The Aesthetics of Ordinary Life: Dr. Mariano lectures at the Fellows’ Night on the meaning of Human Class

The Aesthetics of Ordinary Life: Dr. Mariano lectures at the Fellows’ Night on the meaning of Human Class

Dr. Jose Maria Mariano in the middle of his talk “What is Human Class?”

by Francis Perez

The Universitas Fellows’ Night, a monthly gathering that fosters camaraderie and friendship among those closely involved in running the affairs of the Foundation, held its second run last March 20, 2019, featuring Dr. Jose Maria “Jojo” Mariano as the evening’s speaker. Dr. Mariano, former university president and currently an associate professor of University of Asia and the Pacific (UA&P), has already taken part in several activities of Universitas.

For 30 years, he has been with UA&P and has served the institution in different capacities, which include being the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, the Vice President for Administrative Affairs, and, for fifteen years, the University’s President. He had also held several positions in what was then known as the Center for Research and Communication (CRC), the precursor of UA&P.

Dr. Mariano graduated from Ateneo de Manila University in 1977, obtaining his Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics, before he went to King’s College London where he obtained his Masters in 1978. He finished his Doctorate in Philosophy from the University of Navarre in 1988.

The evening began with the Fellows and their friends exchanging pleasantries and ideas, getting to know people who were new to Universitas, and catching up with those who had not been able to attend the activities of the Foundation in a while. The headquarters was packed with people of diverse backgrounds—students and professionals from different fields—who came from different places all over Metro Manila. Some came from their schools and workplaces located in the Ortigas area, while others came all the way from Quezon City, Manila, and many others.

Universitas President & CEO Oliver Tuazon having a light conversation with friends

After Dr. Mariano was introduced by Neil Nabuab, the former began his talk on “Human Class”. He started by making some remarks about the Universitas office and the people in it, relating this to how one can understand what human class is. He, then, laid down the questions that would guide the listeners through the lecture: What is Human Class? Which faculties of man enable it? Is it grounded on human nature? Can it be taught? And how can it be taught?

As Dr. Mariano lectured, there was no other sound in the room, save for his speaking voice, which echoed throughout the office. Everyone else was in silence, perhaps reflecting and allowing their minds to absorb as much of the lecture as they could, as Dr. Mariano went on comparing human class to a “well-toned guitar or muscle,” further relating this to and explaining the idea behind calidad humana, which means sterling quality.

He continued by sharing the characteristics of Human Class: It is about appearances; it is the “aesthetics of ordinary life” and the “aesthetics of human dignity”, because it is not only abstract, but embodied and appears in bodily form. It may, he further stated, require minimal skill, but has enormous value for human life; and finally, it best develops in an environment of human class.

These characteristics were taken by Dr. Mariano in relation to how we function not only within the walls of the Universitas office, but also with respect to how we practice and live the principles we’ve learned and stand by, as part of the Universitas Foundation– finishing one’s work quietly and punctually, communicating one’s thoughts clearly, and observing politeness and modesty. He also spoke of how human class can be seen as an external manifestation of how one lives the cardinal virtues.

Indeed, according to Dr. Mariano, not only does human class have to do with appearances, but also with having the “instinct for ordinary beauty,” which means that we ought to be in harmony with our environment, to be conscious of the wonders of our day-to-day experiences, and to see what is beyond the merely functional elements of the objects around us. Our empathy moves us to make accessible to ordinary people what seems to be extraordinary, to find beauty and aesthetic “in laying the table or folding the dinner napkin”.

Dr. Mariano showing the different adaptations of Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring”

Dr Mariano continued his lecture on Human Class by relating it to human dignity. He put forward that the education in human class aims to promote interest, not primarily in “a person’s body parts”, but in the “embodied person”, by giving value to the refinements with which we deal with persons through the perceivable features of everyday life. He also stressed the idea that education in human class goes beyond imposing dress codes, because the “aesthetics of human dignity” transcends codes of any sort. Developing human class is not primarily a matter of training in skills but a commitment to values. And possessing it is not a matter of success but of character.

He finished by explaining how Human Class can be taught to others, that is, in the form of “motivational conversation”, something akin to the mentoring program that is currently being done by the Foundation. Nevertheless, he reminded the listeners that mentoring is not simply “prescribing behavior, but experiencing the mentor’s personality, which then facilitates the improvement”. He went on by saying that we have to respect the autonomy of the person because “change begins in the learner, not in the teacher. Let the person change [on his own]. [We must employ] collaboration rather than [using] prescriptive approach.”

“To promote human class, everyone must contribute to human class,” and, for the fellows and friends of Universitas, this begins by their striving to be principled leaders both within the Foundation, as well as outside of it, bringing their values and ideas to all kinds of people wherever they may go.

Universitas Fellows and Friends pose with Dr. Mariano

NOTA BENE: The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author, and the speakers mentioned in the article, and not necessarily to the Foundation.

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