Trash talk

Discovery of garbage left by local tourists during Boracay’s first day of reopening precisely shows that our perceived lack of discipline prevents a lot of people from going hungry.

Hear me out first before dissing me as a crackpot for suggesting the strange notion there is a relationship between our lack of discipline and hunger.

Strange indeed is my notion as it does run against the grain of general opinion regarding discipline.

Common opinion says discipline is the key solution to many of our problems and that we all must exercise not only personal but also social discipline for our society and country to progress.

Nonetheless, common opinion about discipline is also as strange as it is just too simple. It sets aside complexity.

Or the attachment to this favorite hypothesis has made many pass over a great many simple perceptions about our everyday life, perceptions which should make us wary about making general conclusions when we don’t know exactly why we lack discipline.

The found trash during Boracay’s reopening illustrates this point well.

When frustrated environment department officials posted a viral photo showing empty plastic water and soft drink bottles, plastic food and candy wrappers blatantly snuck into crevices of a rock formation in Boracay, hysterical condemnation rained on the anonymous culprits.

The disgust was on one theme: we don’t deserve beautiful things nature gave us because as a people we lack discipline. In this instance, the discipline to pocket personal trash and bring it to garbage bins.

To some extent, the disgust is correct. But many left it at that, however.

What many missed out is the fact that whoever left the trash also betrayed one common trait in our society we all fail to take notice of: the assumption, the expectation, someone else, presumably measly-paid, will be following us to clean up the mess we left.

In this assumption of lowly-paid people cleaning up after us, I am of the strong opinion it is traceable to the prevailing and persistent culture in our present society: the servant or katulong culture.

In spite of many difficulties as regards the expense, our katulong culture is very much alive and kicking, no small thanks to the poverty all around us.

How is the katulong culture even related to our lack of discipline?

To answer the question, I’d like for you to firmly keep the following thought in mind: The self is not prior to but is constituted by the self’s relations with others.

As regards then on the relation between our lack of discipline and the katulong culture, isn’t it but right to say that in our relationships with katulongs we have been so used to such relationships that it becomes an unconscious belief there will always be people who will clean up after us?

In fact, not only is the katulong culture persistent in our social relations, it also strongly influences our present economic system, a setup where there are hardly major industries but for a large service economy employing educated, able-bodied millions.

To illustrate this point, let us look at a very normal activity we all engage in our daily lives: Eating at a McDonald’s or a Jollibee.

Once one enters a fast food joint, one cannot help but be amazed at the discipline when we order chickenjoy. We stay in line and wait patiently. We don’t even line up at the empty lane for senior citizens.

But once we finished eating, it is then where our discipline breaks down. We stand up and leave the leftover mess on our tables.

We, rich or poor, do not feel the least guilt for leaving a table as is: We expect the fast food crew to clean up our sorry mess.

Contrast our behavior to other cultures. Eating at a fast food joint abroad one is expected to either dispose his or her leftover food into the trash bin or at least bring it to a designated shelf near the kitchen.

Often I try going against our culture by bringing my tray, after eating, to the trash bin or hand it over to the kitchen.

Most of the time I am met by bemusement, sometimes shock, by the fast food service crew. They are simply not used to eccentricity.

The crew’s reaction may be of amusement, but my cynical self tells me they are also afraid, fearing my discipline eventually renders them useless, then jobless and then hungry.

And this brings me to my first point that our sheer lack of discipline after eating in public places, for throwing trash just about anywhere, has another side: Our lack of discipline gives a lot of people jobs.

Insisting otherwise will court disaster: Where in God’s name will we put so many jobless people, who are also presumably hungry?

So, there you have it. We all want to have a disciplined society but in our present society, in our present economic setup of few jobs, discipline may turn out to be not a so simple solution to our troubles we all think it is.

But before you conclude I am advocating the present continued lack of discipline, not at all. We really do need discipline, if only to make our stressed lives better.

All I am just saying is we have to face up to our present realities, the realities that our present society and present economic system still have a long way to go.

And that until we solve the many hidden issues in our social relationships and in our economic system our persistent calls for discipline may be empty of real, honest content.

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