25 'truths' we put through
EMOTIONAL WEATHER REPORT - Jessica Zafra () - July 24, 2011 - 12:00am

The one thing we were never taught in elementary school was how to be a skeptic. We were trained to believe, obey and never question authority. In effect school was an extension of church (they are run by religious orders after all); those who dared suggest that the teacher was missing something were condemned as walang modo (uncouth), suwail (willful) and worst of all, pilosopo. Yes, to be “philosophical” — to ask how the teachers arrived at their knowledge and why we should accept it as true — was bad, the equivalent of heresy. 

It was not until I moved to a public high school — Philippine Science — that I realized it is not only right to question long-held “truths,” it is the responsibility of every intelligent person. What is your evidence? How do you know? If we didn’t ask questions we would still be deluding ourselves that the sun and planets revolve around the earth.

Now that no one is going to make us stand in a corner or write “I will believe what my teacher says” on the blackboard 500 times, let us review some “truths” we were trained to accept for the simple reason that teachers, priests, parents and other authority figures said so.

1. “Beauty is useless, character is the best.” These words were written in big block letters tacked above the blackboard. As a child I had a problem with its corny wording; as an adult I have a problem with its accuracy. Like many allegedly self-evident truths from our childhood this one assumes that we live in a perfect world full of righteous citizens. 

Of course beauty is useful! and not just because our society is mad about beauty pageants and cosmetic surgery. We naturally respond to beauty. In the absence of solid information we judge strangers on the basis of their physical appearance. We like to think that someone beautiful on the outside has the spirit, guts and smarts to match. Frequently we are disappointed, but beauty still short-circuits our brains. It can’t be helped. Beauty will get you in the door. Character determines whether you get to stay in and climb the stairs.

2. “When you finish school you join the real world.” Not exactly. Empirical evidence shows that the so-called real world is an extension of high school populated by the same archetypes: the geeks, the prom queens, the jocks, the stoners, the teachers’ pets, the outcasts and so on. Why do you think Glee and Twilight are so popular? It’s certainly not for the quality of the writing. Hopefully high school has trained you for the real world, so that if some troglodyte tries to bully you, you know exactly how to bitch-slap him. 

3. “If you are too smart boys won’t like you.” True, alas. The male ego is more fragile than they would have us believe — easily cracked by an open display of female superiority. 

There are ways around this. One, never let on how smart you are. Let them think that they are in charge, that they personally make the choices you maneuver them into. This approach requires tact, acting ability and a high EQ. 

The alternative is to be entirely yourself. So you’ll intimidate those who are less intelligent or capable than you are. Do you really want someone so insecure that he has to be assured of his dominance? That’s exhausting work. But the ones who are not afraid of you, who think they’re smarter than you or are confident enough not to care, they’ll stick around. True, you’ll get the alpha males. The relationship, if you have one, will be a constant struggle for power. You will butt heads at every turn. Fun!

4. “They’re just lucky.” This is what our elders always said of people who, for no apparent reason, attained wealth and power. Especially those they disliked or considered to be beneath them. Ah, envy. Ah, snobbery. It is a fact that one can plan and toil all his life but get nowhere, while others can coast along but achieve great success. So don’t say “just lucky.” It is foolhardy to dismiss the role of luck in human affairs. 

5. “If you study hard and get good grades your success in life is assured.” Not necessarily. There are people who excel in an academic environment but flounder when they leave the confines of the university. Grades are important, but so is the ability to work with other people. You must be able to apply the knowledge you gleaned from books to real-life situations and environments. You must understand that people are complex organisms who do not behave like theoretical models. Get yourself some street smarts.

6. “He’s not right for you.” Listen to your mother. If she says this about the guy you are dating, she is probably right. It is called maternal instinct. That and the fact that half of your chromosomes are hers so you are more alike than you care to acknowledge. So consider Mom’s advice, but never let on that you ditched him because she said so. Show some resistance. You can’t have Mom taking over your life.

7. “Talent leads to fame and fortune.” Talent, timing, and a canny manager. Now let’s look at that statement backwards: “Fame and fortune spring from talent.” That’s so funny I forgot to laugh. 21st century fact: People are famous for being famous.

8. “Stories and films should contain moral lessons.” Strangely enough these are the stories and films that bore us to smithereens. A piece of writing, a work of cinema — Art stands on its own and speaks for itself. It might contain a lesson but it does not exist for that purpose. Does it even have a purpose? 2,000 words, on my desk in the morning.

9. “The good are rewarded.” Nope. Being good is its own reward. In fact if you expect a reward then you’re not really good. It may be that you are only good because someone is watching. You phony.

10. “The bad are punished.” No, they are not. Many of them are elected to office. We would cite examples of the guilty who get off scot-free, but we don’t want to depress ourselves.

11. “What will other people say?” It’s more annoying in Tagalog: “Ano na lang ang sasabihin ng ibang tao?” Who cares what other people think? It’s your life! You can do what you want as long as you’re not hurting anybody. Unless you want to run for office or be voted Miss Congeniality. 

12. “Don’t flaunt your wealth.” This used to be true, but times have changed. What used to be considered tacky — brandishing what you own and what it cost — is now acceptable behavior. Basically, free market capitalism won.

13. “Don’t wash your dirty linen in public.” Unless you have a Twitter account with a million followers, in which case go ahead.

14. “The elegant one-handed backhand is superior to the brute two-hander.” I had to work in the tennis bit. Yes the one-handed backhand is beautiful to behold, but you still have to win. Sacrilege! But as Roger Federer’s playing career approaches the twilight years, and given that today’s players are bigger and stronger and the racquet technology more advanced, it may be time for a rethink. 

15. “She’s only a housewife.” Have you any idea what a full-time stay-at-home mother and wife has to put up with? She’s the CEO of the household but with no salary, no benefits, and no office hours. She is always working. Everything that happens under her roof is her problem. She has children to feed, clothe, shelter, educate, nurse in times of sickness, and train in the finer points of being human. Just listing her responsibilities makes me tired. So the next time you think “She’s only a housewife,” you try it.

16. “Comedy is not serious.” Seriously? Ever tried making people laugh? Comedy is all we have against the terrifying uncertainty of human existence. If you can laugh in the face of randomness, you’ll survive.

17. “Let the guy pick up the check.” As previously mentioned, the male ego is fragile. What part of women’s hard-won victory over discrimination and male chauvinism can we give up without compromising our principles? The part that says we have to split the bill on a date. Therefore by allowing the guy to pick up the check you are actually being generous. If you still feel bad, you can use the money to buy yourself some shoes.

18. “He just hasn’t met the right girl.” He’s gay, Tita

19. “Obey your elders.” If you believe that what they’re asking you to do is right. If you have doubts, express them. Politely, there’s no need to be rude.

20. “If you have nothing intelligent to say, don’t say anything.” We wish everyone would follow this sage advice. Unfortunately they all have blogs, Facebook and Twitter accounts. Hey, check out my website!

21. “Your clothes, shoes and accessories must always match.” Maybe in the 1960s when our mothers were young and everyone took up smoking in order to look cool, blithely unaware of what it was doing to their lungs. In the 21st century total matchy-matchy is dull, robotic and weird but not in a good way. Unless of course you’re being ironic.

22. “Don’t wash your hair every day, it will fall out.” In this environment, with all the pollution? Gross. 

23. “Someday your prince (or princess) will come.” That would be nice. And if he (or she) doesn’t, you can be happy anyway. You can hang out with your friends. You can take off at a moment’s notice. You never have to synchronize your schedule with anyone else’s. Your time and money are your own. You have your own bathroom. And if your prince/princess arrives late, remember these words of infallible wisdom: Separate bathrooms.

24. “When in trouble, pray.” If it brings you peace and helps you organize your thoughts in times of emotional turbulence, by all means go ahead. It can be a great help, but bear in mind that it is not the solution. You will still have to make a decision and act on it. Never think that you are helpless and powerless. 

25. “Money can’t buy you love.” Your parents are right, it really can’t. Having a lot of it makes you a target for opportunists and gold-diggers. However, you still need money in order to live. Love won’t pay the bills unless you are a bestselling romance novelist or creator of telenovelas. And financial problems have ruined the most ardent relationships. So fall in love with the person, not their statement of assets and liabilities, but keep your wits about you. 

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