Batuhan: The tipping point

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By Allan S. B. Batuhan

Foreign Exchange

Friday, May 9, 2014


THE Thais used to be known as one of the meekest and most mild-mannered in Asia. Due in large part to the pacifist nature of Buddhism – the country’s main religion – Thailand had always remained relatively calm and stable, even as the countries around it were exploding in episodes of social change and upheaval. Even the Philippines was not exempted from the unrest, but through them all, the Thais seemed to be content within their seemingly harmonious and orderly society.

All this is now a thing of the past. Like Italy in the 1970s and 80s, Thailand has seen a parade of national leaders come and go. Street protests are now the norm for redressing social and political grievances, and its people are deeply polarized along political alliances and allegiances.

The Thai people, in political terms, have tipped. They have moved – in political and social terms – from being a placid and content constituency, to being an active and militant body politic. How did this happen, and when did this start?

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The Philippines had always been proud of its status as one of the largest English-speaking countries in the world. Until not too long ago, tourists and visitors to our archipelago were always glowing in their praise for our people’s ability to communicate in the language. In fact, it was reputed that taxi drivers, and inhabitants in our hinterlands were confident enough to engage the visitors in conversation, making the former feel most at home in their time among the Filipinos.

It went without saying that if even the humblest and most ordinary folk were conversant in English, the more educated were really almost native in their fluency.

Vintage politicians like Ninoy Aquino, the father of our current president, were renowned for their ability, he was even compared to perhaps one of the greatest communicators of all – the great US president John F. Kennedy.

Today, the Philippines – in linguistic terms – has tipped. The coining of the street term “nosebleed” says it all. Most people are not comfortable speaking English anymore, their noses will figuratively bleed from the mental exertion, whenever they tried to do so.

The author Malcolm Gladwell popularized the sociological term “the tipping point,” in his best-selling book of the same title. In the book, he expounds that “the tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.

Just as a single sick person can start an epidemic of the flu, so too can a small but precisely targeted push cause a fashion trend, the popularity of a new product, or a drop in the crime rate. ”

Tipping points are notoriously difficult to predict. The changes leading up to it are not easy to spot, so much so that it takes almost everyone by surprise when it does happen. The riots in Thailand, the waning of the popularity of English in the Philippines – not many saw them coming, much less predict that they would happen.

One of the interesting phenomena we have been witnessing in recent times has been the rise of civic consciousness in the Philippines. The exposes on the military “bukol” scandal, the Janet Napoles saga, the Corona impeachment trial – these and many more have been brought to light by civic citizens who seem to have been so bothered by their consciences, that they were left with no choice but to come forward and expose the shenanigans.

Like the Thais, we used to countenance corruption and wrongdoing in our government.

But now, it seems that we have not been as accommodating of these social evils.

Have we reached the tipping point in our moral and civic consciousness? Only time will tell. One thing for sure, unlike the slide in our English competency, this will be one most welcome trend indeed!

***

I would like to greet my wife Cynthia Marie Batuhan, my mother Carmencita Batuhan and all our mother-readers, a most blessed and happy Mother’s Day.

(http://asbbforeignexchange.blogspot.com & http://twitter.com/asbbatuhan)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on May 10, 2014.

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