Saturday, January 23, 2010

"I have seen the enemy. The enemy is us."

January 24, 2010

Metro Centre Hotel, Tagbilaran

The human brain stores memories. We all know this. What is not generally known is that the brain does not distinguish between real experience and imagined experience.

This is a crucial piece of information. You can get scared by the sudden appearance of a floating white cloth in the dark of night. The cloth may have been drifting along as it was lifted by the wind from a neighbour’s clothesline. But you got scared. You can scare yourself just as effectively if you imagine that floating piece of cloth next time you happen to be walking in the dark.

Then your brain will store each experience the same way. It makes no value judgement. It does not say this one is real and this other one is imagined.

I was having breakfast this morning in the hotel coffee shop. Next table to me was a group of men who were speaking loud enough to be heard throughout the coffee shop. They were talking about how traffic in the Philippines is so horrible compared with Singapore or the US. We Filipinos are terrible drivers. We generally are undisciplined and have no respect for the law. And they talked on and on and on.

People in the coffee shop heard them. Think about it. Those ideas entered into the brains of everyone present. Unless the people processed the information, their brains would have stored them as information –again not distinguishing whether they were real or imagined.

Then a horrible thought dawned on me.

I had thought that media people were to blame for the low regard people of other countries have for the Philippines and for Filipinos. Our media people speak mostly of what is terrible about us. Crime, corruption, poverty – if it’s bad, they write about it.

Our media people are Filipinos too. They were brought up in the same milieu as you and I. Like the milieu of those guys in the next table at the coffee shop.

A cartoon character once said, “I have seen the enemy. The enemy is us.”

It is not our media people. It is all of us. We feed ourselves with bad images of ourselves. It almost seems as though we are all competing for who can tell the worst stories about ourselves.

What would it take to change our habit into one of competing for who can tell the best stories about us? Once in a while, I would hear people talk about how good and smart and more, the Filipino is compared with the Japanese, or Singaporean, or American, or whatever. But I don’t hear it often enough. Do we want Singaporeans to compete for who can tell the worst stories about Filipinos? Or Americans? Or Japanese? Or do we want these foreigners to compete for who can tell the best stories about Filipinos?

Here’s one story: The Singaporeans under British commanders outnumbered and outgunned the Japanese attacking force. But they surrendered after just a few days of fighting at the start of the WW II. The Filipinos under Filipino commanders, graduates of the Philippine Military Academy, and American officers, were outnumbered and outgunned by the Japanese. But they fought off the superior Japanese military for several months until they practically had nothing but rocks to fight with. I wish people would tell more of this kind of story instead of how terrible our drivers are.

If all the world hears from us – and I don’t mean just from our media – is how bad we are, a great part of the fault is with us. But if all the world hears from us is how good we are, then a great part of the credit is with us.

Here’s something we can do. Don’t add to the bad stories. Add to the good stories. Next time you hear anyone tell bad stories, tell them to change. If you have friends in media, tell them to help revive the self-image of the Filipino. They have battered it enough already. Tell them to start telling good stories about us.

If all of us resolve to do this, in a short while, other countries can have a different view of our country and Filipinos.