Early last week, a fifteen-year-old boy, one I’ve considered a son, wept after he paid me a visit early in the afternoon of Monday. He messaged me sometime half past midnight. Thinking that his mother would approve, he related snapshots of our six-hour-long conversation ranging from politics to religion to philosophy.
It was a failed attempt at courting the empathy of his mother who considered his radical and intellectual pursuits as a farce compared to the need for formal schooling. The mother, fearing perhaps that her only child was being led by the nose to believe ‘radical’ ideas, forbid the boy to ever see me again.
More and more the boy felt estranged from his beloved mother, forcing him ever deeper into a life that had steadily become a prison.
In my line of work, I’ve met people of varying persuasions, mostly intellectuals. They’re writers and poets for the most part, thinkers and analysts, journalists with a long line of feathers on their cap, National Artists, and Ivory Tower savants of differing political and ideological color.
Only a handful of youngsters, aged 14 to 30, fit the bill. Excluding my children who had proven themselves worthy of being intellectual bastions in their own right, four very young people come to mind.
First, a fourteen-year-old coed of a Chinese school I once trained for a debate and writing competition staged in Brussels. There were three of them, but this one stood out among the rest. We would talk for hours on the rudiments of existentialism and the sundry philosophies, hardly missing the finer points spelled out by philosophers Theodor Adorno, Jean-Paul Sartre, Bertrand Russel and Walter Benjamin.
The second, who pays me a visit at least every other week, is a disciple of the inimitable Jacques Derrida, Jacques Lacan, and Michel Foucault. He teaches at an elementary school where I live. We swap books as a way to pass the time.
The third, a feisty 24-year-old young man who ghostwrites for foreign self-help ‘authors’ for a living, devours the same books as these other two and discusses them with the flair that could put Sartre to shame.
The fourth is in his early thirties, and one I’ve associated with the New Yorker writer Truman Capote. They look very much alike, and they’re both gay. More than anything, he’s an astute storyteller with a strong liking for humor in his writings. It takes gargantuan wit to make me laugh, and this writer had done it numerous times.
The most recent, of course, is this 15-year-old boy I mentioned earlier, one who loves to call himself an “activist”.
As a parent, I could do no more than commiserate with the boy’s mother. Fearing perhaps that her only child would soon be led astray by the likes of me (I’m not even radical), I totally understand her misgivings. If it were my child, I would, for certain, feel the same.
In an era where activists, and any who would risk raising a fist against the shenanigans and corruption among State officials, are hunted and persecuted, to say nothing of ending up murdered, there is real reason to worry.
In truth, however, there was nothing I have shared with this young boy that he didn’t know already. At 15, he was voracious for knowledge, even engaged netizens in online discourse, and of all things, about Marxism, the Christian religion, and the controversies of the day. Having read some of his online posts, I’d say he’s quite sound in his judgments, mature for his age, though needing some polish here and there.
His one and only Achilles’ heel is that he comes off as a contrarian and a debater, too quick on the draw, rather than one who seeks to enlighten without appearing hostile.
In the brief time we were together, I made sure to speak to him about this and much more. I worry for this young boy; I worry for his safety. Kids his age are, at the very least, impressionable, quite easy to drag by the nose by anyone pretending to have a brain.
I have dealt with pubescents who went through phases, only to leave their first passion for more practical pursuits after reaching a certain level of maturity.
Pubescence can be tricky. Teens are always in the dark as to whether it’s the hormones, the Starbucks coffee, or the Monster energy drinks (how much energy should a 15-year-old need?) that compel them to do what they do.
To be fair, the boy has his head on his shoulders, screwed down tightly and without any chance of being dislodged. He has got the doggedness of a predator out on a hunt. He thinks for himself, and that, above all others, is an exemplary quality. I wish his mother would see that.
I have reminded him on several occasions, both online and offline, to always remember that to be totally human, one cannot depend on the mind alone.
“To be human, we need both mind and heart,” I said. “The mind can be extremely cold with its logic, reasoning prowess, and purview of life and society. The mind rarely empathizes. To fully grasp the context, traditions, and history on which we build every aspect of our life, we must look with both the mind’s and the heart’s eyes. Life and politics and social realities are not made up of black and white hues but a multiplicity of colors. Some of these colors, while invisible to the naked mind, can be grasped only with the heart. You can start by trying to understand where your mother is coming from.”
I likewise reminded him, the first time we met here at home, that one cannot seek to save the world by disregarding those within our arm’s reach. “True activism begins at home, in my opinion, at the place where duty to family and loved ones takes precedence over all other things. These are the peopleyou meet every day. They, too, suffer from social and political injustices. In much the same way as an editor like myself should care for the members of his or her staff by standing as their representative in the corporate administration, so should you. I cannot disregard them just became I am too busy saving the world. And I’m not even an activist by definition.
“Now, it would be a crying shame if activists like you, in seeking to reform society, could not even lend a hand to the people within your circle of influence. Do good in school. Read your books. Think for yourself. Question everything. Participate in extracurricular activities. Hell, join protest marches if the occasion calls for it. But in the same breath, help your mother in the chores. Learn to be good with words because that’s half the battle won. More importantly, learn the art of humility and patience. Soon enough, your time to speak out and be heard will come.”
We both have decided never to see each other again, not by way of personal visits. Perhaps in the future, we would again bump into each other. I was thrilled when the boy said, “Maybe, the next time we meet, Chief, it will be in the newsroom.” He’s being groomed as the editor-in-chief of their high school paper.
José Rizal, at a very tender age, started delving into political and social consciousness through his elder brother, Paciano, and stories told by his mother, Teodora Alonzo. By 20, he had penned his first essay, Pag-ibigsaTinubuang Bayan (Love for country). Shortly after, he published in Germany his first novel, Noli Me Tangere. It was to be the beginning of an activism and intellectual revolution fought largely in the arena of the mind. Because for Rizal, he knew where the war is first fought and won.
Only now have I realized the overwhelming anxiety his mother had to endure in order for our country to have a hero.G