Friday, May 7, 2010

To be vehemently tactful

Cardinal Rosales says another people power is ‘crazy’

Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Rosales, upon learning that some sectors are threatening People Power:

“Why infuse that into the present situation when it’s different? Come on, let’s use our head. These are two different things,” said Rosales. “That’s just crazy, crazy, crazy.”.

While I understand the concern of the good Cardinal, I feel a little uncomfortable with his choice of words in conveying his disagreement. It was likely in reaction to Noynoy issuing a warning for people power in the event that the polls fail (and he fails to win the presidency). The word 'crazy' is particularly strong enough as it is, yet the good Cardinal says it three times, for good measure. I do understand that at these times, 'crazy' is a highly-loaded word, especially since Noynoy's psychiatric condition has been put into question.

Maybe Cardinal Rosales should have used an alternative word, like 'insane'. No, I guess that's not quite right either. At any rate, the good Cardinal should have searched for more tactful words to convey to the effect that anyone who wishes to threaten people power at this presumptuous point should have his head examined.

Expectedly, there were howls of protest from some militants. Among these, the protesting words of Sr. Mary John Mananzan -- a top official of the influential Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines -- is worth noting:

“With due respect to the cardinal, I disagree very vehemently with what he said. I think doing nothing (against poll fraud) is more irresponsible,”.

My. I found it rather amazing that the words "with due respect" and "disagree very vehemently" can actually be combined in one sentence. The good Sister also manages to infer that the cardinal's position is "irresponsible".

At this point, I take note here that the issue in contention boils down to opinion against opinion, hinged upon assumptions against assumptions. Besides not being a matter of faith and morals, it is at a point where the issues behind the contentions were still contingent on the presence or absence of certain conditions either way.

Probably in retrospect, Cardinal Rosales had to explain his position further. In a more recent statement, he clarified that he will not turn down any possibilities of having another uprising in the aftermath of the May 10 polls as long as it is justified. The statement claimed that the cardinal’s statements against those threatening a new people power last Sunday were just not “reflected” upon.

So in the end, it appears there were actually no reasons to disagree (and get hot under the collar), since both sides actually agree in principle. In everyday life, this kind of thing happens many times. I guess there is a lot to learn here from Steven Covey's fifth habit: "Seek First to Understand". When there is still disagreement, perhaps there is also a lot to learn further with the fourth: "Agree to disagree agreeably".

I wonder if that last one can possibly take hold in the local political debates, considering the level of disagreeable intensity that I see in the political mudslinging hereabouts. Furthermore, I see that the norms of propriety have gone down to a level wherein a radio interviewer can have no qualms in addressing a Senator, many times his senior, as "chickenshit". It's the perfect way to lose an argument, besides making an a-hole out of oneself.

All this goes without saying that it is not impossible to assert one's positions in a firm manner, tactfully and with due respect, especially when we disagree with people in authority. Yes, I think that tact and vehement defense are not mutually exclusive. But then again, one has to understand the other's position first; take an objective, evidence-backed perspective; then prepare a well-thought-out response. When there is room for ambiguity, adopt the charitable assumption that the other side means well.

St. Peter has something to say about defending the faith, and it is worth reflecting into for its broader application.

"...but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect" (1 Pet 3:15).

Gentleness and respect, right. St. Peter should have added: and don't lose your sense of humor.

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