortunate confluence of words on a blog page. It’s action.

In this, I am reminded of the powerful words of Theodore Roosevelt —

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.

My feet have been on the ground, stumbling and climbing throughout the arena, in the years I’ve been more quiet on the Internet. I’ve been busy working away at the school I’ve come to call home, devoting myself to a work I genuinely love while studying the dynamics of cultural and institutional change. The image of a laboratory and an experiment come to mind but that isn’t too accurate a metaphor for what my work means to me — because I’ve been transformed, too.

The paradox (or perhaps the tragedy) is that while I’ve come to see the limits imposed on to us by imperfect systems, I’ve also come to see them as the primary means for our lives to be perfected — simply because we are in it. Within each one of us is the capacity for change. It starts from ourselves, yes, but this positive transformation can only result in a net positive for all of us. We just have to see ourselves as part of a larger whole and realize that the work of transformation does not fall on individual powers. We’re in this together; that’s why I teach. And in the humble number of years I’ve been teaching I’ve seen the change that idealism and hope can bring. We just need more feet on the ground. We need more men and women brave enough to stand in the arena.

That’s why I haven’t written much either. I view my work in this regard as largely unfinished and hence unworthy of publication. I’m one to hope, yes, but not one to count my chickens before they hatch. I’m not one to beat my chest. I’ve never seen myself as a firebrand, but in my own silence I can keep the fire burning and ignite the passions within others from within themselves.

Perhaps I can write to inspire others to carry on with their own struggles and to stand pat when others simply stand aside. Perhaps. But I am one of them, too. I’m not one with all the answers yet, but I can sure provide the right questions — are you where you are supposed to be? Are you becoming who you are meant to be?

Start there. Dig deep. Find yourself, then give.

As the banner quote for this blog has it —

“All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think, we become.” The Buddha

That’s why I write.

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