Saturday, July 11, 2015

The death of “extraordinary”

Many of us in punditry whether in mainstream media or the alternative media are, wittingly or unwittingly, reinforcing the Filipino culture? 

What do you want to be when you grow up? Every young person has been asked the question.

It is not whether Binay is sinner or saint? Or if Roxas or Poe or Duterte is this or that? It is that we don’t want to see the demise of extraordinary? Worse, to sink into mob rule as one columnist described the spectacle in Makati? The Ampatuan dynasty, if not massacre, is one too many?

News item: Philippines remains in World Bank’s low-middle income category. “The Philippines remained among the ranks of low-middle income countries, failing to join Thailand and Malaysia which moved up to the upper middle economies, the World Bank said.” [Philippines remains in World Bank’s low-middle income category, Ted P. Torres, The Philippine Star, 3rd Jul 2015]

The death of extraordinary. The contrast, in a roundabout way, came as I was listening to the 24-year old daughter of my Bulgarian friend. “My daughter is proud to invite us to Soho House, that she's a member of the club,” my friend said as my wife and I met up with him at the corner of West Broadway and Spring Street. It's in the Meatpacking District and the two daughters were already having brunch and so we had to hail a cab. [“Soho House was founded in London in 1995 as a home from home for people working in creative fields. There are now 13 Houses located in the UK, Berlin, Istanbul, New York, West Hollywood, Miami, Chicago and Toronto. Unlike other club concepts, which often focus on wealth and status, we aim to assemble communities of members that have something in common: namely, a creative soul,” reads their website.]

Recently the daughter came to me while we were in the office in Sofia. She had joined us a year ago and is on to her second project. With the first one she was still learning the ropes and this time she was lobbying to pursue a project she conceived. She explained the parameters of the concept and to drive home her point added: “You always stress the experience dimension; we were in an Italian restaurant in New York not long ago and ‘wow’ – it was like we were transported to Italy. The music and the ambiance and the details were unmistakable.”

On the way to Soho House my friend said that the daughter “is about ready to present her project.” And in jest I warned him that sooner than later she would stop asking and begin telling. And he thought probably not in the next 25 years. Sooner than later he would know which is which.

The younger daughter was in town to look at colleges. “Princeton I like because it’s probably me, but my sister and father asked if that is me ‘today’ yet be different ‘tomorrow.’ So I’m looking at schools in the city too: NYU, Columbia, The New School.” It was a complete turnaround. Not that long ago she wanted a university in Europe with a program that allows a year in a US college. She knew my daughter did something similar but in reverse, one year in a European college (Bologna).

Must be the influence of the big sister. “I joined Soho House in London where I studied but having spent time in New York, I realized that here people are very welcoming of ideas. In Europe chances are we would first frown on a new idea because I think we Europeans dread and wish to avoid failure.”

“Europe has a long history of world-changing inventions, including the printing press, the optical lenses used in microscopes and telescopes and the steam engine.” [A Fearless Culture Fuels U.S. Tech Giants, James B. Stewart, The New York Times, 18th Jun 2015]

“But recently? Not so much. King Digital Entertainment, creator of the video game sensation Candy Crush and now based in London, was founded a decade ago in Sweden, which has emerged as a hotbed of video game innovation. A German, Karlheinz Brandenburg, is credited with the invention of the MP3 format for digital music, and the telecommunications application Skype was created by a group of two Scandinavians and three Estonians. But Apple created the iPod MP3 player and eBay bought Skype in 2005. (It’s now owned by Microsoft.)

“This hasn’t gone unnoticed in Europe. Last month, the European Union unveiled its ‘Digital Single Market’ strategy aimed at fostering European entrepreneurs and easing barriers to innovation. European countries have tried to replicate the critical mass of a Silicon Valley with technology centers like Oxford Science Park in Britain, ‘Silicon Allee’ in Berlin and Isar Valley in Munich, and ‘Silicon Docks’ in Dublin.

“‘They all want a Silicon Valley,’ Jacob Kirkegaard, a Danish economist and senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, told me this week. ‘But none of them can match the scale and focus on the new and truly innovative technologies you have in the United States. Europe and the rest of the world are playing catch-up, to the great frustration of policy makers there.’

“Petra Moser, assistant professor of economics at Stanford and its Europe Center, who was born in Germany, agreed that ‘Europeans are worried.’”

Can we Filipinos relate to that? Rizal was the epitome of idealism. Do we need the 21st century Rizal?

“Compared with what we ought to be, we are only half awake… We are making use of only a small part of our possible mental and physical resources.” [How to Be Extraordinary: William James on the Psychology of the Second Wind and How to Release Our Untapped Human Potential, Maria Popova, Brain Pickings, 15th Jun 2015]

“We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake,” Henry David Thoreau wrote in contemplating what it really means to be awake, adding: “Only one in a million is awake enough for effective intellectual exertion, only one in a hundred million to a poetic or divine life.” Those rare individuals are the ones who lift themselves out of ordinary life’s mediocrity and, through the sheer force of their creative and intellectual wakefulness, rise to the level of the extraordinary. They are the people we come to celebrate as luminaries, those whose ideas endure for centuries. But what is this mysterious force that jolts a human being into such wakeful aliveness from which greatness blossoms?

“That’s what legendary philosopher and founding father of modern psychology William James (January 11, 1842–August 26, 1910) addressed half a century after Thoreau’s famous words, in a superb speech he delivered before the American Philosophical Association at Columbia University in December of 1906. It was published in the January 1907 issue of the journal Philosophical Review under the title “The Energies of Men” and was eventually included in the out-of-print 1967 compendium The Writings of William James: A Comprehensive Edition (public library), which remains the finest record of James’s mind to date.”

Juan de la Cruz must've been asked during his younger days, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Clearly, where we are today isn’t what he said he wanted to be? Have we killed idealism and extraordinary altogether?

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