Introspections & Retrospections

In Recognition of Desire

Ever since I heard about the Anti-Epal Bill in Twitter, I fell in love with the idea. “Epal” is an old Filipino slang from “ma-papel”(whose rough translations vary with context, such as “attention hog”, “show/spotlight stealer,” “credit/compliment beggar,” etc. I hope you get the general idea. Filipino idioms are a bit tricky). Although the bill had roots way back in 2004, it gained popularity because of its rather unabashed renamed title. This was in response to the proliferation of credit-taking tarpaulins of supposed projects, accomplishments and other opportunities to turn an entire area into a politician’s image – figuratively, and in many cases, even literally.

But being “epal” is not limited to politicians. And it’s not even limited to Filipinos. It is a prevailing subconscious attitude, a silent culture of insecurity. It permeates every aspect of our society: from the sibling rivalries vying for a parent’s attention, to the selfish pursuit of academic excellence (not that it is wrong, but really – for what reason or goal are the best-performing students aiming for ever since?), and that philosophical quest for self-actualization. Even the church is not exempt from it.

There’s an epal inside every one of us. A soft, demanding voice that whispers a thirst for appreciation, for recognition and for remembrance.

A Desire to be Recognized

Whether it be honor, glory, mere respect or even simple appreciation — people crave it. A praise for one’s work or a sign of approval are like addictive dog treats to this dog-eat-dog world. Recognition in itself isn’t wrong; garnering awards at school or getting patted on the back by your boss (because we all know getting a salary raise is a rarity, if not impossibility for some) is a much-deserved reward. Demanding recognition — through direct or indirect self-marketing — now that’s a big disturbing. I do not know if it is narcissistic, or a case of over-confidence, or a Freudian need for social acceptance. But when someone emblazons their name (and picture) publicly with an implied message saying, “I did this! ME! Now love me!”, we all know there’s a little self-esteem issue going on.

I once heard about a show where the best applause was given to a simple ‘extra’, a sideline character who was so convincing in her simple role that people’s attention was somehow riveted at her passing performance. But unlike ‘epal’ actors and actresses, she merely did what was expected of her – albeit she did it in her most excellent manner. But in her outstanding performance, she received what she never asked for in the first place.

As Abraham Lincoln said, “Don’t worry when you are not recognized, but strive to be worthy of recognition.” The thing with recognition is that it should never start from one’s self, but from others. It is our impatience for recognition that drives us to force other people to recognize us immediately, and feed our appreciation-deprived egos. It also shows our lack of confidence in other people, that they will never see or recognize the ‘good’ that we do.

A Desire to be Remembered

Why do we bother for recognition? Frankly, the only thing I can surmise is that while we all have this inner awareness that we won’t last forever, we actually long for eternity. Brad Pitt said in Troy, “Immortality – it’s yours!” It’s a thought that resonates from the edges of history and even today. A profound line from Ecclesiastes 3:11b quotes “He has also set eternity in the human heart…” Yet the book of Ecclesiastes from the Holy Bible is one whole reading on the futility of “epality” (vain pursuit of fame and fortune). No matter how we try, no man ever achieved immortality. Thus, the quest of making a mark in history. But how long will our history last? How long will anyone be truly remembered?

One of my favorite poems was a literature I learned while I was joining the Society of Junior Fellows in the University of Nueva Caceres. It was written by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822):

I met a traveler from an antique land 
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone 
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand, 
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown, 
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command, 
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read 
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things, 
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed; 
And on the pedestal these words appear: 
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: 
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” 
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay 
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare 
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

If nothing ever really lasts, then what’s the point in being recognized? What’s the point even in doing something that deserves recognition?

A Desire to Overcome

Making the most of today, living for today — indeed, it is the best way for a man to live. As the Bible reminds us, we don’t really know what will happen tomorrow, if we will still be alive or not, or that all that we’ve worked hard for will still remain, will still matter or will still be of any worth.

What are we living for? What are you living for?

In the end, it’s not what we desire most that matters — but desiring what matters more. When we learn how to bridle what we desire, to guide these inner cravings to something more than just a temporary public recognition, when we see that there’s a bigger recognition waiting for us if we can only be patient, when we learn how to hold back and overcome these raging selfish desires in order to attain something beyond wonderful… then we will catch a glimpse of everyone truly wants.

Not recognition.

Not remembrance.

But life in its simplest, purest desire.

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