this story originally appeared in the philippine daily inquirer on January 24, 1998.

I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately, I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life. To put out all that was not life. And not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.

Henry David Thoreau

I don’t pretend to know everything about global recession and failing economies. I don’t know exactly why something happening in Thailand, hundreds of miles away, should mean that I have to pay more for my Planters Cheese Curls. I can’t even fully comprehend how the stock market works. What does up by 5 points mean, anyway?

The truth is I wouldn’t know the difference between the stock figures being read by the smartly dressed girl on Sky Channel and the numbers that the Shoemart saleslady chants over the microphone. I can’t say that I’m very up-to-date when it comes to world events either. After spending more than an hour on the bus going home, the only things that seem to matter in life are a bowl of sinigang and the funny pages, and, of course, my bed. Somehow finding out who killed whom today and who was caught doing this or that doesn’t seem to be very appetizing or relaxing.

I read about President Ramos’ trips to all those countries and I realize that I’m not even sure if I can spell the term “world politics” correctly. But let me tell you about something I do know, the little which I understand from observing things around me and talking about them with friends over cups of coffee at Dean Street Cafe. Believe me, our discussions do not delve into the intricacies of economic theory; the only reason I know the term “laissez faire” is that I like to pronounce French words. I look around and I see a world slowing down. Companies are shutting down, people are being laid off, and some factories have decreed three-day work weeks. The prices of commodities are rising. People are buying less, spending less and manufacturers are groaning. Millionaires are selling their cars and their planes, and no one is buying. So many economists, politicians and businessmen have put their stethoscopes against every part of this global crisis, listening to every statistical beat and feeling every transactional muscle. They’ve pointed their fingers at this and that and have arrived at a not-so-encouraging diagnosis: An economic cancer is abroad and it threatens to eat up every nation in our part of the world.

Again, I am no doctor (I can’t stand the sight of blood–unless it’s my enemy’s), but I’d rather think of this crisis as something like a global flu. Sure, we get fatigued, we slow down, sneeze a lot and feel as if a ten-wheeler had driven over our frail bodies. But what the flu really does is warn us of something more serious that we may not readily see. In the past many years, the world has witnessed so many technological breakthroughs than anyone could ever imagine: computers, fax machines, microwave ovens, pagers and mobile phones. They are so great that they are marketed effectively as time-saving devices. And because we are very smart and very great (having thought of all these), we decided that our targets must change as well. Why be content with closing two business deals a day? With a mobile phone, you can close deals while having microwave noodles in the car. So why not make it 10? Word ’97 is so great, it practically writes the reports for you, so why not turn in 20 reports at the end of the day? Then as you stare at the empty screen at one in the morning, the computer radiation magically robs you of your memory and you say, this is how it has always been and always will be, why should I change it?

Besides, we need to earn a lot and have a lot if we want to be considered normally aggressive and normally ambitious. Anyone who writes an essay about working less during these times must be terribly lazy, crazy or both. But consider this: We work 12 hours a day so that someday at the age of 25, we can speed away in a brand new Toyota, only to end up in heavy traffic–away from home. We work like crazy to buy a Tag Heuer, but do they really give us time? The problem is we spend a lifetime acquiring things so that we eventually forget how to live it. Amid all the complicated gadgetry, it becomes quite difficult to remember that living is as simple as a bowl of sinigang shared with your family, sitting in a coffee shop with your friends, talking about “Titanic” and yes, laughing over the comic pages. So sometimes, life sends us the flu which, although a bit painful, forces us to slow down and remember. Right now, we have to work a little harder to recuperate from this economic ailment. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out.

All I’m saying is that as we slowly try to find the correct prescription for progress, maybe we should step back and reassess the standards we have set for ourselves. Do these standards make us better, productive people, or do they push us to the wall? What is all the rush for, anyway? As we answer these questions, we might realize that when we lift our little analytic fingers, we don’t have to blame every statistic, every momentous stock market event because the truth is, the finger should really be pointed at our own selves. 

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