Monday July 23, 2018

Domoguen: The quest for a sound self-esteem in our difficult times

“I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience. I know no way of judging of the future but by the past". - Edward Gibbon (1737-1794) 18th Century British historian and the author of "The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire."

I KNOW that American lawyer and patriot, Patrick Henry also used the phrase in his “liberty and death” speech during the Second Virginia Convention on March 23, 1775. The Virginia Conventions were a series of five meetings that were held after the Boston Tea Party in which representatives from the colonies gathered to decide the future relations between the American colonies and England.

Given those timelines, I could not determine who first used the phrase. I can see, however, how each used it to highlight a cause.

I use the phrase to articulate how the past affects us and continues to do so. History is a light to the future than we can imagine.

For instance, after being colonized by Spain and later the USA, we think of ourselves as a Christian nation. Today, as a nation, we have been so much influenced by the Christian traditions, its theologies, social movements, and currents.

If you are a Christian, you can readily understand that no person is one dimensional. In modern Christian thought, you study God’s image of us, which is not merely an outward vision, but inwards. He sees the heart, and Jesus knew what was in man, according to the gospels.

Secondly, we see ourselves through how our peers or the world looks at us. We are either idealized or assassinated, in a Christianized way?

But how do we appraise ourselves? We are cautioned not to think more highly of our ourselves than we ought (Romans 12:3), but that it is also important to have a healthy view of oneself. Jesus said that we should love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:39). That implies a sound concept of self-esteem. Good enough.

I think that is what the theology of self-esteem is all about. But before we discuss more, let us digress a bit to the work of California State Assembly member, John Vasconcellos, in promoting the self-esteem curriculum in American schools.

Vasconcellos was raised in a strict Christian home and he claimed: “I was conditioned to know myself basically as a sinner, guilt- ridden and ashamed, constantly beating my breast and professing my unworthiness.” I have seen Martin Luther doing just in a movie about himself.

The self-esteem curriculum is very controversial in the USA because it is based on how we ultimately view human nature. In Vasconcellos’ eyes, there are two possible models for defining human nature: Constrained vision sees man as basically evil, needing to be governed and controlled. This is supported by the writings of Adam Smith, Thomas Hobbes, and Frederick Hayek. The second is an unconstrained vision, associated with Jean-Jacques Rousseau and John Locke that sees man as “basically good, even perfectible.”

In a number of American schools today, educators claim that the self-esteem curriculums encourage creativity, increase concentration, decrease drug use, and delay sexual activity. These so-called life skills programs are being used in gifted, sex-ed, drugged, and regular classrooms, in public and private schools.”

As in the curriculum, so is the theology like it. There are two views of human nature being addressed. One view says we are worthless, deserving only destruction, but because God is merciful, he has given us grace and saved us for himself.

The other view says we were all created in the image of God, and although sin marred that image, it is still there. Because God is merciful and although we are undeserving because of sin, we still have incredible value to him. Christ would not die for what is worthless.

If I were yet a pagan with “gawis” as my philosophy, I can understand the Scriptures address this problem, and offer hope to those who are unnecessarily morose due to the malady of an impoverished self-esteem.

I recall a man steeped in the “inayan,” the good old ways of my people who were once known along with the others to be barbarians and pagans. I do not know about being pagans, but not all Igorots or tribes in the Cordillera were barbarians or headhunters. We may all be warriors, but not all warriors were evil ones.

The way of the “inayan” have taught my ancestors to care for the trees in the mountains even most creatures where the potable and irrigation water originates. It is taboo to urinate or leave your waste there. If they respect the environment, they do even more their old folks and strangers. The “inayan” consciousness compels the young never to leave an old man or woman carrying a heavy load along the way. He or she carries the load and bring the old or woman along with their loads to wherever their destination would be.

Like Rousseau and Locke, the old man when he was yet alive said that the “inayan” ways of the old folks is “gawis” basically a concept that sees more of the good than bad or evil in others. The concept makes you appreciative of others, their problems and challenges in life and also helps you to contribute to how yet they can become better in your appreciation or that of other people. “Inayan di waday enka kanan isnan rigat nan ib-am ay ipugao dakat am-amengen.” The phrase puts someone who makes fun of the physical and mental defects of others in a place as somebody who is the defective one. In the practice of “inayan” you see what is good or “gawis” and “make it better,” that is. “amed pagawisen.” It always gives hope in most situations.

How about that for the build-up of self-esteem in these days of the drug culture in a so-called Christian nation? Even without that label, the heart will always serve his God.