Where Beauty Resides

I submitted a letter to the Inquirer and they printed it on February 23, 2015.

I would like to seek the forgiveness of my countrymen for pointing out some of their defects in this letter. No nation is perfect and we have our share of shortcomings. But I think we must recognize them so as to eliminate them. I must also say that we have many wonderful traits. We must also recognize them and foster them.

Here’s the letter:

My attention was caught by a feature article titled “Miss Universe—why we’re not winning” (Lifestyle, 1/23/15). Then followed a series of questions in its subhead: “Wrong walk? Bad gowns? Weak Q & A? Perhaps wrong candidate?”

It would seem that the people of the world judge beauty based on what can be seen or heard. And so things like gowns, shape, height, complexion, wit, gait and so forth might usually combine into an impressionable harmonious whole so as to sweep the judges off their feet. And there you have a winner!

There is a saying that goes: “Beauty is only skin-deep.” I would tend to disagree with that because I believe that real beauty is not superficial but has its roots in the depths of a person’s soul. Call it inner beauty. Without it, external beauty becomes ugly.

I think it is this inner beauty that Filipinos must acquire and foster. If they do, the external will follow.

Filipinos have a penchant for the word beauty: maganda. What other cultures call good like “good morning,” buenos dias, guten tag, buon giorno, bon jour, we Filipinos say magandang umaga. When other peoples might say you made a very good plan, we most likely will say, magandang plano ’yan. It would sound awkward to say, mabuting plano ’yan.

Without realizing it, we have covered beauty’s deeper foundation: the moral good. Something is beautiful because in the final analysis it is good. And goodness resides in the mind and heart of a person. And so you can see why beauty has deep roots in a person’s being.

We use a lot the word maganda and yet there are things in our personal, community and national life that do not respond to our frequent use of the word. A case in point was the observation made by Inquirer’s Jan. 25 editorial, which contrasted the fervent attitude of the Filipinos during the Mass of Pope Francis at the Luneta and the tons of garbage the crowds left afterwards. Here we can appreciate better the connection between moral goodness or virtue—in this concrete case, discipline and care for the environment—and the resulting beauty of one’s surroundings.

Beauty is a gift from God. But as St. John Paul II liked to repeat, gifts are also a calling to a sense of responsibility. Each Filipino must have a personal sense of responsibility to choose to practice inner beauty, which means to practice virtue and discipline. My attention was once caught by this observation. I was caught in traffic on a busy street in Metro Manila. I saw a man walking draw the last puff from his cigarette and just throw the butt on the sidewalk. That was sad. But a little while later another man, obviously a foreigner, spotted the butt on the sidewalk, picked it up and threw it into a trash bin nearby. I just shook my head.

That’s just a little thing. I can give another example. Some months ago, I made a trip to Europe. In the plane going there, I had to fall in line several times to use the lavatory. I was always behind some foreigner in the queue. I recall that whenever I went in to use the lavatory, things were in place. On the way home, the plane was filled with my compatriots, all bound for Manila. This time the persons before me in the queue were of my same nationality. I recall that each time I used the lavatory many little things were out of place: the roll of tissue paper on the floor, the used cup not thrown into the bin, the sink not flushed, the bottles of cologne on the counter, the floor wet, among other things. It’s as if my compatriots were waiting for someone to pick after them. It’s a microcosm of the Luneta event.

And so it seems that if we want to make our country beautiful or even want to win the Miss Universe, we must acquire a culture of inner beauty: Practice discipline, responsibility and virtue, personally and as a nation.

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