My Lola Enchay usually made her pronouncements in couplets. It might have been her generation’s way of dispensing words of wisdom—to make them memorable. Indeed, many of them I have not forgotten.
When I told her about my situation involving a very efficient, I-couldn’t-live-without maid on her third discovered romantic link with yet another driver, she was quick to respond in a mixture of Spanish and Tagalog, languages she was both fluent in: “Primera vez, accidente; segunda vez, a proposito; tercera vez, bisyo.”
Indeed, in matters of repeated offenses, she was on target. The pattern went from being an accident to a purposeful act and progressively, to a habit, an addiction, a vice. Wise Lola was not only talking about my maid; she was referring to me, too. I was, by letting her get away with it thrice, forming my own bad habit, when I should have known better.
As her employer, I was her superior—in stature, resources, education, as well as opportunities in life. Therefore, I had no excuse for tolerating her repeated violations of decency, except the flimsy one of my own convenience at the expense of three drivers.
Lola was wise to point out that habits can creep up on anyone and, unchecked, would contribute to the dulling not only of my maid’s but my own moral conscience. By repeated tolerance, I was developing my own bisyo, a habit that in the long run could eventually numb my own sensitivities to wrongdoing, not to mention setting a bad example to my maid.
Besides, tolerating bad behavior does not a lasting relationship guarantee. Ask any wife who turned a blind eye to a husband’s philandering. Like the philanderer, my maid left before I could fire her, to marry a much older but comfortable man. By then she had carted away nearly half of my linen closet, an impressive wedding trousseau, indeed.
I’m just glad I wasn’t a bigger fool to have given her a bridal shower, although in effect I already did, a linen shower—not to consider other things she may have taken. All the time, my laundrywoman had been hoping desperately I’d notice the steady loss. If she had not in the end spilled the beans, I’d never have known the extent of damage an immoral person could cause inside my home.
What became clear was, I had more bed linens than I could use and I had chosen to keep her longer than better judgment would allow. And yet, until I gave it serious thought and replayed my grandmother’s words, I would never have imagined myself as someone living excessively, much less lacking in moral fortitude.
If only I had bothered to take a deeper look at myself or my linen closet sooner, as I would urge mothers and homemakers, young and old in similar situations, to do. It’s not about the maid, but more importantly, about the lack of will to take the moral option when it presented itself.
It is likewise tragic when a working mother begins to feel hostage to an “indispensable” yaya, or an older person to a caregiver, such that their misdemeanors are overlooked and allowed to progress to stealing—from cell phones to cash. Every moral default not only takes away from one’s moral position, but also leads one to one’s own moral deterioration.
Is it any wonder then that an accused plunderer leads in the polls? After years of compromising our consciences, we ourselves as a nation seem little able to stand up with credible indignation against wrongdoing.
Unlike the poor, who have plenty of reasons to not see beyond their needs, the educated non-poor—and I count myself among them—have no excuse for not doing the right thing at any time.
Never too late
But it’s never too late. We have only entered the season of Lent, the perfect time for spiritual introspection and sacrifice, to think beyond self-interest and the material.
My alumni association, through the stewardship of its president, Dr. Chit Reodica, never runs out of charities, however modest—rubber slippers and milk for unshod and undernourished pupils in remote Benguet barrios; bancas for fishermen in Cebu, Coron, and Cotobato; bancas converted into ferries for, again, schoolchildren; hygiene kits for women in camps for victims of conflicts and disasters.
Dr. Chit and her staff of fellow alumni themselves deliver them. In her next delivery, to the Babuyan Islands, will be school bags filled with a year’s school supplies. Philanthropy is one moral choice worth developing into a habit.
Elections are a special moral test, a time for national introspection and sacrifice, of looking beyond ourselves and thinking of the greater good. And the upcoming one is a particularly critical moral challenge.