Early this year I was struck by a headline on OneNews: “8 Out Of 10 Filipinos Do Not Have A Dream” (https://www.onenews.ph/articles/8-out-of-10-filipinos-do-not-have-a-dream). The article reports that, according to a nine-year study conducted by Dream Project PH, eight out of ten Filipinos only have indefinite answers to the question, “Do you have a dream in life?” Five reasons are given in the article for the lack of dreams in life: 1) lack of conversations that nurture children’s dreams or young people’s purpose; 2) lack of role models, beyond the goal of getting a well-paying job; 3) limited perspectives, connected to the youth not being “challenged and encouraged to see that they can make a positive change in their community or circumstances”; 4) limited opportunities, particularly career or job opportunities, and 5) limited resources: “pursuing your purpose or dream might become the least of your priorities when your immediate goal is to get food on the table for your family”.
The clash between our dreams and the harsh realities of life is one of the background themes to modern life. How often do we hear of young men and women not going to high school or college in order to work, or entering a course mainly because it will guarantee them a livelihood instead of a course that they actually want? How many who have gone abroad to work have done so in the hope of fulfilling financial dreams, while also saying farewell to their earlier—perhaps more hopeful or more naïve—dreams of attaining success in other endeavors? It is normal to change, to moderate, to balance one’s dreams against the hard facts that come up in the course of the years. This is not a tragedy. The tragedy is when, in the face of life’s apparent cruelty, dreaming comes to seem pointless and daily survival becomes our only horizon. An even greater tragedy is when the young are not taught to dream at all: they are set up for defeat even before they can hope. The tragedy of shattered dreams is played out daily in countless lives, and I have seen it myself, but the OneNews article’s statistic was shocking for me: eight out of ten Filipinos!
Poverty is not the only enemy of dreams, though. Some children of privilege seem to not conceive of anything higher in life than the pursuit of pleasure, as far as their wealth allows. And it does seem that many (from the rich, poor, and middle classes) have “dreams” that are simply about material prosperity. How many are those who dream of doing great things for God, for Church, and for country, or dream of noble and elevating pursuits: the love of wisdom, the desire for learning, the promotion of the arts and humanities, the development of the sciences and new technologies, the health and flourishing of our people? Among those who dream of doing great things, how many are supported and encouraged by those around them? (I cannot help but think of the phenomenon of “smart-shaming”, which treats being intelligent as something of which one should be ashamed.)
Over and above the temptation to limit ourselves to seeking a prosperous or comfortable life, there is the drug of self-indulgent dissipation, frittering away our time in the thousand distractions available to us today. These are distractions that threaten to fill our leisure and deprive it of higher occupations while not actually giving our minds and bodies rest. To live the present moment is optimal, but to live only for the present is to throw away our future, and perhaps even the life that comes after. As Henry David Thoreau put it in his book “Walden”: “as if you could kill time without injuring eternity”!
The “dreamlessness” of the average Filipino, I think, explains a lot of things about our country today. Volumes have been said and written about our collective lack of direction, our lack of national identity, the endless feeling of “ganito na lang ba palagi?” (will it always be like this?). However, it will take a lot of people with dreams – noble, well-thought-out dreams – to collectively form a vision for change that will transform not just our own lives but our communities for the better. If we as individuals cannot even dream anything noble for ourselves, then how can we dream about the transformation of our country? If we are unable to envision a better future that isn’t just for ourselves and our families and goes beyond our personal material well-being, then how can notions of the common good even make sense to us?
This “dreamlessness” without doubt extends to the ballot box. Much has been said, in the past 30 years or so, about the trivial reasons that have driven countless voters to elect unworthy candidates to high office. In the 2022 elections we have the spectacle of countless voters choosing to vote for Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Sara Duterte on only the vaguest notions of “unity” and on the back of an awesome campaign of historical distortion and the demonization of anything relating to the legacy of the EDSA Revolution. I’ve come across the opinion that for many Filipinos, politics is like a game, where one chooses a team and cheers it on regardless; it is more of entertainment than anything else, with little thought given to its real-world consequences. I don’t know how accurate this insight is, but it does ring true to me on the basis of my lifelong observations. It certainly jives with the idea that many of our countrymen do not have definite dreams. If you cannot even dream about the future, then why would you care about your role in shaping it? This is even more painfully true of those who sell their votes; it is the sale of their future in exchange for a little cash that normally won’t even be sufficient for the needs of the moment.
Ultimately, if this country is to rise again, we need – as a people – to learn once more how to dream big, and to dream a lot more. We need to learn the overriding importance of having a sense of purpose that will go well beyond good salaries and material comforts. It will not be sufficient to improve the educational system, or restore Good Manners and Right Conduct classes, or (in the realm of religion) to improve catechesis and preaching, if our people will not dare to dream dreams that are beautifully impossible, and impossibly beautiful. Let fire return to our people’s eyes! Let our hearts live once more by things far greater than bread alone! Otherwise, we will just continue to decline and perish as a nation, increasingly unable to lift our eyes to the stars.
I do not want to end this column with a note of sadness, so permit me to note something that gives me hope. Hope that more and more Filipinos will dream big for our country. This is no less than the presidential campaign of Leni Robredo, which has managed to inspire a grassroots passion and creativity unseen in ANY previous presidential campaign in the entire history of the Philippines. It is a campaign marked by Hope with a capital H and spawned the sense of being able to make a difference. The sheer joy, the contagious sense of community and belonging, the entirely new level of volunteerism that has been generated among Leni’s own supporters, has to be personally experienced! As I write this a week before the May 9, 2022 elections, I do not know if Robredo will be able to overtake Marcos Jr. in the race to Malacanang. I pray that even if Robredo does not win the presidency this year, her campaign will be transformed into an enduring popular movement. May it keep alive the hopes and ideals she has ignited in the past months for the sake of our people.
This is the first in what I hope to be a weekly column for PressOne.PH. The name of the column, “Seeds of Fire and Light” is something that I thought up on my own. It echoes the philosophy that has inspired me in the works of the apostolate that I have carried out in the past several years: to plant or scatter seeds of the faith, in the hope that at least some of these will eventually blossom and bear good fruit. Since 2005 I have given or hosted many talks, lectures, interviews, panel discussions, Q&A in the like, and written several articles, mainly on religious topics. My motivation has been steadfast: the hope that at least a few of my readers and listeners will learn something new and inspiring about the faith
However, as I was preparing this first column, I discovered that the phrase “seeds of fire and light” was used in at least two 19th-century religious poems: “Christ Crucified: An Epic Poem in Twelve Books” by William Ellis Wall, and “Fanaticism”, an anonymous poem dated 1852 and published in the 1854 collection “Morbida, or Passion Past, and Other Poems”. I mention these poems by way of acknowledgment, lest anyone accuse me of claiming others’ intellectual property as my own (a form of theft that I particularly detest).
In this column I will write on a variety of topics: religion, philosophy, history, travel, current affairs, my musings and reflections on these and all sorts of things. Please feel free to send your reactions to email@example.com.