WHEN we look at social media, we see toxicity everywhere. Our nasty way of talking to each other makes us fight over things big or petty. It seems that people easily fall for distortions and do not want to listen to sensible words and actions. Everyone seems so fixated on themselves that only their truth matters, nothing else. And many times, the anxiety and despair make us want to stop our advocacies when it seems everything will be in vain.
But I believe that the noisy minority bickering endlessly with each other, and the organized machine that emboldens them, are a distraction to the real things that are happening in our society: the real crises, and the real goodness that everyday people do. So far, we rarely see social media toxicity go out into the everyday lives of people outside the cyberworld. Although, we all must work that we do not go that far.
Each generation seems to face new challenges, but they are just newer variations of challenges that we have faced before. We have been through wars and great conflicts, but our nation survived, and we are still here. This is because of people with a greatness of spirit. People with valor who persevere despite the difficult odds, who join the people in their struggles and find solutions to assist them; they defend the life, well-being and dignity (buhay, ginhawa at dangal) of the people (bayan). In the olden days, we called them the bagani warriors, and eventually bayani. Men or women who serve others without expecting anything in return.
For 64 years now, the Ramon Magsaysay Award, Asia's highest and most prestigious prize, our continent's version of the Nobel Prize, distinguishes people and organizations who made a difference in the lives of many people or gave innovative solutions to the challenges their people face. It is named after the late president who, immediately after his death in 1957, was seen even in the international community as a role model of servant leadership. Some of the Ramon Magsaysay Award recipients are famous names like Mother Teresa or Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso, but many are unknown but are luminaries in their field of advocacy or profession.
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Since 1998, I have attended this annual ritual of heroism every August 31, the birth anniversary of President Magsaysay, since I was a second year high school student, because in attending the presentation ceremonies, you get to listen to stories of heroism like in the days of our ancestors, where babaylanes chant epic stories of bayanis that inspire them and make them feel as one in solidarity. And then after the program, you get to be in their presence, rubbing elbows with greatness and awesomeness.
Because of the pandemic, we do not get to meet each other at the Cultural Center of the Philippines as we used to every August 31; we get to know the winners through an online announcement of the selected honorees to be awarded the prize on another important date of heroism, November 30, a holiday celebrating the birth of national hero Andres Bonifacio, which also used to be National Heroes Day. Aurelio R. Montinola 3rd, chairman of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation, announced the names of the 2022 recipients:
Sotheara Chhim, who for 20 years addressed the mental health problems of ordinary Cambodians who might have difficulty accessing services through the Transcultural Psycho-social Organization Cambodia. His work included counseling the abused and referring Covid-19 patients to the proper institutions.
Tadashi Hattori, a Japanese ophthalmologist who is considered a "sight saving humanitarian" for restoring the sight of patients from the remote and most disadvantaged regions of Vietnam. But more importantly, he mentored his team of Cambodian eye doctors so they could do the same and together treated 20,000 patients.
Bernadette Madrid, Filipino children's rights and child protection crusader, assisted thousands of abused children and women in need medically, legally and even psycho-socially. What is amazing is how she brought many people to network to fight the problem together.
In the Emergent Leadership category, given to individuals 40 years old and below, Gary Bencheghib, who despite his young age has made an impact as an anti-marine plastic pollution warrior in his adopted nation, Indonesia. Also noteworthy is his use of social media to open the eyes of the people.
They all are examples to us that true leaders don't just rule, they empower and inspire. The award, as it edifies the greatness of the spirit of Magsaysay and of the Filipinos, also lifts and inspires the Asian people of the greatness that is within us. That we may be in different cultures and political boundaries, that greatness of spirit is beyond borders.
Let us not get distracted from the goodness around us and the greatness within us that we can offer the world.