Growing out of mere compliance
Last week, I sat as thesis defense panelist for Camyl Fernandez and Ysobelle Joseph, both AB Communication seniors, who studied how 40 to 59-year-olds perceive a Department of Health (DOH) vaccine advocacy video. The students surveyed hundreds of Quezon City residents, in person, and then gathered respondents into focus groups to get more details on people’s views.
One finding that stood out was how the participants said that the DOH video was trying too hard to be funny. The video apparently downplayed the severity and seriousness of COVID, so that it looked inconsequential; vaccination, then, did not seem necessary.
The participants filtered the video through their experience; and, in their experience, COVID was deadly, disruptive, and dangerous. The fun version of COVID and vaccination did not match their reality.
At the defense, I couldn’t help remembering the professionals who once consulted me while laboring under the notion that all they needed to do was entertain their crowd.
A group of students wanted to create a satirical film about climate change but forgot how recent extreme weather events led to the loss of lives and livelihood. A group of teachers claimed that children would pursue a science career if science looked funny but forgot that local scientists work in an infrastructure unwelcoming of research. Some scientists wanted to create fun infographics about earthquakes but disregarded the deaths our own destructive earthquakes have brought.
The effectiveness of humor as an educational or advocacy tool is not always borne out by research data. In some cases, the visible use of humor is insulting.
We always teach our students to do research first before making any claims. They don’t understand the gravity of this reminder until their thesis, when they realize that they have been educated in a mold of obedience all their lives, often without them knowing it.
The thesis is their chance to acknowledge that believing in a “mass audience” or “general public” has also kept them from truly listening to people’s stories. After their thesis, they should realize that clinging to unfounded assumptions is unjust. Without a critical look at society, they are part of society’s problems.
I remembered all these during Palm Sunday Mass and the retelling of the Passion. Somehow, it was Pontius Pilate who came to the fore.
The Bible and history disagree on Pilate: in the Bible, he is an indecisive leader, fearful of displeasing the crowd; in history, he is a corrupt, morally bankrupt overlord who does not hesitate to kill.
Regardless of which one is the Real Pilate, there are passages in the Gospel that speak to the nature of his responsibility in the death of Jesus. When he stands before the crowd calling for Jesus’ head, Pilate asks, “Why? What is his sin?”
Crucify him, the crowd shouts.
Pilate washes his hands and obeys the mob.
The lesson here is not to blame Jesus’ death on an ethnic group and its descendants. To pin wrongdoing on people yet to be born is unworthy of a faith that demands that all be taken into its fold in an act of love.
The lesson might be twofold. First: Don’t rely on the wisdom of crowds. Ask individuals. Look at all possible angles. Make no assumptions. Discern. Do your research.
Second: Those who call for injustice and those who allow it to happen are equally at fault. The fault is greater in those who know that they are seeing wrongdoing, and yet turn away because they are afraid of being ostracized by their families and friends.
Our young people spend a great deal of their lives being schooled as a crowd; they are graded on how well they obey, meet standards, and answer questions. But as they grow older, they must think beyond exams, grow out of their lessons, see the world with systematic and compassionate eyes.
This is difficult in a country where people are rewarded for being compliant, and punished for speaking out, even when they speak of injustice so obvious, based on research, and rooted in truth.
We have sadly become a nation that welcomes compliance even when it is inefficient and frowns on dissent even when it reveals flaws that must be remedied. We have become both the crowd that welcomes injustice, and the unquestioning Pilate that watches as it happens, all because we are afraid of mere mortal labels.
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