“You were more than nine pounds when you went out of my womb. You almost broke my pelvic bones. But I have exhausted myself during the delivery for you to experience the world. And I don’t ask anything in return,” my mom said [in non-verbatim] during one of our rare talks.
I’ve always admired her parenting style – constantly watering us with courage and sense of responsibility. She values freedom and autonomy; envisions her children to flourish on our own; expresses generosity, forgiveness, and acceptance despite all the tragedies she had to overcome.
Alarmingly, the aforementioned values are constantly removed out of the person through disinformation, highly-polarized views, divisiveness, and desensitization in these troubled times. We are certainly losing our capacity to think and decide because our democracy has been replaced by mere practicality and convenience.
At present, people in power no longer stand at the forefront of injustices, rather, they remain as shadows behind the emerging cultures of impunity, fear, and silence perpetuated by institutionalized killings of journalists, lawyers, judges, activists, Lumads, union leaders, etc. – from the poorest to the richest. Anybody can be a victim, or worst, can be mistakenly targeted as a victim.
I likened my mom to Martha Nussbaum because of their congruent beliefs on human flourishing and autonomy. Philosophically speaking, Nussbaum has transcended from the work of Amartya Sen on development as freedom by integrating Aristotle’s concept of human flourishing and Kant’s idea of autonomy. Following the work of Sen, it was emphasized by Nussbaum that achieving substantive freedoms (e.g. political participation without the interference of a repressive force) is not enough. The person must continuously strive for human flourishing – achieve beyond material needs – fueled by one’s freedom and autonomy.
In my line of work as humanitarian and development worker, my mom serves both as inspiration and source of guided principles. She always insists to thrive in fulfillment and learning, rather than drown oneself with awards and appreciation from others because giving genuine service to the people requires nothing in return. Carved metals, embellished woods, and expensive plaques with one’s name may decay, but the positive change one had caused in another person’s life will live forever.
Since I want to dedicate this column to my mom, I would like to share some valuable insights from our casual talks. She may not be as prominent as Nussbaum, but her remarkable sensibility to human experiences, I believe, is adequate.
Certainly, there are no requirements for being true to oneself. You are entitled to your goals and ways in setting directions in life. You may pause when things get exhausted and overlooked. You can always repeat the process. But blind adherence to standards and expectations of others create unnecessary tensions within the self. When I was diagnosed with severe major depressive disorder, my mom cried in front of my psychiatrist, confessing that she had also experienced depressive episodes. She even blamed herself for assuming that I genetically acquired her depressive tendencies. Of course, I knew that my condition was triggered differently. I allowed set of overwhelming expectations to be the perfect bait for my anxieties – wallowed in helplessness and perpetual frustrations that resulted to dysfunctionality. I can never forget that instance when my mom told me to never follow expectations that don’t fit your visions. Now, I actively work with communities to reconnect with my visions for youth empowerment, journalism, and community development.
On another evening, I had a great conversation with my mom about parenting. Unlike them, other parents dictate and influence their children’s decisions as if they’re not capable. What’s worse is that some children felt heavily obliged to give back due to parental pressure and unjustified demands. As a response, my mom argued that parents should not treat their children as instruments for profit and commodity. Rather, parents should allow their children to grow independently – empowered and free. Given that, she elicited an important insight: being autonomous is an active decision that entails responsibility and accountability.
On a different day, after resolving a misunderstanding with my grandmother, I talked to my mom to calm her emotions. Amidst the awkward silence, I raised the withstanding reality that people will only approach us in times of need. We cannot overstep when helping even though our intentions are noble. However, it’s my mom’s nature to feel guilty if she’s not able to offer help. Ever since, the expanse of her help had reached our relatives, workers, and even strangers. Of course, I cannot blame her for that personality.
But it would be shameful if I don’t see the value of what she does in a climate where many people decide to disintegrate – build boundaries due to political views, disregard due process and celebrate killings due to anger, and even believe in wrong information especially if it comes from their highly-revered government. My greatest takeaway from this is to stay grounded while you flourish at your own pace. However, flourishing can only happen if we (Filipinos) allow ourselves to think like human beings again – people who value life and human dignity, and people who are able to rationalize and decide – never silent and numb.