Finding common ground: Lessons from Paco

BAR NONE - Atty. Ian Vincent Manticajon - The Freeman

Last Tuesday’s column was about our high school reunion, touching on the memories, the fun, and the passage of time. I'm not quite done with it, but this time let me shift focus to a theme that we often miss out when reuniting with friends we haven’t met for a long time. It is finding common ground in our political views in this increasingly polarized society.

Meet Paco, my high school batchmate and cherished friend. Paco is a bit of an outlier in our largely liberal-minded group, often bringing fringe center-right-wing, conservative views to our group chats and discussions. For some years especially during the 2016 and 2022 Philippine elections and 2020 US presidential election, this distinction was a mere footnote, something that induced mild eye-rolls and suppressed sighs.

But in the aftermath of the reunion, as the celebration subsided, I found myself settled in a dimly lit café, sharing a cup of coffee with Paco, in a meeting initiated by Carlo --a fellow UP High alumnus and Paco’s inseparable confidant. Our conversation, it turned out, was truly enlightening.

Actually, I've been trying to understand 'the other side' more lately. My conversation with Paco that evening wasn't the first time I've tried to expose myself to other people’s views. Months ago, I gave up my monthly subscription to The New York Times online edition, a stalwart of liberal Western press, and switched to The Wall Street Journal, which leans more conservative.

This effort was motivated by what I observed on the ground, especially the rise of populism and right-wing conservative thoughts. While it seemed opposed to my liberal, moderate left-leaning views, it was something that warranted a closer look. Another reason for my shift was that the candidate I preferred (and still prefer), Leni Robredo, lost big to Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. in the 2022 presidential election. I felt that I had been missing something crucial, something that necessitated reaching out.

Paco now calls Chicago, Illinois, home --a bustling city in the US known for its rich cultural heritage and iconic skyline, but likewise for its gun violence. I was shocked when Paco told me about the rate of gun victims in Chicago daily --yes daily! He said to look it up on Google, and once I did, one news headline stunned me. “Chicago shootings: 40 shot, 4 fatally, in weekend gun violence across city, police say” says ABC7 Chicago in a July 17, 2023 news item. “US gun violence: Half of people from Chicago witness a shooting by age 40, study suggests” says the University of Cambridge website.

Paco's stories, which he shares in an attempt to explain his pro-Duterte and pro-Trump agenda, weren't just made up or him being stubborn; they came from what he's been through in life, his own struggles, and how he sees things. As we talked more, I started to think: How many times have I dismissed opinions simply because they diverged from my own?

In the age of digital screens and social media platforms, we often find ourselves unwittingly walled off. Algorithms spoon-feed us news, opinions, and facts that align with our beliefs, creating a mirage where it seems the world sings only to our tunes.

But just as Paco’s conservative views are shaped by his individual journey, each person’s beliefs are molded by their unique experiences. In other words, there are diverse viewpoints out there that demonstrate the richness of the human spectrum. When we only hear one side, we might start to be less understanding of people who think differently. My conversations with Paco serve as a humbling reminder that while our beliefs are shaped by our experiences, they are just one piece of the puzzle that is our shared reality.

But here’s the thing; understanding doesn't necessarily mean agreement. Holding onto our principles does not mean alienating others. In listening to Paco, I didn't necessarily adopt his views, but I gained respect for his viewpoints which made our friendship more meaningful.

A couple of months after the presidential election last year, I received a phone call from a good friend who is based in Manila. “I've received an offer to join the new Marcos administration in a Malacañang post,” he told me, “if I accept the appointment, will your view of me change?” I responded, "Of course not. The new administration deserves your brilliance, talent, and integrity.” And in that integrity and sincere desire to serve, we can find a common ground.


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