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Bacolod City, Philippines Friday, March 16, 2018
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Come To Think Of It
with Carlos Antonio L. Leonardia

Losing role models


Professor Stephen Hawking, the brilliant young man who was given only a few years to live after being diagnosed with a rare form of motor neurone disease at age 22, passed away on Wednesday peacefully at his home in Cambridge. He was 76 years old.

In a world where the norms of human behavior and our definitions for the best and brightest are steadily degrading, as evidenced by the quality of world leaders as well as role models of the youth, losing someone whose life was truly an inspiration can be devastating.

There are many reasons why the life and works of Stephen Hawking was special and worth emulating.

The fact that he managed to beat the estimates of his doctors by living a long and meaningful life despite his disease and the grim prognosis is just the least of those reasons but there is a reason why Professor Hawking is the poster boy for all the differently-abled people of this planet.

Hawking enjoyed horse-riding and rowing as a young man but as he was getting ready to marry his first wife Jane in 1964, he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and was given only 2-3 years to live. The disease left him almost completely paralyzed but because it progressed slowly than expected, he was able to have 3 children and complete his best-selling book “A Brief History of Time – a layman’s guide to cosmology.”

The man who was confined to a motorized wheelchair and was known for his trademark computer-synthesized voice after he lost his ability to speak to a tracheotomy was known for his “theory of everything” that suggested the universe evolves according to well-defined laws. His brilliant mind that was known for his extraordinary capacity to visualize scientific solutions without calculation or experiment also discovered the scientific phenomenon known as Hawking radiation.

This was a guy who couldn’t move without a wheelchair and talk without the help of a computer. He never gave up, he never lost hope, he kept his sense of humor, and he made the most use of whatever the universe gave him in his 76 years of life. Professor Stephen Hawking reminds me of how fortunate I am and at the same time how inadequate my life is in comparison to his. If his life cannot inspire you to do more, dream bigger, and do better, I don’t know what will.

I have been worrying these past couple of years that my world is running out of idols and role models and noticed that I have been gravitating towards achievers and dreamers in science and technology more than politicos and “leaders”. I admire people who think critically and are willing to take criticism. People who are willing to take risks but admit failure. People who neither talk big nor dirty but dream big. People that don’t lie and who call out and expose liars.

I try to fill my Twitter feed with the thoughts and ideas of Elon Musk, the creator mentality of Mythbuster Adam Savage, along with Bill Nye and Neal deGrasse Tyson’s attempts to make science cool, and other insights from science-y people. I tried to read the book Hawkin’s Brief History of Time but failed, but hopefully one day I will start again and maybe finish it. I hope I can steer my kids towards role models that can help them to become truly better people and not just teach them curse words, vagina jokes, and encourage an entire generation that ignoring rules and taking shortcuts “for the better good” is acceptable. With leaders and role models like that aplenty, imagining what kind of world my kids will grow up in already makes me cringe.

The role model problem is a global one and it seems that everybody is becoming meaner and shallower because of that shortage. The problem is even more pronounced in the Philippines where we have a president who forces me to mute the TV every time he opens his mouth and my kids are around. Even our Vice President, who other than being a woman and the widow of a model public servant, isn’t very inspirational if you come to think of it. The behavior we see in the House of Representatives is sickening and we have seen that virus leech into the Judiciary. With role models being forced upon us like Mocha Uson, Harry Roque, Vitaliano Aguirre, General Bato and his mascot, the sartorial Sal Panelo, that VACC dude, that impeachment guy who can’t even do his job right, that fake coast guard USec and the rest of this government’s #BestAndBrightest, it is easy to see why Stephen Hawking’s passing was so devastating. In a world where manners and principles are all but gone, we lost someone who was teaching our kids through his life, words and actions what it means to truly live and make a mark.

Professor Stephen Hawking had a motor neurone disease practically his entire adult life but it did not stop him from having an attractive family and being successful in his work. “It shows,” he said, “that one need not lose hope.” I hope that even if many of us failed to read his book and understand the inner workings of the universe better, we learned something from that brilliant man’s life.

I believe it is fitting end this tribute/rant to a quote that has been attributed to Stephen Hawking but upon further research, I discovered is actually from Daniel Boorstin. The quote itself struck me as relevant for these trying and times but the effort I went through to validate the origin of the quote is apropos. “The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.”*


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