Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Greed and Ambition

“Power corrupts,” so says Lord Acton, “and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” I disagree. It is not power that corrupts. We corrupt power by our greed and ambition. We corrupt power by subjecting it to the unrelenting drive towards self-preservation, such that, rather than serve the common good, power is used so as not to lose the inherent advantages it brings. That’s how Cha-Cha proponents and its main beneficiary look to many Filipinos and, no matter their efforts to assuage the massive mistrust Cha-Cha has generated, it helps very little that the inexplicable rush taken in the adoption of its legal measure was done under cover of “night” a la Judas when, also at “night” according to the Scriptures, he inflicted his terrible treachery on Jesus.

Haste indeed can make waste of truth and our most cherished democratic principles of participation and freedom. But people of faith that we are, looking into what propels the Cha-Cha train is in order not only because we need to confront the real specter behind its mask but also because they represent twin root-causes of our personal and social ills in this beautiful land.

Once I was watching a television footage of a vast crowd in a totally unrelated rally when I spotted a poster that seemed to highlight a message for Everyman but especially for those who have almost ninety percent of the wealth and power all over our Un-Strong Republic: “The world has enough goods to serve our needs but not our greed.” Greed? Yes, the inordinate desire for and accumulation of the world’s goods meant for everyone. And why is it at the root of our social malaise?

Nothing explains better the unacceptable gap between the wealthy among us who are very few and the very poor who are so many. How else do you explain that these same wealthy families also hold, in the main, political power all over our benighted republic and are unable to let go of it—and there is just a dizzying number of instances to prove it—unless to another family member, blood or political. Nothing explains better than greed the huge sums of public money being lost to graft and corruption committed mostly by the already wealthy and powerful. If they already have so much, what, we must ask, motivates them to get what in justice already belongs to the greater majority of our people who still have to contend with each other for a piece of the crumbs that fall from their tables?

Greed is the black hole inside our souls when God does not find a home in them. It gobbles or tries to gobble up everything and scarcely achieves satisfaction. When power and wealth become substitutes for God, the black hole syndrome ensues. After all, one of the spiritual masters of all time, St. Augustine, in his oft-quoted prayer, constantly counsels us that our hearts will be “restless” unless they rest “in Thee (God)”.

All this sounds perfectly logical, you say, but what about ambition? What’s wrong with being ambitious? Isn’t it what thrusts humans to excellence? I agree, there is no discounting that ambition is behind human beings who dream big and eventually achieve their deepest potentials. But ambition is like an inner weapon that a person can use for good and for ill. Ambition can make a leader do all he can to obtain for his dirt poor barangay the best road system for their crops and services. Ambition can push a poor lad to go through years of struggle and difficult sacrifices to finish a college education and end up a lawyer, a doctor, an engineer or what have you.

But ambition can also be responsible for secret political machinations and conspiracies to catapult or extend some people’s hold on power. Ambition can also blind the wealthy and powerful to the primary purpose of political and economic power that transcends narrow selfish or family interests, such as service to the needs of people and society such that they collectively become an anticipation of God’s kingdom. Ambition can transmogrify an otherwise decent human being from someone building a good legacy to the next generations to someone bent on making himself/herself the perpetual legacy even to unwilling present and future generations.

A story is told of an overly greedy and ambitious man who died. After passing through St. Peter’s strict preliminaries at the Pearly Gates, the Almighty Himself summoned him to his presence and assigned him a place at the you-know-where. St. Peter noticed something strange and he asked God about it. “Heavenly Father,” he paused, “may I ask why you did not rise from the heavenly throne, as you usually do, when you met Mr. A?” At this God sighed and said, “Peter, why would I give that poor man an opportunity to grab my throne?”

In fact, we know that God’s throne deep in our hearts is what greed and ambition can and do grab away. No wonder the Philippines and the world are what they are today.