ALPSIDE DOWNED: Civil courage

BERN, Switzerland (MindaNews / 23 May) – Civil courage. The phrase leaped at me while I was reading a light-hearted online article on “How to behave on a Swiss train”.

A Swiss woman had recently published a rule book on Swiss public transport etiquette, complete with matching cartoons. Much of the acceptable behavior she observed follows the universal norms of public behavior, such as taking care not to disturb your fellow passenger, keeping noise at a minimum and such. But many of the rules are also unwritten and are based on respecting the so-called private space.

And what to do when a fellow passenger misbehaves? “I’ll step in and say something if there’s a problem, like somebody making racist comments about a fellow passenger,” says the author.

The Swiss may be a welcoming people who offer tourists and guests leeway in public behavior, but they are a stickler for rules and correct behavior and will let you know immediately if you have stepped out of bounds.

Several times I have witnessed the Swiss – and many times it was the senior citizens or the elderly – who pointed out public misbehavior such as jumping lines, or illegal parking or indiscriminately throwing trash in public. In the public apartment spaces that we share, I have seen elderly Swiss insist on you writing down your laundry hours, or segregating your household trash, or cutting down on house noise after 10 p.m.

They have civil courage because they know the rules and they believe that following the rules will result in the orderly society that they value. As the book author described how social misbehavior is put down in Switzerland: “There’s always someone else who will say something — usually a senior citizen.”

Civil courage is defined in several ways. It is “a type of courage, related closely to heroism, in which a person acts bravely to intervene or take a stand in a social situation”. It is “ brave behavior accompanied by anger and indignation that intends to enforce societal and ethical norms without considering one’s own social costs. “

And a more pithy definition: “to dare to act because of one’s convictions, even at the risk of paying a high price for this conviction. “

And what about the Filipino? Are we capable of showing civil courage?

Let us take up as example this common sight in our daily lives: the long line or the pila. Are we courageous enough to tell cutters that there is a line and that they should line up at the back?

And since we just completed yet another election, are we telling our children that vote-buying or influencing the vote in any form should not be tolerated? But there is a problem if the masses take their cue from their leaders. When the president declares that vote-buying has become an integral part of Philippine elections, do the voters accept vote-buying as the norm?

I recall a point made in a Manila radio talk show that there is a problem in the relationship between Filipinos and the leaders that we elect, because the Filipino voters do not think of themselves as citizens who can demand accountability and good performance from those that they elected; instead they behave more as fans and supporters who will tolerate the actions of their leaders even if they misbehave in public or abuse their positions.

What interests me about civil courage is that while it is closely related to heroism, it really does not need a hero or a leader. The ordinary citizen can take a stand in a social situation as long as he or she has conviction and believes in his rights.

In a period where there are many attempts to revise history and malign the heroes or leaders of the past, it is reassuring to ponder this idea (not mine, but from an original thinker): The more citizens with civil courage a country has, the fewer heroes it will need.

(Mindanawon Abroad is MindaNews’ effort to link up with Mindanawons overseas who would like to share their thoughts about their home country and their experiences in their adopted countries. Brady Eviota wrote and edited for the now defunct Media Mindanao News Service in Davao and also for the SunStar Cagayan de Oro. He is from Surigao City and now lives in Bern, the Swiss capital located near the Bernese Alps.)