May 11, 2008

Just like everybody else

Pwede na ‘yan – I used to tell members of our theater group how I hate those words. To me it means giving up on the chance to do something great, or at least worthwhile, and giving in to mediocrity. And when it comes to my craft – theater, it’s almost inexcusable, as the case may be in other aspects of life.

The cleanliness of the University of the Cordilleras campus has become legendary. People who have visited the school almost always mention how notably clean its surroundings are. A lot say that going to the bathroom in U.C. is like going to a 5-star hotel bathroom – sparkling, spotless, and surprisingly good-smelling considering how school bathrooms are notorious for being smelly and unsightly. I’ve always had run-ins with the person responsible for U.C.’s famed cleanliness, Ms. Beng Ledesma. Whenever I’m the one renting the school theater for one of my productions, my being a smoker places me in her list of undesirables and suspicious, and she hounds me: making sure I, or my co-workers, do not smoke where we’re not supposed to, and to make sure our make-up tissues and empty plastic water bottles are in the trash cans and not scattered all over the dressing rooms. She’s the one who inspects each and every chair at the school theater to make sure each one of the 500 chairs are clean and properly aligned. She’s the one who stays late to finish an evening performance to make sure her cleaners do their jobs the way she does them in her own home (this I learned from her son, Nico, who swears by her mom’s home’s superb sanitary conditions). I have seen janitors at other public places go through the motions of mopping or sweeping the floor, and I have seen Ms. Ledesma’s wards ensure that no dirt remains on the surface. I have seen other janitors indifferently operate a floor polisher, and I have seen how they sweat it out to make the floors gleam at U.C.

My point? Ms. Ledesma could’ve surrendered to mediocrity and go about her job the way everybody does: she won’t get fired, she won’t get demoted, she won’t get screamed at by the boss, she would’ve been fine without the extra effort, she would’ve been fine being just like everybody else.

Just like the policeman who turns a blind eye at the jaywalker or the erring taxi driver because it’s too much trouble to run after someone, especially when you have an over-the-top waistline, and that policeman will not get fired, he’s fine, just like everybody else.

Just like the teacher who goes through the motion of lecturing straight out of the textbook and does not exert any effort to inspire his students to gain wisdom instead of merely memorizing names, dates and places, in turn, we see students who celebrate hitting a mere 75% in an exam, and the teacher and the student are both fine, just like everybody else.

Just like the Senator, or the Councilor, who does not lift a finger to craft brilliant laws or ordinances that would significantly change the lives of his constituents, because just by merely being present in the chamber and raising one’s hand when it’s time to vote, by building waiting sheds and water tanks and painting his name all over it, he believes he’s already doing his job, and he’s fine, just like everybody else.

Just like the chief executive, of a country or of a city, who simply punches in in the morning, punches out in the afternoon, and in between signs checks for disbursement and motherhood statements and hallow executive orders, cuts ribbons at business launches, delivers forgettable speeches at conventions, sings the National Anthem on Mondays and goes on junkets on weekends – he’s fine, no impeachment nor recall elections, he’s doing his job and he’s fine, just like everybody else.

There are opportunities for greatness all around, we just take them for granted. It doesn’t matter whether you’re an ambulant vendor, a jeepney or taxi driver, a bank teller, a farmer, a garbage collector, a CEO, you can try to rise above the norm and maybe even be the best at what you do whatever it is that you do, and if we take grab those opportunities to go beyond the mediocre, then maybe we can make this world a much better place.

Or have really clean bathrooms, at least.

("Tales From A Hill Station", Cordillera Today, April 6, 2008 issue)

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