Imagining the Common Good for Transformative Education

Address to National Convention of the Philippine Sociological Society, ADDU, October 8, 2016[1].

It is a great privilege for me not only to welcome this august gathering of sociologists to Ateneo de Davao University but also to share with you my hopes for Mindanao, if not for the Philippines, from my personal viewpoint as a Jesuit educator and university president. In so doing, I have been assured by Dr. Jerome Serrano that I am under no obligation to speak the erudite language of sociology, nor even try to attempt to talk to what might be imagined under “Imagined Democracies” – even though I find this topic quite stimulating. I have been invited simply to speak my mind. As a Jesuit and Catholic educator I am interested in social change, as I am sure many of you are – for the Philippines, certainly, but especially for Mindanao.

I have just come from a National Convention in Cebu of the 1500-member Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP). All of us in this organization reject the thesis that education belongs to a spiritual superstructure that is created by and reinforces a material substructure. Such, we believe, could be the case, but need not necessarily be. The capitalists of this country, as Paolo Freire feared[2], could create schools simply to create money-worshipping intellectuals and capital-obeisant professionals to reinforce the country’s capitalism and the country’s neo-liberal economy. There are those in society who could claim, as some have claimed, that the purpose of education is to produce jobs. Indeed, there are critics of Philippine education whose principle complaint against it is that there is a mismatch between the needs of the economy and the outputs of education. This may be a problem. But Catholic education can conceive a greater evil: that Catholic education contributes unreflectively to the uncriticized consumption and hedonism that is the engine of our economy; that economy is responsible for the productive mammoth that abuses the environment and causes the poverty, social exclusion, marginalization and social injustice that is the bane of our society.

Understanding this to be the social status quo, Catholic education understands itself to be transformative.

Of course there is much in society that our schools conserve: a sense of our shared human dignity as children of God, a sense of our shared cultural heritage, our inherited dances and songs, our shared history, our memory of shared accomplishments and heroic deeds, our memory of shared struggles, defeats, and victories, our way of relating to each other within our families, our community, and community of communities. Our ways even of conceiving of and relating to ourselves as Filipinos, discovering and articulating the cultural values that we share. It also conserves bodies of knowledge, achievements of science and technology, and treasures of wisdom discovered, preserved and passed on over the centuries. But it is precisely in conserving this knowledge and these shared values that Catholic education, against the social status quo, finds its imperative to be transformative.

How do we seek to deliver transformative education at Ateneo de Davao University (ADDU)?

We do so through a shared implementation of our vision and mission. But allow me to focus only on two thrusts: first, we promote what we call ADDU sui generis leadership; second, integral to that leadership we pursue the common good.

Our vision and mission is rich. It is a statement of our identity: we are Jesuit, Catholic and Filipino. But we are a university first. We are about truth, academic freedom, quality assurance. We are about discovering truth, sharing truth and insisting on truth, even when the status quo eschews it. It is a statement of the challenges we are addressing today.   We are forming leaders for the Philippine Church and society. We are promoting faith that does justice, cultural sensitivity, inter-religious dialogue, particularly with Muslim and Lumad communities in Mindanao. We are promoting communities touched and transformed by the faith… We promote social justice, gender equality, good governance, the creation of wealth and its equitable distribution. We engage vigorously in environmental protection, etc. When what is particular to the ADDU vision and mission impacts uniquely on the leadership of the Atenean, we call it ADDU sui generis leadership, leadership that is unique, sui generis, because of the sui generis attributes of the ADDU vision and mission. The generation of the sui generis leader is essential to the transformative education of ADDU. ADDU transforms society through the sui generis leaders it forms and graduates into society.

Essential to the ADDU sui generis leader is his/her commitment to the common good.  This is an old concept. The individual pursues a good. The group of individuals pursue a common good. And the political community, the most extensive community, pursues the common good. Solidarity commits the individual to the common good[3]. It is a free commitment of the individual or of groups of individuals to pursue the good of each person and all persons. This can be motivated through the Christian’s personal discipleship of Jesus who “comes to bring life, life to the full” (Jn 10:10). But it can also be motivated by the humane pursuit of “the good life for all.” The ADDU sui generis leader therefore is qualitatively different from the leader who is skilled in speaking, organization, persuasion and argumentation in pursuit of private good, a high salary, a job abroad. The ADDU sui generis leads in pursuit of the common good.

But what is the common good[4]? That is the challenge we must undertake to meet. That is the challenge that even perhaps this conference may wish to respond to.

It is easier to say what the common good is not, than what the common good is. A project cannot be the common good if it systematically excludes a person or a group of persons. Mining cannot be the common good is it excludes the Lumad from the benefits of mining. Secondly, a project cannot be the common good if it excludes any essential aspect of being human. A state cannot be the common good if it denies the majority of the population the exercise of free speech.

The common good is that set of circumstances in history under which each person and all persons flourish optimally as human beings. It is the fullness of life in history. It is the good life for all. It is not something that is actual. It is instead something that is projected and being clarified and actualized though human beings freely cooperating to achieve it. Fr. Patrick Riordan calls it a heuristic. The “fullness of life” or “the good life” is a project which enables people together to understand what it is as they actually cooperate to achieve. President Duterte may project the common good in terms of a drug free Philippines, a Philippines where Muslim Filipinos are recognized as an integral part of Filipino society, a Philippines where both Christianity and social reformers can agree on the substantial demands of social reform and cooperate in its achievement, where the economy promotes wealth for all, distributes it equitably even as it respect the integrity of the environment, our common home. The projection, calling forth the free cooperation of all, is clarified, concretized, and even enriched in its actual achievement. What a “drug free Philippines, peace with the Muslims, peace with the NDFP, achieving an economy that actually meets human need and respects the environment” actually means unfolds in the making. It may call forth discussion, debate, and negotiation. But for as long as all people are cooperating to actualize it, it is the common good.

You may call it an imagined democracy[5].

I tell our ADDU sui generis leaders: you must be able to tell your future followers where it is you want to lead them. You must be able yourselves to envision the common good. You must be able to say what you will ask all in society, political society, to cooperate towards. That is a demand that is easier said than done – since history is continually changing. But the effort nevertheless must be made in an ongoing exchange with people who may have other concepts of the common good or in dialogue with people who may need to be convinced to cooperate for the common good. I must allow the fullness of my conceived program to motivate you to cooperate for it achievement.

But my ADDU sui generis leaders may also have to be alerted that the effective political action which achieves the common good may not necessarily be mediated by rational philosophical concepts accounting for the common good, but more by images coming from common sense, or imagination, or history, religion or the arts. Even without having had to account for the concept of the common good, images of “the Philippines,” “the land of my birth,” “the land that I love,” “my country,” may stir emotions and generate effective action and cooperation towards the achievement of a common good. So too, images of the massacre of Bud Dajo and of Bud Bagsak. Or the recollection of our stolen Philippine Revolution. Politically effective imaginaries, because they engage the emotions, like the kissing of flag, the memory of martyrdom, or the unjust death of a datu, may surpass the philosophical treatise in generating politically significant action. For the ADDU sui generis leader therefore, in leading society to a common good it may be just as important as rationally explaining what it entails, to help its members with images of the common good that may link it to God, the mythological spirits, the heroes or villains of Philippine history – even from mass or social media – that speak to him. Unto this end, the photograph posted to Facebook or the tweeted quip may be more effective in generating relevant political action than the philosophical treatise.

The common good that we work together for, the democracy that we truly desire: if we want it, if we desire it, we must be able to imagine it. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, valued the imagination and the power of deep desires[6]. Peace: we must be able to imagine it. We must be able to imagine the God of diverse religions demanding it, the spirits of diverse cultures fostering it, the heroes of diverse histories establishing it, the wise people of our age achieving it. Peace: we must be able to imagine it. The State apologizing to the Filipino Muslim for treating him as an inferior human because of his faith; the Church apologizing to the Muslim for not having respected her religious freedom then as it does today. The royal brothers Tabunaway and Mamalu of Maguindanao living in peace in the diversity of their religions, one embracing Islam, the other constant in his indigenous beliefs. Ourselves, Christians and Muslims in Mindanao, sharing the dinner table at home, enjoying each others’ cooking, finding communion with each other in mutual trust and appreciation. Indigenous people thriving autonomously as Filipinos in the fullness of their cultural heritage within their ancestral domains and respected by other Filipinos. Humanity: we must be able to imagine it: human fullness without unbridled material consumption, human wealth without human obesity, human flourishing without offensive opulence, human celebration without human exclusion, human excellence and achievement without human pride and destruction. Flourishing: we must be able to imagine genuine joy, personal fulfillment, true happiness and wisdom in individuals-serving-all in society.   We must be able to celebrate that flourishing in song, in dance, in attire, in the manner in which we build and adorn our common home. The imagined democracy is more politically effective than the rational democracy.

If then schools such as mine are to engage in genuinely transformative education, it must complement the common good rationally conceived with the common good imagined, desired and pursued in cultivated multi-disciplinarity and in decided action. As “the wolf and the lamb shall graze together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food” (Is 65:25), so the fictive imagination shall feast together with rational intelligence, the sage shall dine with the poet, the sociologist with the philosopher, and the imagined common good shall be realized in the political action of people like you and me. In the freedom of imagination and will for the fullness of life, we must decide for this – and nothing less.


[1] Please find this address uploaded to my blog:

[2] Cf. Paolo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 1968.

[3] Pope St. John Paul II describes solidarity as “a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say to the good of all and of each individual, because we are really responsible for all” (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 38).

[4] On this topic from the philosophical viewpoint as enriched by Catholic Social Teaching, I would like to recommend the recently published: Patrick Riordan, Philippine Common Goods: the Good Life for All (Davao: Ateneo de Davao University Publication Office, 2016) with its engaging discussion on burning issues relevant to the Duterte administration. My references to the common good in this address lean on this book.

[5] For a thorough discussion of this topic, cf. Yaron Ezrahi, Imagined Democracies: Necessary Political fictions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012). The book asks in its Preface, “How did the influential ideas of Locke, Rousseau, Condorcet, Paine, Jefferson, Kant, Mill and Dewey about rational politics informed by public knowledge and participatory citizenships develop into democracies where expertise is a diminishing source of authority, where politics mediated by mass media is shaped more by the suasive emotional and cognitive powers of pictures and images than by well-constructed arguments, driven by marketing culture rather than civic ethos, determined by individuals behaving like consumers, not like citizens?”

[6] Prayer in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius is regularly preceded by the exercitant’s articulation of id quod volo, “that which I desire.” The use of the imagination is an integral part of Ignatian spiritualty and prayer.

About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
This entry was posted in Address, Justice and Peace, Philippine Educational Reform and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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