The power of inspiration

It was probably the most-watched Presidential Inauguration of ANY country in history. Yes, the explosion of the Internet as a medium of news transmission as well as the proliferation of cable television is a factor but do remember that you have the option of NOT watching it. The Playstation 3 cries for attention, and isn’t that powerful desktop computer better served testing out Dawn of War 2?

No: you not only kept your television tuned to CNN or BBC or (like a protege of mine) to CSPAN, but you also kept the Firefox on. You alternated between going through the news-sites and blogs while watching – and crying, in my case – the Obama Inauguration.

Much has been said about the hullabaloo over this event. Even my older brother has been trying to bring me down to earth by reminding me, the political communications specialist and analyst of the family, of the reality of the situation. My kuya is kinder; there are those who would love to pour cold water on the festive, almost reverent, atmosphere of the Obama Inauguration, and they’re barely even Republican.

Their point? Its that words, ultimately, mean nothing. Actions speak louder, so the adage goes, and Obama faces what some people call a “perfect storm” of problems and issues as he is sworn in as the 44th President of the United States of America.

First, some leveling-off before I tackle those “grounding” statements: I am, again,  a communications specialist. I have a Bachelor’s degree in Communications from the Ateneo de Manila University, was trained by some of the best Ad, PR, film and journ practitioners of the time. I was trained under the J. Walter Thompson Reach Out Program.

I am also a member of the Liberal Party of the Philippines and worked for them straight out of college, first as media operative and eventually as head of media operations.

So, you see, when it comes to being cynical and suspicious of words, I should be very much so. Doing the “spin” is my day job, after all. I make press releases and… tailor information in a way where it will favor my principals and screw his/her enemies. I write speeches. So when it comes to the bullshit that comes with words, believe me when I tell you that I not only know what it sounds and looks like but I make some pretty good bullshit on a regular basis. If political operations is already a pretty dark and dreary world, then its bastard get, political media operations is dirtier and drearier because its, uh, more burlesque.

But amidst the moral and spiritual devastation of that curious form of warfare called the modern, media-frenzy, political campaign, there is that desire for a moment like the Obama Phenomenon. The idealist in you, nurtured by years of service to the Church and six wonderful years of Jesuit education dosed heavily in Liberation Theology, yearns for it.

As a communications specialist, I can appreciate fully the power of words. Wars are begun and ended by words. Great achievements and failures are the offspring of words. That’s because words have the power to either inspire or demoralize.

We humans are such affective creatures. Proudly as we proclaim how human logic and reasoning has allowed us to master our world, we are still creatures of emotion. Our greatest achievements were not solely built on cold, calculating reason but on inspiration.

Take the amazing achievement of going to the Moon. Although it is a centerpiece of human ingenuity and science, without the “push”, the desire to go to Moon, would we have bothered in the first place? Would the great (if rapacious) explorers of the Age of Sail have left sight of their precious Europe to tread the treacherous waters of the Atlantic and Pacific without the dream of new lands and wealth beyond measure?

Many would like to dismiss, often casually, the feelings the Obama Inauguration engendered. They scoff at the sight of grown men – not necessarily Black – crying, of the “ooh-aahs”, the loud cheering as Obama finally came to the podium to take his Oath on Lincoln’s Bible. These people would rather focus on the cloud (that, may I remind them, Obama himself kept reminding everyone was there), on the enormity of the task ahead, the immense weight of the challenges we all collectively face.

To all of you I say: have you forgotten how it is to be inspired?

Obama’s Inauguration wasn’t some Magic Bullet; I don’t think anyone, least of all the man himself, claimed that. I don’t think anyone, again least of all Obama himself, claimed that words, his words no less, would magically cure the world of its ills and problems and make humans everywhere suddenly realize our common bonds, hug, kiss and beat assault rifles into plowshares and “tanks into tractors.” In fact, the Dow was down and you can be sure that somewhere in Africa, some kid was either getting shot, maimed or raped as Obama spoke and we gushed at every word.

But I think you people miss the point: this day, the moment of his Oathtaking and address to America as its 44th President, wasn’t supposed to solve all this. It was a clarion call to where he – and hopefully all of us – wants to go to. This was the gunshot that signaled the start of a new race, the whistle that calls the teams back to work.

Let me put things into context for me, then, since I can’t speak for the thousands, if not millions, who freely and unabashedly shed tears that day:

To say that the past eight years has been hell is to be kind. Never in my living memory has so long a stretch of time been so filled with hurt, fear, anger and despair, to be so devoid of hope. I was in my upperclassman years in college when the Asian Financial Crisis hit and it wasn’t this dark. I lived through the decimation of our family’s own finances in 1994 and it wasn’t as bad as the last eight years (it was close, though).

Imagine, then, how hard it was to even move in those eight years. In creative processes class, one of the stringiest rules drilled into our heads was to never “self-censor.” In writing or conceptualization, self-censoring is not good because you can get stuck. You’re stuck because nothing seems to be working, or whatever you think should be is unattainable for one reason or another.

During the eight years of the Dubya regime, it was hard to move, to even hope, because progressive action and even the act of hoping things would be better required quite a bit of mental fortitude. It was like there was this psychic barrier that immediately labeled everything with a “fail” sign.

It had to do with the environment, the context in which movement was to be done. Bush, Cheney and Rove had so poisoned the waters that we were all operating in a climate of fear and anger. If a man who spoke with a Middle East accent, or looked like an Arab, was beside us, most of the time we would send dagger looks at them. Even allies would growl and hiss at each other simply over minor disagreements in policy and their implementation.

Obama’s election and inauguration changed all that. It and he are like the proverbial fresh air, like when you’re in this dusty, dingy room and then you decide to open the window to let the sun and crisp, cool wind in. Everything changes. The whole equation is different now.

People have been toiling on the hard earth for generations. But isn’t it so much easier to work when there is that lightness of the heart, and fire in one’s belly?

Again, I at least, and Obama himself, never said that there is a lot to be done and there will be disappointments and pitfalls. Everyday, especially for people like me who have seen hope crushed under the bootheels of greed, callousness, hubris and a holier-than-thou attitude, there is that fear that he might be the same, that, like with Mar Roxas, we will be so horribly disappointed as to be so thoroughly disgusted at the person.

There is a long road to be traveled before the world stabilizes, and it will be bumpy. We know that. I know that, of all people.

But… this day wasn’t meant to be about the work. This day was meant for The Speech. We stand in huddled ranks in the landing ships, wet, cold and packed cheek to jowl facing a very hostile beach in this new campaign to retake the world. We face death and disappointment. Our morale is low after eight years of being led by an idiot and his crazy cabal.

Obama’s words were what dispelled that lingering pall, the cold that clutched the heart. Perhaps the familiarity with despondency has become a form of security; better the bitter truth that shit is all we have, than the prospect of things suddenly going right for a change. We do not want to be inspired because we do not want to be disappointed. Because all we’ve known in the last eight years were to fear and to be angry.

They’re just words, fine. They will not solve the problems that plague America and the world.  They do not assure us of a better world.

But don’t you feel good hearing them? And in hearing them, doesn’t it feel… lighter, easier to move?

I said in my Multiply blog how I liked the last part of Obama’s speech the best because of the imagery it evokes. Washington and the Continental Army in Valley Forge, forced there by the British after getting drubbing after drubbing should have been a panorama of fear and despondency. No winter quarters, just tents, and perhaps little if any decent food. And I could imagine the far more biting cold that held each American soldier’s heart there.

Can you imagine how they must have felt? Cold, hungry, perhaps injured, and DEFEATED. Few situations would have been bleaker and more despondent.

Instead, as Obama himself would speak at the end of his Inauguration Speech, “At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people: Let it be told to the future world … that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive…that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet (it).”

The Continental Army – bedraggled, low on supplies, cold and hungry and just coming from defeat after defeat – went on to cross the Delaware and deal the British and their Hessian auxiliaries a mighty blow that winter.

Guys, there will be work. There will even be disappointments in this hopefully first of two terms. The problems left behind by Bush are just too many, too much, too soon to even begin seeing much good happening in the short term.

But the Inauguration isn’t about the work that needs to be done, the concrete results that everyone demands from Barack to finally believe in him like Thomas insisting he sees the wounds on Jesus and places his hands in them.

The point here is that we needed to hear the words that would begin the work. We needed this man, the embodiment of the ideals and the renewed hope of not only a nation but a whole world, to tell us: its going to be hard, but its going to be okay.

“Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time,” Obama said in the first few paragraphs of his speech. “But know this, America — they will be met.”

That’s what the day was all about. The work is after. Meeting those challenges is for the day next.

Today… today we bask in the sunshine of a new morning where fear gave way to courage, despair to joy and hopelessness loses the extra letters after the first “e.”

After eight dark, dreary and fearful years, it just felt so good to stand in the sun and breathe in the fresh air, to finally smile and say… yes, we can.

So forgive the tears. Its been a long, hard road.

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One Response to The power of inspiration

  1. I watched the speech and thought it was fantastic. However it definitely wasn’t as moving or emotional for me as his speech he made after being elected. Obama has certaintly said the right things but now is the real test – if he can actually make a difference while in power. I sincerely hope he can lift the US out of economic turmoil and deliver on the promises made. The coming years will be very interesting indeed.

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