Yesterday, thanks to typhoon Basyang, there was a 24 hour blackout in Metro Manila. Not so big a deal. But, there were also 24 hours without cellphone signal. Talk about being cut off from the world. Since I didn’t have anyone to talk to I had perhaps too much time for introspection…and that’s why this is so long.

During that odd conversation a few weeks ago, my unexpected kausap said to me, “I like talking to you…you know who? Because you disagree with me.” I admitted that that was also the reason why I liked talking to him. Trading banats, competitions of swagger. That was our sport growing up.

I had one of my rare and sporadic (is that redundant?) moments of clarity yesterday. I think I actually love being criticized. Over the past few days I’ve been engaging in a debate among friends. When a few friends criticized my point of view, nabuhay ako. I was thrilled, excited, my mind immediately started racing and I put down on (virtual) paper a long and impassioned written version of a rally speech. (hm, overcompensating perhaps?) My response was met with an equally passionate, well thought-out argument and I thought, “Yes! This is awesome!” But, when others started supporting my side, to my own surprise I felt bad. I mean really bad. While any normal person would be happy to have people defend her in a debate, and I was happy, this happiness was overwhelmingly outweighed by my conscience. This, and not the counterarguments, is what made me loose sleep and rethink the validity of what I had written. Am I more comfortable being attacked than defended?

Then, last night had a political tsismis/strategy session with folks much more seasoned, talented and sophisticated than I. They mercilessly punched holes through the frameworks and strategies I suggested, and I loved every minute of it. Probably the highlight of the night, however, was a no holds-barred heart to heart with one of the few available women mentors where she enumerated bluntly and point by point what I was doing wrong and where I could improve. I felt like that was exactly what I had been looking for but until then didn’t know where to find.

Is there something wrong with me? Why do I get off on being bashed?

I suppose I could say that because being criticized forces one to think and I learn and I love learning. But no, that oversimplifies it. It’s too self-serving to possibly reflect reality and makes me sound like way too much of an angel to possibly be true.

Put in a different frame, I think it’s a function of self-doubt as well. In many ways I was quickly thrust into this world. I saw opportunities and jumped at them without stopping and considering if I knew what I was doing. “Kakayanin ko na lang at bubutiin ko,” I told myself, “There is no other choice.” So I learned as I went and am still learning as I go. While on one hand the world is changing at such a pace that we are all basically learning as we go (And the old stalwarts who refuse to learn become calcified ideologues who debate on theory but will eventually be tabled to irrelevance. If there’s anything the past few years have taught me it’s that the world is in motion and either you move with it or you get left behind.) I have always felt insecure at the fact that I never rose up through the ranks. Don’t get me wrong, i’m no manicured ilustrado playing the political game just because of some romanticized image of revolution – and I will fight  anyone to the death who insults me as so. Believe it or not I have my own injuries and class consciousness that led to my politicization. But my experience was starkly different from those of my generation who went through the more conventional rank and file process and that difference is both my strength and my weakness. Well, I guess in any and every context being different is both a strength and a weakness, but ok, back to the point.

I often find myself in seemingly untenable situations that I never even in my wildest dreams could have conceptualized. How many times in the past few months have I stopped and said to myself, “‘Tang ina, kaninong buhay ba ‘to?” But once you’re there, shit, you’re there, so you go with it and do the best you can. But inevitably I always ask myself, “Was I right? Tama ba ako?” Of course, we should always hold self-doubt and engage in self-reflection if we don’t want to start thinking our shit smells like roses, but put together these crazy, cray to the z situations with my insecruity at not having risen the traditional way (on either side of the spectrum – neither party tradition nor trapo tradition.  I have no name.) with my own continuing grappling for identity, validity and an anchor, and what you have is a situation where self-doubt very VERY easily becomes hyper-paranoid “Fuck me and my life everything I do is a wretched disaster and the damage I have sown will reverberate throughout the ages.” (all said in one breath) Or worse, “Shit, I’m useless.”

Okay, a bit dramatic.

So why do I like being criticized? Because when people specify for me the things I do wrong it saves me from looking at everything I do, trying to figure out for myself what is wrong, coming to the conclusion that everything is wrong, and having a panic attack. Being criticized actually gives me more confidence because: 1) To my own surprise, I sometimes get reassured that not every move I make is a miserable blunder that will lead to the world’s destruction, and 2) It’s about control. When I know what I’m doing wrong I can fix it. I have direction. I have control. It’s a great boost to confidence when your direction is reinforced by a third party, especially one not afraid to criticize you, instead of just coasting along in doubt, hoping I’m going in the right direction. I’ve never wanted to be a jellyfish.

Ok, so being criticized provides me with self-assurance, confidence and direction. But wait, shouldn’t praise also do that? In fact, shouldn’t praise do that even more than criticism? Coming to mind now is another comrade who I’ve been somewhat avoiding as of late. All of our meetings before came with overly saccharine and (in my view) meaningless overtures of praise. As much as I tried I couldn’t take it. This once again begs the question: What the hell is wrong with me?

I think it’s a matter of trust. I have hardcore trust issues. When I receive praise the default reaction is “Um, psh, yeah right. What do you want?” Is that the jaded, cynical New York thing? Maybe. Is that because my family, especially my father, taught me never to trust anyone for the sake of my own protection? Definitely. (So maybe it’s actually more of a Jaro thing than an NY thing. Who knows?) I’m always on guard, my default position is to assume there’s an ulterior motive, I don’t trust. It’s hard. I’ve decided it’s this propensity for being crticized/aversion to being praised combined with my inability to trust that have utterly stymied my lovelife. I end up liking assholes (sa bagay, I’m kind of an asshole myself) and then surprise surprise, can’t trust them. But my nonexistant lovelife is a whole other volume of posts. Let’s keep this within the frame of political self-realization.

I think I appreciate criticism more than praise because I don’t trust praise but Id on’t have to trust criticism. Especially in a society where bola is a well-studied art form and Asian passive-aggressiveness (the bane of my personal existence) mixed with Spanish notions of manners and propriety still penetrate our relations, I find myself is a constant state of paranoia that praise is either a vehicle of an ulterior motive, a cover-up for the very very different thing that one is actually thinking, or a meaningless gesture that people resort to when they can’t think of what else to say. I don’t trust it. Criticism, on the other hand, doesn’t require trust. there is always a motive to critisism: to get you to change. That motive is clear and obvious, no hidden doors and no false impressions. Plus, criticism is respectable. It takes balls (and ovaries) to rock the boat. I find that people are usually more careful with criticism than with praise because if you r critiques are not well thought-out there is the high potential that they will blow up in your face. If praise is not well thought-out, well ok that’s nice of you. Even meaningless criticism, from those who hate just to hate, has its value. Even when the substance of the criticism has no meaning, you’ve still got the chance to look deeper at its underlying motivation. If its underlying motivation is meaningless as well, well you’ve just strengthened your self-resolve.

Earlier I said I prefer criticism because it doesn’t require trust. I think I’ve just argued with and convinced myself otherwise. I trust criticism more than praise because criticism is more honest. Criticism is risky, and why risk for something you don’t believe in? Someone who criticized you believes in you and wants to help you, whether their realize it not. By telling you what you’re doing wrong they’re telling you how you can be better, which implies they believe you have the potential to be better in the first place.

***

Another topic that came up last night is that I’m too identified as being bata ni  X or bata ni Y. My beloved blessing of a critic advised that I should soon break away and make my own identity. As my cousin has also told me, “Huwag ka na magtolonggits.” Sabi ni kumare kaya ko. Hindi pa ako ganun ka-sure.

Being that, again, I didn’t rise through the ranks, the past few years have basically been an intense apprenticeship under a few close mentors. I went less though the party approach and more through the guild approach. As such, I’ve dedicated my loyalty (not blind loyalty and always within reason, of course) to my mentors. Mabigat ang political – and personal – utang na loob ko sa kanila and so I felt I owed it to them to not be ashamed to openly declare, “Oo, sidekick ako ni –.” I always knew that someday I would have to break away, but I kind of thought it would be more of a natural process – that after a while on the scene I would develop my own name and then have opportunities for my own operations direct to me and not via whoever else. I didn’t think that I would have to actively pursue independence, and especially not so soon. Takot nga ako. Hinog na ba ako?

But what a disgrace it would be if I let fear rule my future and just insisted in staying locked up in my comfort zone. It’s always much more comfortable being a good soldier following orders than having the pressure and responsibility of finding your own way. (Shall we venture a class analysis? Some classes are socialized to be good, docile workers while others are socialized to make the rules and provide the command. Ok, leave it at there for now.) It’s always much more comfortable (and fun) working in teams, and tandems have the advantage of filling in each other’s gaps and approaching an issue from multiple vantage points while still maintaining operational flexibility. For me, it’s especially more comfortable because I’ve still got so much to lean and my mind tends to be all over the place – I’m still very developmentally immature in that sense. My mentors have been tremendous in helping me focus and develop direction. (Special emphasis on helping me develop my direction as opposed to providing me with direction.)

Although I’m dreading leaving here and the guilt still weighs heavily, I’m incredibly excited about going back to school – admittedly not least of all because they will do the work of providing me with direction for the next few years. As Kanye said, “The concept of school seems so secure.”

Then again, breakaway is perhaps most necessary in the developmental phase, as a part of the developmental process. When it comes down to it, this isn’t an artisans guild where the apprentice learns to make a clock the same way his mentor did the same way his mentor did before him. Developmental psychologists say teenagers need to break away and rebel and develop an identity different from that of their parents. I guess it’s not so crazy to think I’m in my political adolescence. If we spend too long in the same teams or tandems we will start looking like each other, talking like each other and thinking like each other. The benefits of the team approach will dissipate as instead of filling in each other’s gaps you notice and overlook the same things. You will approach the same issue from the same side. You will be two faces of the same coin, thus not adding additional value to the movement.

Hinog na ba ako? I’m not quite ready to say yes. And the present political situation doesn’t exactly offer an environment ideal for exploration and trial and error. But that’s why, again, I think it’s a great time for me to retreat and go back to school. I’ll be able to concentrate full time on my own independent development. ideally, it will be a chance for me to step back, take what I’ve learned and fuse it with different and varying perspectives and frameworks. Plus, having the Ph.D. calling card will give me some extra clout to help me move around without just being bit-bit. Baka by the time I come back hinog na ako. Shit, I better be.