generation x

The Challenge for Generation X: Build and Sustain

Over dinner at a “sustainable restaurant,” my college friends and I were catching up with each other’s lives and talking about the many decisions that we need to–and have had to–make at this life stage, the early 30s. We talked about the friends in our group that had already left the country, and were facing their own unique sets of challenges in their adopted homelands, and we found ourselves asking: Why do people leave in the first place?

A consensus arose from our cozy group of three. Our generation, Generation X–those who were born, and raised at the cusp of the transition between analog and digital–was a bit more detached from the country because we did not have to fight the wars that our parents, and grandparents did. We were born and raised in relative comfort, and with more options than were ever available before. Many of our parents’ peers who had left the country in the ’60s and ’70s felt that they had no other choice. Today, a good number of us leave because we WANT to.

I admitted to having been part of that demographic–that frustrated, disillusioned set who thought that the only way up… was OUT. I used to scout feverishly for opportunities to study, and stay outside (and never look back), and I once–very recently–almost took the plunge when an offer was given by an organization that I thought would be part of my “dream job.” To me, then, nothing worked anymore, and I was willing to do anything to get out of here, to where everything was safer, more comfortable, more progressive, more… different from here.

What stopped me was seeing my friends who had been out for several years now start to come home–with the intention of staying home for good, and using what they had learned outside to rebuild a life here.

Noting this, our dinner trio then talked about the challenges that our generation now has to face. Our grandparents grew up at a time when the whole world was at war, and our parents came of age at a time when the Philippines was yet again struggling to wage a war against tyranny and was trying to topple a dictatorship. Our parents’ generation succeeded with EDSA, but they failed in sustaining the momentum of People Power because they thought their job would be over once the new government was installed. We, too, grew up witnessing EDSA Dos, but we saw what happened to the Arroyo administration, and even after a “People Power” election we are seeing how the Aquino 2.0 administration is unraveling. It is not enough to tear things–even bad things–down. What is even more important now is to learn how to build the right things from the ground-up.

The difficult lesson that we need to learn from other generations, we then concluded, is how to BUILD and SUSTAIN change. Winning a war is the easy part; rebuilding after the destruction is the hard part. Toppling a dictatorship or electing a president with an overwhelming mandate is the easy part; participating in governance and strengthening institutions is the hard part. The reality though is that the hard part comes when it is now OUR generation’s turn to start stepping up and leading the charge.

Gawad Kalinga build
Photo from

So what are we to do? For starters, let us not give up on our country, and believe that all hope is lost. Despite the grim news that make it to our daily headlines, let us be grateful for the fact that, for instance, we have a superb Justice Secretary (and this is now my own personal bias showing) who is hell-bent on doing her job properly against all odds. We have the likes of Heidi Mendoza, who has shown us the kind of integrity and courage that we ought to demand from our all levels of our government. We have social entrepreneurs who are re-imagining and re-inventing the status quo to show us new possibilities for offering livelihood, empowerment, and hope. Let us engage our bureaucracy and our systems to make sure they work, instead of entrusting them to the unscrupulous hands that have dirtied them in the first place these past few decades.

For another, let us go out and explore the world and all its possibilities, but let us come back home to transfer all this technology to THIS country, where such discoveries are greatly needed. Whether it’s systems in education, science and technology, the arts, enterprise, governance, or society, let us take what we can from the best of the world and see how we can adapt it to our own needs. Like the Ilustrados of old who saw the world and dreamed of an enlightened Motherland, so, too, should we find enlightenment and then illuminate THIS corner of the world.

Lastly, we shouldn’t be afraid of sticking to things to make them WORK. It’s always exciting to try out something new, and a bit more tiresome and boring to stick around for the long haul. It’s easier to leave when the going gets rough, and bit more draining (and sometimes thankless) to stay and work things out.

But that’s the irony of change, isn’t it? You know you’ve succeeded when you’ve already reached a point where not too much change is needed, and where you can then focus on the job of sustaining something and making it a part of everyday life. In our case, change has begun. Whether we can build on it and keep it going is the burden that now lies on our shoulders.