National "Heroes": When will we get over them?

16 March 2003

We pester the elite of our society with calls for acts of heroism when the burden of extra hard work in reality falls on the shoulders of the poor masses.

We Filipinos have been imbued with the idea that our hopes for prosperity lie squarely on the shoulders of the elite, the "haves", a handful of leaders and/or a few "extraordinary" individuals. Our society has come to (or, more appropriately never matured beyond) a penchant for giving heroic labels to these "messiahs", as if the Philippines is constantly waiting for a hero to rescue her from her dysfunction. We expect heroic efforts from the few and continued mediocrity from the majority. We expect the low product of the majority to be subsidised by the execptional output of the minority.

When do we realise that leaders are only as good as the people they lead? Haven't we learned enough in the last two decades that one hero's death and a couple of pseudo-revolutions did not cure the fundamental cause of the chronic failure of our country?

Consider the following analogies:

(1) Corporations engage "hot-shot" consultants only to be told what they already know and get shown charts and diagrams organised from data that has laid idle and disorganised in their own databases for years.

(2) Missionaries come to villages armed only with a prayer yet are able to create relative prosperity out of resources that these same villagers have left lying around for generations.

The most notable achievements of the country have always been our quick fixes -- "revolutions" here and there, a smattering of go-go boom-boom periods, Magnificent Sevens riding in from the horizon, grandiose roll-outs of off-the-shelf solutions (democracy is one of them), etc. etc. We as a people are not known for quiet diligence and industry but for our *fiesta* achievements.

Our prospects for prosperity, however, lie within ourselves -- not in a messianic bunch of leaders and exceptional few who are yet to come and not in the altruism of the more fortunate. What we need is the courage and open-mindedness to understand clearly what we need to do to re-tool our culture, mindsets and thought processes, and approach to doing things so that a nation-building machine that is truly able to compete could emerge out of the collective and quiet achievement of the majority.

Let's change these medieval beliefs in salvation through heroic deeds and focus more on the more mundane aspects of nation-building.

Let's allow everyone to do their jobs properly without being burdened by expectations that accompany heroic labels.

Let's change our self-righteous penchant for calling one another to heroic and extraordinary deeds and instead find value in the collective effect of each individual doing their ordinary jobs properly and quietly.

Recognising achievement is different from lionising personalities. It takes well-thought out efforts (that requires serious evaluation of fundamental truths about ourselves) to realise sustainable development. When one recognises achievement, one expresses admiration and seeks to emulate said achievement. When one lionises personalities, one places said personality on a pedestal to worship and pin their hopes on. The earlier focuses on acquiring traits that support excellence. The latter focuses on expectations to live by and has come to acquire the stink of Erap-ism.

We've already had our fair share of heroes. It is clear today that, for many of them, the size of their sacrifice has not been commensurate with the willingness of the people they sacrificed for to help themselves.

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