this story originally appeared in the philippine daily inquirer on March 28, 2002.

Have you ever experienced standing on a very high place, looking down and observing people below? What did you see? Well I have. And I have been hit with a realization.

Have you noticed that we select life partners based on certain qualities or standards? Most of us make our partners the center of our lives, the reason for living, the reward that keeps us moving forward, that makes each day worth waking up to. As if the only reason we were born is to grow up, go to church every Sunday, go to school, graduate, have a job, get married, start a family. Then the children will leave when they’re old enough and they, in turn, will repeat the cycle we had gone through. And then comes the dying part.

It’s this realization that made me ask: Why? What are all these for? How do we spend our time more productively? I mean, sure, motherhood is an accomplishment, but it’s not an obligation. It’s a choice. There are many who have decided not to follow the beaten path. And these individuals who have chosen to be different are perceived to be behaving in a “socially incorrect” manner. Or worse, social outcasts.

“Why is he or she like that? It’s not the common thing to do. Why can’t he or she just do what everyone else is doing?” People would ask.

The key word there is “common.” Do we always have to do what is considered by society to be the common thing? Must we always follow these dictates? Must we always have to go with the flow? Who decides what is right and what is wrong?

My question is: Are we doing what we are supposed to be doing? Are we spending our lives the way it’s intended? Is there any other way to live our lives, a better way? We’ve been living this way since time immemorial and look what it has brought us: wars, crimes, fear, etc.

Look around us. Nothing is new anymore. Everything has been done before, and will be done again in the future. Parties, movies, clothes, stories. They have all been told before a thousand times. And this is why when I see people gyrating wildly on TV and saying, “Let’s party!” (as if partying has never been done before) I can’t help but think: Have humans lowered their standard on what they call “fun”?

Have we lowered our expectations and magnified our excitement about certain things and events in our lives in order to ignore a gnawing feeling deep inside? A feeling that says, there’s a better way to live?

Is there really a more beneficial way to live?

All this thinking makes me realize one thing: we are on the brink of destroying ourselves. This may sound a bit harsh or pessimistic but I happen to believe this is true. Look at the newspapers. Have you noticed the violence in them? Murders, rape, incest, robbery, graft and corruption, plunder. Why do we build weapons that have the power to eliminate the entire human race and then declare they’re all for peace and protection? Protection from whom? From other nations? Have we become a society based on fear that we have become afraid of one another? Is nuclear power the key to achieving peace? Are these the actions of an “enlightened” society?

We say we don’t approve of violence but what are we contributing to society in order to achieve a peaceful environment? We give toy guns to our children, we let them watch violent movies (because if there were no violence in movies, it wouldn’t be “fun” to watch), we let them play violent games. And then we wonder why the morals of our young seem to be going downhill. Is this what we teach our children? That violence is a natural tendency among humans?

If this is so then we are all responsible for what is happening all around us. We deserve the kind of environment we live in. And that is because we are the ones responsible for shaping our environment. We deserve what we get. We reap what we sow.

One could say, “But I have no part in it. I didn’t do all those things!” That person could be very wrong. We are responsible for one another. We are, after all, our brothers’ keepers. We are what’s going on around us. Violence exists because we allow it to happen. Our environment, after all, is just an extension of our self.

Many arrogant leaders of the world have declared: “Man has arrived.” But I beg to differ. How can we “arrive” if we continue fighting one another? How can we “arrive” if we keep having this tendency to make things more complicated than they really are?

So how do we know if we have reached our fullest potential as a race and as persons? The truth is, I don’t know. I’m still a work in progress just like everyone else here on earth. But I have been thinking about it and I have come up with some ideas concerning this question.

We have “arrived” when we:

  1. Stop thinking as individuals, but as a race, the human race, that is. This makes me think of the ant s. I’ve never seen a species that is so organized, that moves as a single entity than the ants. Not only do they NOT climb on top of one another to get to the food, but they fall in line as well!
  2. Have learned to see the Divine spark in every person. Understand that every human being is a reflection of God. It is through this understanding that hurting the people around us will be abhorrent to us, because hurting them would mean hurting God as well. This might not be easy at first, especially when you find yourself face to face with a hold-up man, only minutes after withdrawing all your savings from the ATM. You probably want to strangle the person who did this to you. It is during these times when “seeing with spiritual eyes” rather than with emotional ones can be more beneficial.
  3. Are intent on the action, not on the fruits of the action. This is what Lord Krishna tried to imbue to his pupil Arjuna in the book “Bhagavad Gita.” Some of us will only do something for another if we know we will be rewarded for it.
  4. Are spiritual, rather than religious. Being religious is a good thing. But being spiritual is even better. It doesn’t mean abandoning your faith in your God. On the contrary, it means embracing all the aspects of God. There is only One God, but bear in mind that He wears many disguises.
  5. Have learned to let go of our loved ones, to set them free, to allow them to grow and create their own lives, even if it means a life without us.
  6. Have realized that success is relative. We all have our own issues to resolve and that means we have different agendas of our own. The success of the other doesn’t mean one must do exactly what the other did to achieve success. Success can be in any form. In other words, your measuring stick is only your own. Don’t use it on others and don’t let others use it on you either. Do what you want to do, be good at it, and you will find success.
  7. Realize that completeness is your true nature.

“You’re nobody until somebody loves you.” This song is indirectly responsible for the thousands of suicides that occurred on this planet ever since suicide was discovered by heartbroken lovers. And this is the illusion we all must overcome: the illusion that we need a special someone to feel complete, to be satisfied with our lives, to feel good about ourselves, to feel valued. Someone should sue the writer of this song because he was responsible for sending a very inaccurate message. We were created by God and don’t think for a minute that God would create something incomplete.

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