Friday, December 24, 2004

Christmas at the Cemetery

Whenever my parents would go out on Christmas, I always declined, thinking that I had better things to do at home, such as sleep or read. This year, I was still deprived of sleep, but when my dad asked me if I wanted to come with him, I said yes.

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It's hard to believe that in this world where we have crime, injustices, and people taking advantage of each other, that each person is born with a moral compass. I do think that for the most part, each person does what he or she believes is the right thing to do. And this would include criminals, politicians, or virtually anyone that most people would associate with immorality. I do think it's possible for people, labeled by society as "evil", to sleep well at night. Because perhaps deep down, they believe that what they're doing is good (regarless of whether it truly is or not). What might bother some people might not bother others. So I guess the question is, is it enough to follow your conscience?

I think the true problem arises from the fact that people have different definitions for the word conscience. Most would probably associate it with doing what they believe is right. And to a certain extent, that is true. I mean how many of us, if given the choice (assuming that there's no consequence or we gain as much pleasure for doing the right thing), would choose to do something against our conscience? Back in high school, I was in a class full of cheaters. It didn't bother them that they were cheating. To a good number of them, they were thinking that what they were doing was right. "It's about teamwork, about cooperation," some would say. "If you don't allow us to cheat, you're betraying your classmates, your whole class," was another statement I'd often hear. Others would continue to cheat, not because they thought it was the right thing to do, but had circumstances which made them desperate. Of course for the latter students, given the opportunity to get a high grade without resorting to cheating, I'm sure they'd go for that option (but that's not always possible). So what's my point in bringing this up? Well, suffice to say, each person usually acts on what they think is good and right. I haven't truly met a person who thinks that "I'm evil and I'm here to sow havoc and discord". The worst is probably someone who thinks that "I'll do what's good for me and to hell with the rest of the world" but that doesn't mean that person acts on what he thinks is wrong, but rather has a different definition of what is good (which in this case means himself alone rather than the common good) and uses that belief as the basis for his or her lifestyle. So if that's the case, what is conscience, or at least what I think its definition should be?

Perhaps the simplest formula is the one I learned from my Jesuit education in college. It's a three-step system and I'll share it with you: doing what's right, finding out what's right, and acting on it. Clearly, the first one isn't a problem. I think most people perform what they think is right. What most people lack is the second one, discovering whether what they're doing really is right or not. I mean we all get this feeling of contentment and pride when we do something right, don't we? It can be as simple as giving money to the needy, to doing something that no one else would do. Naturally, we don't want to do anything to jeopardize that feeling. So whenever our actions are put into question, our initial reaction is to defend it. It's a natural tendency for people to resist criticism and change. I mean who really wants to get blamed for anything? People usually want praises. We also don't want to be wrong. Yet it takes a person of great humility to acknowledge their mistakes and accept responsibility. The problem with step number two is that it usually entails a paradigm shift, and people usually don't want to change their system of beliefs. Most of us think that our current set of ethics is enough hence we stop looking for alternatives. We usually go against the beliefs of other people, especially when it clashes with our own values. We claim that we're following our conscience and that we sleep well at night. Yet is this really the case?

When I was a kid, I was unfair to a lot of people: my parents, the maids, and my classmates. I did a lot of selfish actions. Yet I didn't realize I was being selfish. I think we all have childhood memories where we performed actions that hurt others. We initially didn't think it was wrong but later, as we matured or as our mistakes were pointed out, we came to realize that what we did was wrong. And that's when we undergo a paradigm shift, where what we formerly believed in gets discarded and is replaced by a new belief. Before realizing that what I did was wrong, did I sleep well at night? Of course I did! Was I bothered by guilt! Definitely not. The only time my conscience really bothered me was when I discovered that what I did was wrong. Or rather, other people found it to be wrong (because as far as I was concerned at the time, I was right). One of my favorite statements is "ignorance is bliss". I continually strive for knowledge and wisdom, but I know doing so hurts. Because when you look for more sources of information, you come to realize that your former actions are not always as perfect as you thought it was. Former triumphs might transform into the biggest mistake you made in your life. But I take consolation in the fact that armed with the new knowledge I possess, I won't repeat the same mistake and hurt other people with it in the future.

What makes step number two, finding out what's right, difficult is that we have to accept the possibility that we might be wrong. And our pride usually gets in the way. Take notice that for the most part, the people we deem as "selfish" or "evil" are usually stubborn and unyielding. Why? Because they believe that what they're doing is right. And obviously, no one would yield to another person when doing so is morally and ethically against their beliefs. It's also easier to fight against someone you demonize. When you have the moral high ground, you can justify all your actions. So evaluation of what is really right or not is important. A lot of people do what they think is right. Yet there's so much wrong in the world. What's lacking? It's not a lack of people doing what they think is right, but rather it's a lack of people evaluating whether what they believe in is right or not.

I saw on TV recently an interview with the mayor of New York. He mentioned that what makes a great leader is knowing your set of beliefs. And I agree. It's not enough to do what's right because "you feel it's the right thing to do". Whenever you get that feeling, examine in. To not examine it would be laziness; we're just accepting things as it is because to do otherwise would mean expending effort and energy. Yet this is probably the reason why a lot of injustices are perpetuated. Take for example the concept of stealing. Is it really right to steal or not? In order for me to justify that stealing is wrong, I find an ethic system I can adhere to. In my case, I usually follow Kant, where he follows a "universality test", in which he basically asks "what would happen if everyone did this". Following Kant's universality test, personal property would hold no meaning if everyone stole, and of course, everyone would be hurt because a lot of their possessions would be gone. I'm not saying that you should follow Kant's ethic system, but rather, find the basis for your current beliefs. What made you think that doing this is right (or wrong)? Is it something that will change over time or as we gain more knowledge regarding it (and a good example of this was how history has perceived homosexuality)? Is it something only I adhere to, or do other people share a similar belief? Who benefits and who is at a disadvantage following this kind of belief? Personally, before I criticize other people, I also find it helpful to understand things from their viewpoint. Do they have valid points? Or what would I do if I were in their situation?

Finding out what's really right is a difficult thing to do. Which is perhaps why a lot of people don't do it. The easiest thing to do, after all, is to accept things as they are and blame all that's wrong with the world on other people. Seldom do we ask ourselves what have we done to contribute to all this. It will probably also be frustrating to people that they examine their own lives, yet meet other people who don't reflect on their own actions and generally act self-righteous. I can sympathize. I have friends who blame the world for everything, whether it's the masses, the celebrities, the wealthy, or the politicians. My only consolation is that if you don't examine your own lives, you'll just be like them, the people who look for scapegoats and go on blaming people left and right (not that those people aren't responsible for what they're accused of, but life isn't something that should be oversimplified as to say that this person or group is responsible for this; there are a lot of factors involved, and while this person or group plays a significant role, they're not the only ones who dictate the current situation) without looking at what they themselves are doing. One of my favorite emotions is doubt. Doubt allows me to question my own actions. It's only through doubt that I gain true confidence. I mean any ignorant person can claim that what they're doing is right And they will have the confidence to do so because they didn't study something carefully. But when you doubt, one is forced to look for answers and make sure that what one is doing truly is right. So when a doubter finally makes a claim, they'll have true confidence, confidence based on wisdom rather than on ignorance. Of course my other warning is not to doubt too much. In the vaguest sense, everything can be doubted. Some things you have to take on faith. I can doubt my very existence, after all, and all I'm left with is Descartes conclusion that the only thing we can be sure of is that we're doubting. Where does that leave us as human beings? A healthy dose of doubt is good, but don't overdo it.

Lastly, let's also not get too much caught up in deciding whether one action is truly right or wrong. We must remember that there's also a third step when it comes to conscience, and that's doing what's right. Doing means action and not mere deliberation. I can talk all day about what's right or wrong but when it comes right down to it, are my words in tandem with my actions? As much as I love the virtue of wisdom, I also value courage. Because wisdom without courage is useless. If you don't act on what you know, you're just like the ignorant person (except for the fact that you know you're ignorant, or worse, doing what's wrong). I find that what's wrong with people's definition of conscience is that they fall under one of two scenarios: either they follow steps one and three and skip number two, or they dwell too much on number two and fail to act on step three. Either alternative is disastrous. The former has ignorance as their comfort blanket, while the latter might use ignorance as an excuse for not acting. I admit I probably fall under the latter. Which is also why now, I value action and actualization.

Remember that conscience is a three step process. Just because we do what we feel is right does not make it right. The true exercise of conscience is examining our lives and coming to a conclusion whether what we believe in is truly right or not. And of course, we should act upon it. After all, why bother pondering on something if in the end, you're not going to do anything about it?

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Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Double Dead

Both of our phone lines are officially grounded, so I guess keeping in contact with me in the next few weeks will be difficult (you can always reach me via my cellphone). I guess my only consolation for Christmas is that Netopia will be open so I can manage to visit Mega Mall at least once every two days to check up on email and the like.

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Tuesday, December 21, 2004


Just came home from one. Well, the funeral of CCHQ that is. Managed to stay until the shop eventually closed its doors. Packing the unbought comics into boxes was like nailing the coffin shut on dear old friends. It was both happy and sad to see a good number of people early in the morning to pay their last respects to the shop. Happy because it was nice to see how such a quaint little shop can affect so many people. Sad because it was a farewell, and the fact that the owners were caught in traffic (which is probably caused by several factors like last-minute Christmas shopping and the funeral of FPJ) so the shop had to open late.

Perhaps the biggest irony that as Christmas approaches, tragedy strikes left and right, like typhoons, bombings, and funerals. This year the malls will be open the whole day on December 25th, so some people will not be having their Christmas vacation. And of course, thousands of call center agents will be on duty that day (although they will be compensated with a lot of money).

All of this makes me treasure what I currently have, and the family and friends that care for me (even though we don't always give our loved ones the due attention that they deserve).


Unless my phone line gets fixed by tomorrow, I fear I won't have access to the Internet for the next two weeks.

Christmas Present

Well, I've already made my wishlist, although if anyone has a paypal account and wans to give me something extra, this would be a great gift. Get me multiple copies even, so I can give them as gifts to my friends who are into D&D. I'd probably even be willing to pay the expenses, it's just that I don't have a PayPal account, and shipping it all the way here would be too costly.


Strangely enough, for the past few days, I've had lots of commitments that even when I'm feeling tired and weary, I still make the effort to get out of bed, stand up, and go out. My eye is feeling a bit better, although it's still dripping, uh, "stuff". Not that I'm not glad I'm not grateful for meeting people left and right and that I'm preoccupied. And in fact, I'm happy I'm meeting people I haven't seen in a long time (or the reverse, which is meeting up with people whom I won't be able to see as much in the coming months or even years). But the body has limitations, and right now, I've probably had only two hours of sleep in the past 48 hours.

D&D Gaming

What kept me awake for the past two days is the fact that I finally got to game with some good friends yesterday (of course it was on short notice so it really caught me off-guard). The good news is that I enjoyed myself very much, despite the lack of sleep and food. Unfortunately, had to cut it short because I had prior commitments today. And whenever I come out of an RPG game, I always have that feeling that "it wasn't enough" and that "I want more". Alas, yesterday was probably my last RPG game for the year. Well, there's always my friend's PBEM, which would be okay if it weren't for the fact that I don't have Internet access at home.

Onward to an Uncertain Future

I guess that's the best mentality any person can have. Uncertainty is both good and bad; both are possibilities. It's just up to us to decide which one arises. Over the past year, I've met new friends, lost old ones, and learned more about my friends (both good and bad) as well as myself (similarly, both good and bad traits). It's a good feeling to know when other people trust you, and of course it just pains me when others misjudge your actions (perhaps the only other more painful feeling is when you do manage to hurt a close friend, and they take it in stride, not even giving you the chance to apologize, because they trust you and care for you that much, and you feel guilty for what you did).

The Santa in Me

Right now since I'm on a tight budget, if there's anything you want for Christmas and I have it (i.e. a copy of a book, etc.), you can have it (as long as you don't mind that it's second-hand). Unfortunely for the people who are overseas, shipping is expensive, so getting it to you might not be as easy (although I can always hold it for you in the event that you come and visit).

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Sunday, December 19, 2004

A Dozen Essays for the Year

The following are links to some of the essays I've written in the past year. They're not necessarily my best-written work, but they are essays which have greatly affected my life, as well as a reflection of my philosophies. And of course, feedback is always welcome.

Damned if You Do, Damned if You Don't

In Man's Image

All I Need to Know I Learned from Magic: The Gathering

Trust Issues

Metamorphosis of the Mundane to the Mythical

Minimalist Best Effort



Messianic Complexes

Winds of Change


Second Home: A Tribute to CCHQ

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Problems Make the World Go Round

In general, whenever we encounter something, there are three three perspectives. One perspective is that something is good. Another is that it's bad. And the last is that it depends on the occasion. When it comes to problems and adversity, the common judgment is that it's bad, something to be avoided. I mean I complain and whine whenever there's a problem. Why did I get sick? Why did I have to fail? Why don't I have enough money? We'll never run out of problems. And the pessimist inside all of us views it as something horrible.

So are problems really horrible? I think they are, but only if we allow them to remain problems. I mean many people profit by solving problems. I mean doctors earn money be curing and helping the sick. If there wasn't sickness, there would be no need for doctors. The power of entrepreneurs is that they provide a service that was otherwise unavailable. If it was convenient to go shopping, and convenient stores like 7-11 wouldn't be thriving. But it is a hassle and so entrepreneurs provide us with better (albeit more expensive) options. And of course, if everything was so predictable that problems didn't pop up, we'd have no need for professions like economists, business consultants, and the like.

Personally, I'd dread to live a life without any problems. I mean where's the challenge in that? What's the point in living when you know that everything you attempt will succeed? Isn't part of the satisfaction the fact that it was initially unattainable, at least without exerting effort? We admire other people, whether they be our idols, our heroes, or our mentors, not because what they accomplished was easy, but because they overcame a very difficult hurdle. What separates them from ordinary men and women is the fact that they were above average, and that was measured by the quality of their opponent, whether it was another human being, a tragedy, a circumstance of birth, or an old paradigm.

There's also the question of personal growth. It's usually through adversity that we mature and become better people. I mean what would motivate a person to become better? Why not remain as helpless and ignorant as the day you were born? But because there are forces opposing us, we have to grow, actualize our inner strength, and conquer our fears. For me, the two most valuable virtues are wisdom and courage. Wisdom to recognize what we should do, and courage to actualize it. And those two virtues can only be developed in the face of trials. The old saying goes "what doesn't kill you only makes you stronger" and I don't think anyone wants to be killed.

There are actually several ways to act towards problems. One is to run away from them, but more often than not, that doesn't solve the problem. The same goes for whining and complaining. There's an illusion of action in whining and complaining, but in reality, we're doing and accomplishing nothing. We can also allow ourselves to be changed and be affected by the problem, and as you know, change is a two way street: we can come out as either worse off, or become better people. I'm hoping it's the latter. And perhaps the only way to make sure that happens is to change how I perceive problems. Rather than think how problems can harm me, I should ask myself how I can benefit from it. And whenever I'm tempted to whine and complain, the first thing I should ask myself is what I'm doing about it. There will always be complainers and whiners. But what this world needs are more problem solvers.

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One of the things which will probably be the death of me is my curiosity. Or rather, the method of how I appease it. I'm blunt and ask my questions straight out. I ask even when it's at the wrong moments. Or I flip from one subject to another. Or sometimes, my questions just come out as plain insulting (even if I don't mean it to be so). I guess all I can do now is just plain apologize. A year ago, I'd probably ask other people to be more considerate and bear with my bluntness. But right now, the question I'm asking myself is why am I expecting other people to change? Sure, it would be more difficult if it was me who had to change, me who had to be more sensitive to other people. But aren't I asking the same from them? It's time I take my medicine, even if it's unpleasant.

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I Spoke Too Soon

Suffice to say, my phone line is grounded again. So I'm back to surfing on Internet cafes.

Last Chance

Plugging for CCHQ. They'll be open until the 22nd noon. That means you have less than 48 hours to get there and buy their remaining stock of manga, artbooks, mainstream and indie comics.

Eye Updates

Just to give people an update, my face is quite oily. I also have a propensity to get styes on my eyes, which is probably the reason why my right eye is now dripping with puss. I did see an ophthalmologist about it and he mentioned that me walking the pollutted streets of EDSA doesn't help. Right now, treatment involves washing my eyebrows with shampoo, which I've been doing for the past few months.

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One of the things which will probably be the death of me is my curiosity. Or rather, the method of how I appease it. I'm blunt and ask my questions straight out. I ask even when it's at the wrong moments. Or I flip from one subject to another. Or sometimes, my questions just come out as plain insulting (even if I don't mean it to be so). I guess all I can do now is just plain apologize. A year ago, I'd probably ask other people to be more considerate and bear with my bluntness. But right now, the question I'm asking myself is why am I expecting other people to change? Sure, it would be more difficult if it was me who had to change, me who had to be more sensitive to other people. But aren't I asking the same from them? It's time I take my medicine, even if it's unpleasant.

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Online Again

Our phone line got fixed last Thursday, which meant that it took PLDT 6 days to fix our phones. Of course earlier today, the phone was grounded...

Blind in One Eye

For the past two days, my right eye has been sore and been pouring out puss, which prevented me from staying out long with my friends (not to mention a very crimson eyeball).

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