Essay / Non-Fiction

Familiarity

My friends know that I love taking risks and being challenged. I am actually more afraid of flying cockroaches than facing extreme pressure and stress. But just recently, I discovered something disturbing that I was only suspecting months ago. At first, I thought it was for convenience’s sake. Then, when the excuse slowly faded, I turned to blaming the time, coincidence and fate. I didn’t want to accept that I was only acting “normally.” I know for myself I don’t want to be part of the mainstream, bandwagon or the majority. I always believed that I am part of the few who would make a difference.

But I was wrong. Just like most of the people I know, I am governed by a principle that many of us do not even know, consider or feel. It is the invisible hand that greatly affects our choices, decisions and sometimes principles.  I am controlled by the idea of familiarity.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that loving what’s familiar to us is wrong. I just personally don’t want the idea because it limits me—my choices, my options, my goals.

Just last week, I noticed that I had pimple breakouts on my beloved chest thus discouraging me to wear my deep V-neck shirts. I thought maybe it was because I changed my soap from Dove Men’s Soap to Watson’s Shower Gel with Sakura Essence (I read in a forum that it’s so fragrant and good for the skin, to be fair, it is.) I don’t really know the cause, I just want to blame something. Then, I decided to buy a new soap. That was the start of my personal doubts on myself.

I am currently residing in Mandaluyong along Boni Avenue so I have a lot of options where I could buy my stuff. I could go to Robinson’s Pioneer (near Boni MRT Station), Shangrila Mall Edsa, Starmall Shaw, SM Megamall or Robinson Galleria. I told myself, RP is so small, if you’re used to SM North or Trinoma, RP will look like to you as a department store only; SME is intimidating unless you have tons of money; SS looks scary and dated; SMM is too big I might get lost; and RG is too inconvenient for me. In short, I debated with my practical self against any other mall and voted for Trinoma or SM North. And I won.

Well, I know for a fact that the only reason I wanted to go to Trinoma or SM North is because I am more familiar to them than the malls I mentioned above. In 10 minutes, I can buy everything I need because I know where to get them. I know the “culture” of the sales people. I know what to do. It just makes me feel safe. Whereas buying stuff in an unfamiliar place means adjusting again to everything: to the location, your shopping manners and to the people.

That’s when I recognized the pattern. I only feel safe buying stuff, eating alone, spending time, or having my haircut to places I’ve been to, somebody recommended, if I am with a friend or a family, or if I do not have any other choice. If not, I really feel anxious and uncomfortable. I am more willing to be crushed, shredded and heavily pounded in an MRT during rush hour than try a place I am not familiar with.

And I know, the thought is alarming.

According to Martin Heidegger, a German philosopher who wrote existentialist interpretations of the concept of familiarity, familiarity is the combination of different ideas. It is our involvement and understanding of our world that enables us to be united with it. It means, by being familiar to something, we demonstrate actions, whether physical or mental, that are so spontaneous we normally do not give it much thought. When we are more familiar with one thing, we are normally expected to develop a closer relationship with it. On the other hand, we tend to be against of something unfamiliar with us, something new, something unheard of.

This is what I fear. I am scared that I fear the unfamiliar.

Unfamiliarity is a heavy concept for some of us. We tend to easily reject ideas that we haven’t heard before. We easily find faults, excuses or something to distract ourselves from seeing what’s real and what’s possible. It is easy for us to debunk unfamiliar things because we always believe familiar approaches and methods are enough.

I had this experience in my organization. I proposed an activity that they never did before. For some of the members, it was an unheard of idea. Some even said it wasn’t possible. All those questions turned to doubts. All those doubts turned to inactions. All those inactions turned to apathy. But we were still able to pull it off. And now the activity is familiar to them. Now they know better.

Our society is a society of familiarity. People fear ideas that are out-of-this-world. Revolution of idea takes a great deal of time because many are still clinging on their conservative, traditional notions.

We are afraid of legalizing abortion, RH Bill, Gay marriage and a lot more. We flinch when we hear these issues. We argue armed with religious, moral and ethical arguments to prove our point. We are afraid because it is unfamiliar to us. And unfamiliar things are dangerous.

I had a job-offer interview as a writer for a multinational company. The Hiring Manager already briefed me with the salary, benefits and responsibilities. But before our conversation ended, she asked if I am gay. I never doubted my sexuality, and I had no intentions of hiding it so I said yes. She sighed and told me that since the company has many male employees, I should behave and prevent myself from hitting on them. I responded by asking her if that was a standard question to all applicants. She said no, she only asked that because she thought I was gay, and she felt the need to remind me. Maybe it was out of concern, responsibility or whatever. But clearly, she is unfamiliar with LGBTs. Her views were tainted, biased and way assuming. I wanted to respond the same way. Do you hit on every guy that you see? I always believed being gay doesn’t mean liking every male in town, sucking whatever is available, flirting with as many as possible. What happened to taste and preference? What happened to professionalism, dignity and respect? I responded by turning down the offer.

Unfamiliarity with certain things makes us doubt and question what we know. It leads to confusion with what is practical and better. It gives us a hard time understanding situations.

But unfamiliarity is our chance to a good revolution. Unfamiliarity is a way to give off fresh and new ideas. Although it is very risky, the end result could go either way. It can be a disaster or the greatest achievement you can ever get. Unfamiliarity gives us risk that keeps us alive and working hard to achieve our goals at the end. If we only live in a familiar way, then there’s no way we can achieve significant growth. There is no challenge with doing something that you know you can do.

That is what I fear. To be stuck in the world of convenience and familiarity. I never wanted to live in a world that will bore me to death. I want to take risks and challenge myself. But being at ease with convenience is not a good practice. And I know I have to get away with it.

Last night, I was hungry and I decided to eat alone somewhere I never tried before. I chose Chic-Boy along Boni Ave. I never had the chance to eat at Chic-Boy because of their Kangkong fiasco but I thought it’s worth a try. They have a similar menu with Mang Inasal so to better challenge myself, I didn’t order the chicken inasal that I frequently order at Mang Inasal. I chose their pork barbecue.

At least, taking risks may sometimes fail but the more important thing to pick up is not the failure but the lesson. Now I know never to order that again.

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2 thoughts on “Familiarity

  1. Grabe yung naka-tatlong bagong entries ka na pala Kuya Redd. 😦

    And talagang sinabihan ka ng isang interviewer na that you should “behave”? That’s just so… unbecoming. 😐

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