Home | An Inconvenient Truth

Salvador C Wee SJ
University Archivist

Dictionary.com gives one definition of culture as “the behavior and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or age group.” The origin of this word has something to do with tilling or the place tilled. If so, what are we tilling or cultivating here at the Ateneo? What do we see happening? 

Our students all look forward to the annual school fiesta. The different colleges have their college days to prepare for the fiesta. Booths are set up to sell food or earn rent to raise funds for their fiesta activities. To sell, sell, buy, buy, eat, eat fosters consumerism and commercialism. 

Jesuit superior general Fr. Pedro Arrupe in his Men for Others address decades ago warned about the culture of consumerism which produces homo consumens instead of homo serviens. The self-centered consumerist is the opposite of the man or woman for others.

The biggest activity during the fiesta is the cheer dancing competition, where students invest their time, effort and even blood, sweat and tears. It seems that everyone wants to win, outshine and outdo the others. What we see is a culture of one-upmanship, or in Pilipino – pataasan ng ihi. We also know how the losers react. 

Cheering squads are to cheer sports competitions and inspire the athletes. When they become more important than the games themselves, things get muddled. We lose sight of the big picture and get stuck with our little and shallow half-truths. Isn’t it ridiculous to cheer without games? A wise man once pointed to the moon, and all the fools saw was his finger. Traditions have a way of taking on a life of their own. We tend to forget their original purpose or meaning.

What did Jesus say about the Sabbath? The Sabbath is for people, not people for the Sabbath. Traditions are for us, we are not here for the traditions. Once we absolutize our traditions, they control us. Anything we absolutize becomes an idol we worship. Idolatry is worshipping a false god. Means are different from ends. Means should never replace the ends themselves. Look at how many people worship their religion instead of God.

What about the acquaintance parties held at expensive locales? Poor students complain about these unnecessary expenses. The colleges claim these parties are not required activities, but there is social and peer pressure to attend. Why in expensive places? Why not celebrate simply? Has anyone heard of the simplicity of life in Ignatian spirituality? Does anyone consider the teachings of Ignatius or Jesus when planning all these parties or activities?

Teachers are supposed to educate or form clueless students, who don’t know any better, presuming teachers are not clueless themselves. Teachers lose out by default when students are left unguided to plan their activities. It is said that you cannot give what you do not have. Do teachers have the critical thinking to pass this on to their students? Why do teachers also hold classy faculty acquaintance parties? Who is influencing whom? How did these practices begin? A voluntary lifestyle check should help us get back on track.

Boom boxes come with an attitude problem. They are installed for maximum noise, not music. They blast away to attract attention and tell everyone to get out of the way. We seem to have a “boom box mentality” around. How many times do classes get disrupted by outside noise or nearby classes? Few, even so-called formation classes, seem to worry about disturbing others.

Just some examples: A whole-day program was recently conducted at the LRC quadrangle, disturbing all the classes above and offices around. Drum practices go on full blast right outside classes. The sound system at the MPCC or Brebeuf Gym is used full volume, even when there are classes going on or neighbors living next door.

All these amidst all the men for others and magis talk. The talk is there, but do we walk the talk? A lot of attention is given to form and reports, but not enough to substance and reality. We do not want to be like the colorful vinta sails (minus the vintas) decorating the electric posts during our Fiesta Pilar. They are there for display and decoration only. 

What about the disunity or rivalry between the colleges? The Ateneo is supposed to be a Christian university, yet what are the operative values or prevailing culture on campus? We get the impression that a kanya-kanya mentality prevails, together with the noisy palengke syndrome of walang paki, to each his or her own. 

Almost 2,000 years ago the first Christians were recognized by their unity and love for one another. They inspired others by their care and humble service of others. The Christian cross is a sign of contradiction. It reminds us that God’s ways are not our ways, neither are our ways God’s ways. Ignatius taught us about the Two Standards in the Spiritual Exercises. The ways of the world – wealth, power, prestige, showing off or bonggahan – are not the ways of Jesus. The ways of Jesus are simplicity, humility and selfless service of others. Jesus taught us to look at the tree and its fruits and to separate the grain from the chaff. He also encouraged us to look for the truth, for the truth will set us free.

Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth about global warming and its impact on climate change is timely, in the light of Ondoy’s recent devastation. On campus we have a different kind of climate change, but dangerous just the same. This is the presence of a false Ateneo spirit, which many think is one of loud and proud prestige in competitions and games. Few if any realize that the true Ateneo spirit is that of the humble servant who did not come to be served but to serve others, as Jesus taught us. He also said that the first shall be last, and the last shall be first. Are all these real to us or not?

A saying goes – if you want to know or understand who or what our God really and truly is, look at the way we behave and the way we treat each other. Examine our priorities, concerns, aspirations, desires, practices and traditions. What is it that fulfills us, gives us meaning, satisfaction and happiness in life? What is our highest goal or dream? What are we all seeking, dreaming or praying about? The answer to all these questions reveals to us the kind of God we worship.