Aiming for the Stars...

by Jean Quintero Hall


[April 1999 Issue]

I have tried to pass on to you what I got ... which I have endeavoured to ...transmit to the coming generation. You will now do the same for those who come after you.
-- Frs. Gom-Bur-Za, Noli, p. 63.

In the "nature versus nurture" controversy, "nature" refers to a person's inherited genetic makeup. For example, biographers unanimously consider Rizal to be a genius.

Now let's take a look at the "Nurture" side of the equation. "Nurture" refers to the impact of the environment on the individual. Rizal's case reveals several unique environmental influences: first, he had a loving and supporting family; second, his life was influenced by a number of tragedies; and third, he was influenced by a number of key individuals and their wisdom.

The profound impact of these latter influences is illustrated by the dedication in his second novel, El Filibusterismo, "To the memory of the priests, Don Mariano Gomez, Don Jose Burgos, and Don Jacinto Zamora who were executed on the scaffold at Bagumbayan." Prior to their execution in 1872, when Rizal was only 11-years-old, Frs. Gom-Bur-Za bequeathed their wisdom to the Filipino people: that a nation's accumulated knowledge must be handed down to future generations. Their words became Rizal's mission: "They [foreigners] come here seeking wealth, go you to their country to seek also that other wealth which we lack!"

Following with the three priests' advise, Rizal set out on his travels abroad. In his attempt to predict the future of the Philippines, he based his analysis on his observations of European and Asian countries. His assessments of the future coincided with those of two writers: Prussian scholar Dr. Feodor Jagor and Sir John Bowring, former British Governor of Hong Kong. Both Bowring and Jagor had visited the Philippines, written and published their memoirs, and predicted that the Philippines, free of Spanish control, would fall under the domination of other potential colonial powers, most likely the United States or Japan.

In his travels abroad, Rizal confronted the realities which helped him comprehend the reasons behind Jagor's and Bowring's predictions. By 1870, Europe was engaged in its second industrial revolution, with Great Britain at the lead, but challenged by the United States, Japan and Germany. With their increased wealth and productivity, advanced knowledge and technology, the industrial nations set their gazes abroad. Their entrepreneurs cried for expanded markets, their scientists/scholars clamored for new knowledge of foreign cultures, and their clergies sought new converts. When the Suez Canal opened in 1869 providing the much needed easy access, governments of the industrial nations succumbed to the pressures of these interest groups. As China and the continent of Africa were divided among the European powers, the race to colonize was begun -- a race that would continue beyond the turn of the century. In his mission, Rizal was mindful of Jagor's admonishment: if the Philippines were to be treated equally and with respect by foreign nations, she must strive for trade agreements and become independent, or risk colonialization. The prerequisite to this independence, Jagor advised, was that Filipinos must be educated, be politically sophisticated, provide a skilled labor force, and develop economically productive industries.

But to accomplish these prerequisites, the Filipinos would not only have to develop a sense of nationhood, but, individually a sense of self-knowledge as well. He observed that the European nations' success hinged on the character of its individuals: reaching for their highest potential required individual self-confidence bolstered with courage, determination, world knowledge, tenacity, discipline and a free environment. Only in a relatively free environment, like Europe and the United States, could the development of such competent character -- a character resembling Nietzsche's "Ubermensch (Superman)" -- occur. And only through self-knowledge can the individual develop self-confidence. The thrust of this lesson in self-knowledge embodies three cores: one's past (history/identity), one's present (current situation), and one's future (reaching for the highest potential). He knew the Filipino people, with our collective self-knowledge and confidence, would develop a sense of nationhood. The effort to make the large number of illiterate Filipinos grasp these concepts would be arduous but not impossible. To pave the way for Filipinos to begin their soul-searching quest, Rizal focused on the past. In London in 1888, he searched for evidence of pre-Hispanic Filipino character which I discussed in my previous article.

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created: September 1, 1999
updated: September 3, 1999
APSIS Editor Johann Stockinger