The pestilence in us

I once came across a microbiologist who made an insightful comment about people:  that whatever we find to be gross, monstrous, parasitic, and chaotic in ourselves, we seem to project on to unseen microbes, creeping and crawling tiny insects and scavengers that we categorize as pests.

When we encounter these “pests,” be it a cockroach, rodent, a mosquito, termite, or an infectious germ, our natural instinct is to eradicate them as quickly and efficiently as possible, driven by our common hatred, fear and disgust of them.

Yet many times that’s what we are to others. Pests.

When I looked at the dictionary definition of pest, here’s what I found:  a person or thing that causes trouble, annoyance, discomfort, etc.; nuisance; specif., any destructive or troublesome insect, small animal, weed, etc.

Disgusting pest is what came to my mind when I saw a viral video of a notorious lawyer ranting angrily, spewing vitriol and obscenities against a journalist. Thankfully he has been called out and widely denounced for it. And he has the gall to run for a Senate seat?

Maybe that lawyer is an extreme case. But are we not all guilty of getting on someone’s nerves at one time or the other? Maybe we don’t set out to be annoying, but still it happens.

Here are common occurrences that can bring a person to the boiling point: Clearing one’s throat in public and spitting it on pavement, driving slow in the fast lane on the expressway, taking time to decide on what food to order at the counter while holding up a long line of hungry customers, slurping food and other noises stemming from eating, failing to turn off cell phones in a movie or a piano concert and other turn-off behavior.

There’s more.

Just a week ago, when my wife and I were lining up to have our booster shots, a few tried to jump the line when the “marshall” was not looking. Never mind that we had been waiting already for half an hour. Annoyingly, they were senior citizens who are supposed to be more mature and responsible. Perhaps feeling “entitled” or “connected” they were brazen about it.

How about your neighbor listening to extremely loud music at two o’clock in the morning? What an especially obnoxious and detestable specimen of humankind. Extremely unpleasant, offensive, very annoying, odious or contemptible.

In food courts, we just leave our leftovers, empty plastic utensils and other trash on the table with absolutely no consideration for the next batch of eaters.

How about supermarket customers who leave their grocery carts at the parking lots, next to cars or where accidents can occur and cause injuries and damage to innocent shoppers and their vehicles. Many times, I made the effort to point it out to security guards. He will just shrug it off.

Like pests, people don’t know it but they are monstrous in the eyes of others. How many of our intimates are too polite or courteous to tell us how many times we’ve acted obnoxiously? Subordinates may keep quiet about it for fear of losing favor but they talk among themselves.

Zooming out to macro scope, we Filipinos are becoming a pestilential society. Just like germs and viruses, we are becoming parasitic to the point of doing great harm to the host.

Our parasitic nature is becoming more and more evident. For instance, more and more of our countrymen are making a living off politics. Second and third generation members of political dynasties are now using their respective family names and entrenched resources, to catapult themselves to prominence, at local and national levels, thus making politics as now a principal channel for advancement. And guess who is the host body for these parasites: the tax-paying public.

We shouldn’t wonder why our country is not progressing as fast as it should be. It is infested with parasites who feed on the nation “whose decisions supposedly taken for the public good, are in truth motivated by a desire for private gain and result in policies and projects that impoverish rather than enrich our country,” as one social analyst puts it.

Did we not just make the disgusting discovery that people are taking advantage of the epidemic to gain millions for themselves?  Who were the 70 minions in Congress who pushed for the closing down of a major network just to gain points with someone who can give them largesse, without thinking of the consequences? Now the same people are complaining about the lack of reporting during a natural calamity. These parasitic public servants will bite the hand that elected them as long as it’s to their benefit.

Corruption and graft have been a longtime national pestilence that we have failed to eradicate and it will never go away as long as the virus thrives in each of us.

We are adaptable and changeable when things are in the way, such as when it comes to rule of law.  Like a smart parasite, we mutate and adjust to go around obstacles. No such thing as dura lex sed lex for us. Flexible is more like it. We will find the most obscure legal point or technicality to bring down our target adversaries or to absolve ourselves. Never mind the spirit of the law. Forget the noble ends of justice. Our laws can be turned upside down or even used as a weapon to destroy perceived rivals and enemies. Many times it’s done so brazenly and with impunity by those who have been entrusted to enforce it.

Mutability is an ability we Filipinos seem to have acquired. Abilidad and diskarte are terms we use to express our admiration for individuals who have the cunning and sly and impudence to try and outsmart the government or to get around the state or the law. Those who have the gall to do it are even richly rewarded and attain “celebrity” status.

Aren’t we all guilty? How many of us can honestly say that we have not bent the rules, paid off a local official or government lackey or functionary to obtain a permit or license using a go between. Favors are exchanged all the time. If you want something done, you ask a friend, a contact, a politician who can fix things for you of course with a mutually agreed-upon gratuity, locally known as padulas.

My wife cynically once said: dapat magunaw na ang mundo para mawala lahat ang tao (I wish the end of the world would happen to eliminate humans). It’s her way of venting out her frustration and disgust when we encounter people with extremely odious behavior.

On the other hand, think about this: take humankind out of creation and nature will probably thrive by itself.

If we want to build a more progressive world, we need to be vaccinated against ourselves.

The first step to stop yourself from being a pest to others is recognition. My wife is honest enough to tell me there have been times when I have acted in an annoying manner, sometimes making her cringe in embarrassment in the presence of acquaintances.

I have to thank her for being frank. It helps put me back on the track of striving to be a better, more considerate person.

This reminds me about the time when there were not enough vaccines and a relative of my wife called to brag about getting their vaccines ahead of everyone else, even front liners, because they were close to the town mayor. Were we impressed by this brazen show of galling one-upmanship?  No, we shamed them to let them know about their offensive behavior.

We need more and more of us to call out people who “cross the line” with their self-centered, offensive, and destructive behavior.

Perhaps that disgusting lawyer who made that utterly offensive viral video will regret his impulsive behavior. That moving image of himself at his worst will be there on the Internet forever, serving as a mirror for him one day when he would hopefully rediscover his moral center.

Even for the rest of us, it’s a cautionary tale. Remember the golden rule: don’t be to others what you don’t want them to be to you.


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