As I look at the finish mural in the children’s ward at the Quirino Memorial Medical Center, I can not help but feel genuine excitement and joy for the work my “kada” and I accomplished. Walking further in the ward, I keep smiling and gazing at the painted images of children playing, the alphabet, and brightly-colored animals that scattered the ward. It was at this moment that I truly felt what it meant to be for and with the other.
Ever since the first semester of my second year in Ateneo, I became part of a sector-based organization called KYTHE Ateneo. Kythe Ateneo is the primary student-arm of Kythe Foundation, Inc., a non-profit, non-stock organization aimed towards improving the quality of life among hospitalized children with cancer and other chronic illnesses. Basically, Kythe-Ateneo aims to provide psycho-social support through alleviating the anxiety of dealing with the stress and troubles of the treatments as well as the hospital environment that the children and their families experience every day. Moreover, Kythe-Ateneo also provides indirect financial support through projects that are held yearly in and off campus. Thus, with this being said, I was drawn to KYTHE because of the many amazing moments and opportunities that I was fortunate to experience being part of the organization. Throughout the year, I was able to go on area visits every semester with my “kada,” or the group of Kythers who go to the same hospital and schedule as me. I was also able to be part of Kythe’s projects such as Kythe Flying, Kyacap, and more. And so, Kythe became more than just an organization to me. Kythe became my happiness and concrete manifestation of my understanding of Emmanuel Levinas’ being for the other.
Emmanuel Levinas is one of the few philosophers that I could easily relate and comprehend especially in relation to being in Kythe. He mentions that to be human is to be for and with others. By definition, Levinas explains that a human being is not an isolated I but a social and ethical I, who can not come to society by himself alone but is born into society and needs others. Thus, the I must support the other and be responsible of the other. He also stresses that philosophy is first ethics, something done to others, and the sickness issue people face is not the forgetfulness of being but the forgetfulness of being infront of you. He presents a new way of looking at the I. through emerging out of il y a. He deals with il y a because he wants to highlight the emergence of being from a time when there is no subject. Furthermore, with il y a, Levinas wants to describe a state of impersonality, uniformity, or anonymity before emerging. Il y a is a fear of being. This is a state wherein people who exist don’t really exist in its true sense, they are afraid to come out and emerge. And so, in stepping out of this and being doubly aware, one can emerge. Jouissance, or the first experience of living things, is naïve innocent enjoyment. I am nourished by the world and so, Jouissance is the first nourishment of taking something from the outside to be independent and then going back to myself again. From this, one can escape from being especially when in being you feel confined or enchained. At times, there can be an internal conflict of being of no knowing what to become or not liking what one does in life but just has to do it. And so, there is a being of disinterestedness and interestedness of me myself and I. And so, one has to escape from this being and instead become being as good and ethical. To be for others, not anymore for self-development but for ethical self-development.
Moreover, Levinas also talks about totality and infinity. Totality is the relation of the I that goes out to the other and returns back to itself. However, it is wrong when totalization is applied to people that it becomes tyranny. The approach is to subdue then and subjugates others without killing them. Infinity is then a thinking that begins with the I that goes out to the other and does not go back to that I. On can see this infinity, through experiencing the other as face. In experiencing the other as face, one acknowledges the fact that he or she is a human being. And so, it calls us to see then as subjects who we must not experience as nourishments but as the other. Also, the face is taken as a symbol for the whole, it refers to the entire experience to being. And so, one’s responsibility comes from the other without waiting for reciprocity. Thus this is what it means to be a human, it is to recognize that although we are all unique and different, we must be for the other.
Because of Levinas, I understand that my journey in Kythe is not just about being with the children and being part of an organization. It is a pathway for me to experience the other and to be responsible for the other as well. Before being in Kythe, I can honestly say that I was stuck and confined in my being. I felt that everything I did was just for the sole purpose for simply doing it to get it done. I did not really have much interest in the other especially if I was not involved in the situation or the issue. However, in being part of Kythe, I experienced the stage of being good and ethical that as I was with the children and their families, I believe that helping the other was not for my personal development, or to make me, myself and I happy. But, when I helped the other, I did not need this reciprocity or this going back to myself for my needs. It was exactly what Levinas mentions as ethical self-development. Moreover, in being with Kythe, I can experience the other as a face. As I go through the hospitals whenever I have area visits, I get to see each and every person in a new way. This new way is seeing them as human beings, not children with cancer, doctors in white coats, or other labels that can appear to me at first glance. I was simply looking at them with fresh eyes and seeing them as subjects who are all unique and different. And so, as I meet and play with these kids, I get to be with them completely, help address their needs, and care for them. Through this, I learned to experience them face to face, in the light of Levinas’ philosophy. In experiencing them as face, I answer in freedom to their call, command, and needs. Thus, I become responsible not only for what I do, but also for what I do not do. I become in the service of the other through placing them before myself. I have this responsibility to support them, love them, and be compassionate to them.
The teachings of Levinas, together with my journey in Kythe, helped me to grow to become a being for the other. I became quicker and more sensitive to the call of the other. Instead of thinking about my self and my needs, I learned how to be thoughtful of the other. I developed my passion as well in serving the other through my freedom and without looking for anything in return. Through this, I agree with Levinas that to be a human is to be responsible for the other. Like what Dr. Leovino Gracia mentions in the article, Philosophically Speaking:What it means to be human, “the good is ‘answering for the Other.’” Thus, I will forever continue my service for the other.