By Milwida M. Guevara
Ostracism is a powerful mechanism. Being excluded, ignored, and rejected can hurt more than physical pain. It is tantamount to telling a person that he does not matter and that he does not exist. It denies a person his basic need to belong, to be needed, to be recognized and accepted. The pain from exclusion can be excruciating and a person will go to great lengths to enhance his sense of belonging through compliance and cooperation (K. Williams, Purdue).
The practice of ostracism was introduced in ancient Greece where a citizen was expelled from Athens for 10 years. It was meted out to those who defied society’s norms. Through a popular vote, the citizens of Athens defined those who are and those who are not worthy of friendship and acceptance. Through time, the practice of ostracism has continued to enable communities to reject and deter unacceptable behaviour such as smoking, drinking, non-payment of user-charges, bullying, indecent behavior, and non-compliance to rules and regulations. In our individual capacities, we practice ostracism by refusing to speak or even to look at another person whom we consider as despicable.
In like manner, the cancellation of James Taylor’s concert in the Philippines is a form of ostracism. It sends a message that the violation of human rights and dignity of persons is totally unacceptable. I think I am not alone in saying “Hooray, James Taylor!”
We have yet to understand why Filipino communities have not used ostracism or social rejection to sanction unacceptable behavior. We honor major law offenders, such as tax evaders and economic saboteurs. They are given honorary doctoral degrees, cited as models, and given plaques of appreciation for their “outstanding contribution to development.” Social bullies are publicly appreciated and adulated. Their jokes are warmly received with laughter and applause. We even consider selfies with them as an honor and a privilege. Such reception is considered as strong signals of approval and commendation. Instead of social reproach, and objection, the offense and the offender are lauded and encouraged.
Our inability to express social censure for unacceptable behavior is a function of our lack of cohesion. Studies found out that “neighborhood watch efforts are likely to be more effective if community members have closer relationship” (Ikeda et. al.). Social rejection is stronger in more cohesive communities. A tightly knit society can effectively impose painful psychological costs to discourage offensive behavior.
Last Christmas, we celebrated the birth of the Savior. We are thankful that we are no longer alone and He is in our midst. But we have to be part of the struggle of building a community that is just and merciful. The Babe in the Manger tells us that we must be co-creator of our own salvation. Positive change can only happen if we will it ourselves and fulfill what we have been called to do.
It will take many more James Taylor in our own society to correct what we perceive as morally and socially wrong. But we need not only Mr. Taylor’s courage but a strong community spirit. We hope that both the young and the dedicated local and civil society leaders can once again foster trust and inspire collective reflection, debates, and consensus-building. Let 2017 be an end to our individual frustrations, and disappointments, and, 2017 be a beginning of a more vibrant and concerted efforts that will rebuild a community that is wounded and divided. Ostracism is a good beginning. We must express our strong disagreement with proposed legislations, policies and programs that are perverse, selfish, and misguided.