The audacity of my young mind

12:00:00 AM

In college, I was just a little bit above being a mediocre student. My grades were not low, but they weren't exactly high, either. I was a B student. So imagine my surprise when, at the end of my final oral examination for Theology 131 with Roberto "Bobby Guev" Guevara, asks me if I were running for honors. When I answered no, he commented, "Akala ko naghahabol ka ng honors kasi ang lalim mong mag-isip" (I thought you were running for honors because you're a deep thinker). I almost fainted.

Salamat, Bobby Guev.
(photo from the internet)
Just to give you a background, Bobby Guev is among Ateneo's legendary professors. He's a theologian, and a brilliant one, at that. But he's not the type to shove religion down a student's throat - rather, he encourages personal spirituality. He does not have an ego complex of any kind. He's not the type who embarrasses students in the middle of a lecture because they couldn't answer a question. He doesn't even yell, and yet, everybody who enrolls in his class listens. And those who take to heart what they learn from Bobby Guev are changed forever.

Back to my final oral examination, I made this bold statement:

"Lahat ng sobra sayo, ninakaw mo sa kapwa mo." (Everything you have in excess is something you stole from your neighbor.) It was something I heard from my high school religion teacher, and I never forgot it since. Bobby Guev was taken aback by what I said. He told me that it was a strong accusation, and so he asked me to defend it. Below is my response (not verbatim, of course, and in Filipino, my mother tongue):

Naniniwala akong sapat ang nilikha para ang lahat ng tao ay makapamuhay ng maayos. Naniniwala ako na may nakalaan para sa lahat, para walang makaranas ng gutom at iba pang kakulangan. Hindi masama ang Diyos; hindi tayo nilikha para pahirapan. Pero merong naghihirap, at kagagawan yan ng tao mismo. Sa ating paghahangad ng sobra, kinukuha natin ang dapat sana'y nakalaan para sa iba. Ang kakulangan ay dulot lamang ng ating pagka-ganid. Maraming pulitikong nagnanakaw sa kaban ng bayan. May mga negosyanteng hindi nagbabayad ng tamang buwis. Nagnanakaw sila ng nakalaan para sa iba.

(I believe that there are enough resources for everyone to live well. I believe that everyone is entitled to a fair share of the world's resources, so no one should go hungry or not have their most basic needs. God is not evil; he did not create man to subject him to suffering. But there are people who suffer, and this is the fault of other human beings. In our desire to acquire resources and possessions, we are taking what is otherwise intended for other people. The shortage in resources is caused solely by our greed. There are a lot of politicians who steal from public funds. There are businessmen who don't pay the right taxes. They are stealing what is otherwise intended for another person.)

Since it was an exam, Bobby Guev further challenged my defense. He said that my claim was unfair to those who work hard for their keep. He cited my own parents as an example - they are hardworking people who saved and spent a lot of money to send me to one of the most expensive private universities in the Philippines. He asked if I thought they were stealing, too. He further stated that since I chose to go to Ateneo, then it would appear that I'm taking from someone's share in the pie, too. I replied (again, not verbatim):

"Lahat naman ng tao naghahangad ng maayos na buhay. Wag tayong maging ipokrito - masarap mamuhay ng may pera. Lahat tayo, nagtatrabaho para kumita, para may panggastos sa araw-araw at para na rin sa kaunting luho. Pero dapat may hangganan ang paghahangad. Ang mga magulang ko, naghahahangad ng mas maayos na kinabukasan para sakin, kaya pinilit nilang makapag-aral ako sa Ateneo. Nagtrabaho sila at nag-ipon para dito. Nag-ipon din sila para may maipamana sa akin kahit papaano sa pagpanaw nila. Subalit hindi naman sila nag-asam na magkaroon ng kayamanan na sobra-sobra, yung tipong hanggang sa mismong apo ko na, mabubuhay na ng marangya." 

(Everyone wants the good life. Let's not be hypocrites here - we have to admit that life is good with money. We all work to earn money to spend on our daily expenses and a few luxuries every now and then. But there should be a limit to our wants. My parents want a better life for me, so they did what they could to send me to Ateneo. They worked hard and saved for my tution, and they also set aside a small sum to leave me something to start with after they pass on. But they never wanted outrageous riches that would give even my currently non-existent grandchildren a luxurious life.)

"Kung ikaw ay isang magulang, natural lang naman na mag-ipon ka para sa ikagaganda ng buhay ng anak mo. Kung may mga apo ka na, hindi rin masamang naising makapagbigay din sa kanila. Pero kung yung yaman na nasayo ay sobra-sobra pa hanggang sa mga apo ng mga apo mo, kailangan mong alalalahanin na may mga taong namumuhay sa kawalan dahil sa paghahangad mo. Hindi pa ipinapanganak ang mga apo ng mga apo mo, may nakaabang na sa kanilang yaman. Samantalang ang mga taong nandito, buhay ngayon, nagkukulang dahil sa sobra-sobrang paghahanda para sa mga susunod na henerasyon."

(If you're a parent, it's natural that you'd save up for a better life for your children. If you have grandchildren, it's not bad to want to give them something, too. But if your money in the bank is more than enough for your grandchildren's grandchildren, then you have to know and admit that you are forcing other people to live on nothing. Money awaits your grandchildren's grandchildren although they haven't even been born yet. And yet the people who live in the now have nothing because there are others who are overly prepared for the next, next, next generation.)

The exam lasted a whole ten minutes longer than the allotted time. Bobby Guev and I discussed the statement further, and we lost track of time. Just as I was about to leave, he asked the question I talked about in the beginning. I was floored that a man like Bobby Guev would think I was an honor student. It was flattering as it was humbling, and it was definitely the cherry on top of my final semester in Ateneo.

Some notes:

1. I visited Ateneo about a couple of years ago to claim my diploma (four years after graduation, haha!). I walked around campus, and then I went to the caf for a drink. After I paid for my drink at the counter, I turned around and I saw Bobby Guev next in line! I greeted him, of course. And I got a pleasant surprise when he reciprocated the greeting - he said, "Kumusta, Isay?" He still remembered me! Four whole years after I left the protective walls of the school, and he still remembered who I was. It was so awesome, I cried when I got home. Yes, I am a wuss, thankyouverymuch.

2. To be honest, I'm having second thoughts about clicking the "Publish" button because I'm afraid of being misunderstood. I published this before, and I took it down. I agree with Bobby Guev - this is a strong statement, and I know that some people will not feel comfortable with this. But I think I was able to defend my claim fairly well (Bobby Guev gave me an A for this exam). I'm not talking about any particular person, so if this hits a spot, it's not my intention. This is my personal belief, and I am not trying to persuade anyone to agree with me.

3. I am not the same person who said these things six years ago. I have since become part of the real world, and I have since let go of my ties to religion in favor of a more personal spirituality. I am making money, and I understand and appreciate the value it adds to my life. Like a lot of people, I am saving up for an uncertain future. But I guess a part of me is still that girl, because I understand that my pursuit has to have limits, that there's a point when I need to stop.


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