Are We Afraid of Each Other?

How do we relate to each other, especially to those within or close to our circles?

With the nearing of the 2022 elections, we’re reaching another historical turning point. Rodrigo Duterte is the first ever president running for the vice presidency. He announced his candidacy amid the immense suffering that he has caused and oversaw in the nation. 

I’ve been thinking through this a lot, in my own studies, conversations, and introspection. I don’t think that the issue of replacing Duterte is solely political. It’s not only a matter of who should succeed him, what kind of alternative we want, and how we’ll fight for electoral victory and for progressive agendas. 

Yes, these matters are absolutely essential. Perhaps they’re even the most significant questions to ask. But I believe that we currently don’t know how to relate to each other especially to those within or close to our circles.

One thing has been easy for all of us to the point that it has become habit. It has become easy to criticize the government. By “easy,” I don’t mean that our criticism lacks rigor. Quite the contrary. So many academics have taken painstaking steps to understand the complexities of the Duterte regime. Students and activists carefully study facts and wrongdoings to hold the government accountable. On top of the rigor of understanding, many progressives have also been tireless in their efforts to challenge or even oust the current government.

By easy, I mean that criticism has become very practiced and habitual. It has formed our comfort zone. It’s something that we’ve done over years to the point that it has blanketed over other issues essential to sparking political change. One of these issues is how we relate to each other.

When we imagine looking to a person right next to us also critical of the government and clamoring for genuine change, what comes to mind? What is our relation to this person especially if they’re inevitably different from us in some way?

I think that what arises is either an uncomfortable pausing or the bubbling up of messy emotions that deserve careful attention.

I can feel insecure that this person will think that I’m not radical enough or that I haven’t done any or enough concrete steps to put my politics into practice. I can be condescending and look at this person for having views which are complicit, dogmatic, unrealistic, or problematic. I can be afraid of joining or interacting with a group that might not accept me, especially parts of myself which I think are important. I can fear that this person will misunderstand me or that I can say something for them to misunderstand me. I can be afraid that this person, despite our common ground, has views which I cannot accept. I can be uncomfortable and retreat into my own comfort zone, bubbles, or cliques. I can be afraid that this person’s views actually support or paper over injustices that they don’t or can’t understand. I can be afraid that this person is going to tell me one thing to my face but ridicule or cancel me behind my back. I can fear that there’s an insufferable chasm between me and this person.

Notice that the feeling that comes up the most is fear. Although much of this fear might be imagined or heightened by our minds, they nonetheless originate from our everyday political realities. A student who can’t imagine harming another person might recoil from seeing rifles in political art at a rally or online. Different activist groups often look at each other with trepidation or animosity, and this has historical roots dating up to decades. A lot of us who are politically conscious but unaffiliated with any group see this deep rift and honestly don’t know what to do with it.

Fear is something that we think we should not feel especially in politics. We can see it in the slogan, “Makibaka, wag matakot!” We can also see it in the way that we would like to think ourselves of being different from the authoritarian fearmongers that we oppose. Most of all, we look at our heroes and think that we should be as fearless as they are.

But the fear is there. For the most part, this fear manifests in the distance that we keep from one another. Oftentimes the fear turns into anger or hatred. Occasionally this explodes, nowadays in the form of angry tweets or social media posts or rants in private group chats.

In short, we often can’t acknowledge the fear for what it is or how it’s there to begin with.

No politics can succeed if it can’t organize. At a national level, it can’t succeed if it can’t reach critical mass. We can’t organize or form critical masses if we’re afraid of each other. I don’t think that we can expect to make progress if we just go our own ways. I don’t think that we can succeed in rallying other Filipinos to our cause if we can’t even relate to the people closest to our circles.

Most of all, we might feed this fear, so it becomes larger than it truly is. It might appear that we can’t do anything about it when it is something that we can and must work through.

I honestly don’t have any answers yet on how to work through this fear. As an academic, I think that this issue is crucial enough for me to dedicate a big part of my next scholarship to understanding the question of how we relate to each other.

I only have a modest plea for now. Pause for a moment. Sense if you have any fear. Acknowledge it. Gently work through this fear. Extend that same patience and gentleness to the other.

Victor Bautista

Victor Bautista teaches English and literature at UP Diliman. He is also a member of the Martial Law Chronicles Project. His last essay is titled “Creativity: From Capitalism to Collective Freedom,” written to support the Likhaan Market.

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