Shortly before the awarding ceremonies of the Ten Outstanding Students of the Philippines (TOSP) in Malacañang, while waiting for the President, I was approached by a past president of the Rotary Club of Makati Central (RCMC) to be the guest speaker in their New Generations Month that year.
Having been one of those who actively composed the response speech of TOSP that year, I began my talk at RCMC with the major theme of the speech:
“We expressed our fortune of being part of a democratic government working at its best to make our country a globally competitive nation. However, we are aware of the socio-economic and political problems besetting our country like poverty, threats to peace and security, injustice, ignorance and destruction of our environment. And in the analysis of these problems, we were united in the realization that their common root is the seeping moral decadence in our society. And the real crisis that we have is not the crises brought about by these social ills plaguing our country but in the ultimate sense, a moral crisis!”
Then I composed a paradigm for nation building focusing on the role of the youth. From that paradigm developed several other talks, seminars and training programs for the youth.
That was almost ten years ago.
Up to press time, I have been giving these talks, seminars and workshops adjusted to a variety of youth groups- students and even young professionals. The paradigm developed as the talks improved and as I train other young people to give similar seminars and workshops, and as we go from province to province, from school to school, literally from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, and as we learn from the young people themselves.
As the talks matured through time and experience, we thought it is but time to put them into writing. We then hope to reach young people who may not have attended our seminars but at least have read our book.
Why back to basics?
When I was invited to give a talk to the illustrious gentlemen of RCMC, I was challenged to bring out what I thought the youth could do to build our nation. I was fresh out of college then. I could not give them a talk on economics, politics, business and what have you that may be needed to build our nation. For sure, they were more knowledgeable than I in those fields.
I went to the basics—what we all have in common and what we all should strive to be whether we are young or old. I was then speaking to a relatively much older crowd. But these are universal principles common to all men and women at all times. Hence, they are easily understood even when I talk to a child or a mature person, a white or a black person, a Christian or a Muslim, whatever be one’s creed, race or nationality. These universal principles, tackled as a whole in Chapter 2, are what constitute the paradigm for nation building that will now unfold.
What is the basic contribution of a young person in nation building? Himself or herself, because in practical terms, compared to his elders, he does not have anything much.
But we should not stop there. That self, if it has to contribute to the well-being of our nation, has to be formed in the right way. One of the articles in Chapter 4 on “the need for formation” precisely tackles this. But let me emphasize that unless we are properly formed, we could not expect to contribute to nation building. Just look at cases of juvenile delinquencies. Before we fight against the social ills that plague our country like the ones mentioned above, we have to start ‚fighting‛ with ourselves. Before we dream of changing the world, we have to start changing ourselves. We have to undergo serious formation. In the end, even those social ills may be traced from a lack of formation of the people who caused them.
There are two possibilities here. Either we undergo the necessary formation to help build our nation or we become a menace or at best a cute little problem in our society. Just like becoming wine or vinegar. Both have similar raw materials but depending on the process they undergo, one becomes wine and another, vinegar. Yes, the process is important, which includes the physical and moral environment where one grows.
One has to be clear with his goals, which have to be united to his Ultimate End. That End, which we should keep in mind as we pursue the minor ends that we have in this life, provides the means and the direction in our life. The problem is when we live life as if it is just one activity after another, without a sense of purpose, a sense of direction, a sense of the End.
Why is this important? A little diversion now from one’s End, when one is young, may not be noticeable but if you project that diversion for several years, it would mean going astray. It was a little diversion that turned into a habit, then into a lifestyle, up to such point that one does not notice that he has gone too far from his End. Just like something that is meant to be wine turning into vinegar. You will understand this more clearly as you go through each part of the paradigm for nation building below.
This personal formation that is needed by each one in order to contribute to nation building is likened to a foundation. It is common knowledge that the higher the building, the deeper and stronger its foundation should be. And what are the components of this foundation? Several. But they could be classified into three general categories, as my friends in the civil engineering studies confirmed: the support component which could be made of wood or most usually, steel; the small components of gravel, sand and pebbles; and the component that puts all these together, the cement.
The steel component: excellence and a sense of duty
We liken the support component of this foundation to professional excellence, and in the case of students, to academic excellence.
Let us be the best that we can be. We need a sense of professionalism, and together with that, a sense of time in fulfilling our tasks at hand. When I go to some provinces to give talks, I feel so relaxed. The pace of life is laid back with a little sense of urgency in doing one’s work. This ‘take it easy’ work attitude is reflected somehow in the ‘take it easy’ development that one observes in many of these provinces.
I am not advocating, on the other hand, a sense of professionalism just for the sake of it. Neither am I pushing for work, work and work as if that is the only thing in the world. I would tell my students as I convince them to excel in their studies that studying is not everything. We have to work, again, with a sense of purpose, i.e., to work not just for ourselves and our immediate family and friends but also for the others- our fellowmen and essentially, for God.
If we work this way, we will avoid acquiring illnesses related to work: “workosis” in general and “studiosis” for students in particular. These two concepts are both inflammations of work and study in as much as conjunctivitis or sore eyes is an inflammation of the conjunctiva. Those who fall into workosis bury themselves in their work night and day while they neglect their family, social and religious duties. Those who fall into studiosis are students who do not have anything else in mind but their assignments, their next report, examination or recitation class, at the expense of everything else.
Workosis and studiosis are extremes of work. I will not bother to discuss the other extreme of sloth because we are precisely talking here about excellence.
How do we excel then? We have to learn how to compete, not with others, but with ourselves- to outdo ourselves. They say that our tropical weather induces one to laziness. It may, but the human spirit could go beyond the dictates of weather. Unless we are completely convinced that we could give our best and be the best in whatever situation we find ourselves, we will not move forward or if we do, we will not aim for the highest we could reach. As what two summa cum laudes of my alma mater said two years ago: if you aim for the roof, you fall on the floor; if you aim for the sky, you fall on the roof.
Compete with yourself. Again, give your best in everything you do. You could truly give your best if you give yourself- body and soul- in what you do. The problem sometimes is we work on one thing and our mind is somewhere else. Aim to get the highest prestige you could in your profession. As my friend said to students: there is no excuse for those who could be scholars and are not. Prestige, yes, but without getting nervous, without stepping on the others, without falling into studiosis.
How about failure? Yes, we could fail. I would even go far as to say that we need failure in order to succeed, at least in this life. Failure makes us realize that we are not perfect and precisely because of this knowledge of our imperfection, we could go ahead working with our personal strengths and weaknesses at the back of our mind. Knowing our defects gives us a true picture of who we really are and it will eventually help us overcome them.
I always tell parents, when I get the chance to talk to them, not to be afraid to allow their children to experience failure. Otherwise, when will they learn to get over failure which is part and parcel of our earthly life? Have you ever met someone who never had failed in his life? I am not referring to failures in exams but to day to day discomforts and misfortunes brought about by our interpersonal relationships at home, in school and at work.
I have heard parents say many times that they do not want their children to experience the difficulties they underwent during their time: when they had to walk to school short of allowance; when they had to work in between classes to pay for their tuition and board, etc. Hence, they give everything the children want, not just what they need. They would even rescue them from “trifling failures” so they would not get hurt even just a bit. They start bringing up children in a fantasy world where everything works well or if they do not, they have a “supermom” or a “superdad” to rescue them.
Many times, these are the children who rebel when their parents could not give anymore what they want. Sometimes, after realizing their mistakes, parents start disciplining their children when they already got used to it. Hope that it is not yet too late or very difficult to teach the child. I am sometimes amazed with the invented problems of these children which are nothing compared to real problems of many of our poor countrymen. One child for example has a ‘big’ problem of not having a cell phone with a camera, while a poor kid of the same age does not even have sandals to wear.
That brings me to another point: strive for excellence in spite of financial difficulties. I often tell my friends that difficulties should only make us stronger! How fond it is to remember friends who have gone through college, even graduating with honors, in spite of financial straits! Since I have been working as a volunteer in several study centers since I was in college- Tuburan in Iloilo City and Lauan, Samar and Kapuluan in Quezon City- I have had first hand experience dealing with students who are poor. But their material poverty does not discourage them from excelling. I have several anecdotes but let me focus on one.
I have this friend who had to sometimes walk to our study center from U.P. since he did not have enough money sometimes to commute. One day, his mother called me up because she was not able to deposit a couple of a hundred pesos that day on time and hence, he did not have money to eat. In spite of this, he went through college topping his classes, graduated magna cum laude and even got the highest student award in his College. And he did not spend his entire life in U.P. just studying. He was into several social outreach projects- teaching English, Math, Values and catechism to public school children.
Again, do not let your difficulties and failures put you down. As what my friend said: step on them and then you will be higher from the ground than before. Then we will be happy with our achievements no matter how small they are and we will not be discouraged with failures brought about by our human limitation. We will also learn to be happy with the success of others. One of the defects of a Filipino I was taught in elementary school was crab mentality. We have to vow to keep away with it! We have to start working as a nation and not as Ilocanos, Visayans, Tagalogs and what have you. We have to start thinking not just of our immediate family but of our entire nation and then eventually, we could work for what I call true globalization where everyone is working together as brothers and sisters in one entire family on this earth, with God as our common Father.
In this way, we avoid falling into a wrong type of love for country which despises the others. I go for patriotism more than for nationalism as what my friend wrote, “Love your own country: it is a Christian virtue to be patriotic. But if patriotism becomes nationalism, which leads you to look at other people, at other countries, with indifference, with scorn, without Christian charity and justice, then it is a sin.”
Finally, let us strive for excellence loving our work. When I discovered that the Latin root word of diligence which is “diligere” means “to love”, I gave it as a bonus question to my ever diligent microbiology students. One of them approached me after the exam and said that he had been studying for the past years, giving his best, but without having learned to love what he had been doing. It struck me too that unless we put love into our work, especially in our computer generation, our work could just be the work of a machine: well done but does not have the human touch of love. When we start doing our work with a lot of love- for God, most especially- then, we start seeing panoramas we have never seen before and our work will not just be better but we will begin to see ourselves becoming better too.
The gravel, sand and pebble components: virtues
We likened the steel component of this foundation we are trying to build to excellence in one’s work or studies. We work, or study for that matter, not just to earn a living but in order to acquire knowledge and skills. As we do this in a constant and stable way, we acquire virtues which will eventually help us attain personal maturity.
Virtues are those stable dispositions that make a person good or do good. It is to these that we liken the gravel, sand and pebble components of this foundation. They are built from the constant practice of moral values that are systematically discussed in Chapter 2.
One acquires virtues as he constantly practices a good act, up to a point that that act becomes part of him, his second nature. In simple words, we call a virtue a good habit, as opposed to vice as a bad habit. But both are habits- acts that you have gotten used to that to practice them does not require much effort anymore at some point.
One day, one of my predecessors in Kapuluan said in a rather shocking way that we should train the students who come to our Center in virtue lest they become D.O.M. He meant dirty old men. Why so? He said that what he had been teaching theoretically when he was dealing with university students is now an actual, living reality for him as he deals with professionals.
A dirty old man does not notice anymore that he is dirty. But the people around him know that he is dirty and unless he has a good friend to tell him, no one will dare tell him to change for the better. That is the epitome of vice- when one does not notice anymore his own bad ways. It has become second nature to him.
And so it is with virtue. It is a good habit. And you do not acquire a habit overnight. You acquire a virtue through practice and learning from the failure of not practicing it. And the best time to develop virtues is when one is still young. Those who say that they will start living a good life when they are old end up living miserable, vicious lives, unless perhaps they are granted special divine assistance, which could help them start developing good habits when it is a bit late. But it may not be easy. First, they have to root out the bad habits they have acquired through the years while they start acquiring the corresponding good habits. What popular knowledge says is true: it is hard to teach old dogs new tricks.
And virtues, as you live them day in and day out, make up your lifestyle. I got that idea from a friend when I was discussing with him the importance of cultivating virtues while he is still young. He told me that he got the idea quickly because he remembered his values education teacher in high school telling them about a lifestyle of sin. People who have gotten use to some vices end up having a lifestyle of sin.
Don’t think of majestic feats here, especially now that movies of superheroes of all sorts proliferate. It is true that many times these superheroes exemplify certain virtues like courage and charity. We cannot all be superheroes but virtuous men and women, yes! How do we start? Start with little things. Have we not heard several times that a thousand mile starts with a single step and he who could be trusted in what is little could also be trusted in what is great?
Do not get used to bad manners, no matter how small they are and whether you are alone or with others. If you do not root them out while they are small, you will get used to them later and it will be very difficult to root them out. I was convinced of this idea during the time when there were unexpectedly a number of cockroaches infesting our house up to a point that you just see them dead on the floor without having to do anything. At first, we were quick in removing each and every cockroach we found on the floor. As the days progressed, after one cockroach was not immediately removed and then another, we started getting used to it. Until one day, someone got into his senses, removed all dead cockroaches on the floor and reminded us to start developing the habit of removing cockroaches right away.
I have not mentioned the smell of cockroaches or any foul smelling matter you could think of. If you do not mind the smell, you will end up getting used to it. I used to wonder how people in slum areas, and in some unkempt hospitals, live with the smell, until I studied more on habits.
We could apply these in our own lives. We may have this defect or this bad habit. We notice it at the start – we smell the bad odor thanks to our sensory faculties or our bad character thanks to our spiritual faculties. If we do not mind correcting these things, we could end up getting used to them. What is worse is when we start justifying our having a bad odor or bad character. That is what we see around us many times. This is mainly due to pride which could be the most insidious vice. People who realize their bad character, if they are not humble enough to acknowledge them and work on acquiring the corresponding good habit, start justifying their being just like that. My friend, in fact, wrote, “don’t say that’s the way I am, it’s my character. No, it’s your lack of character. ‘Esto vir!’
Esto vir, be a man! Virtue in fact could be traced for the Latin word “virtus” which means strength or manliness. Man here refers to human beings male and female. Virtues are good for man because they make man more a man. They are rooted in human nature. Hence, we live them not as if they come from without but as they are within man. Hence, we develop our personality more as we develop and grow in virtue. That is why we want to root out bad habits or vices, not only because they make us look bad but because they stunt our full human development, they go against what we are, our human nature.
The practice of virtue has been promoted since time immemorial. In fact, the four cardinal virtues of Prudence, Justice, Fortitude and Temperance had been described by the ancient Greek philosophers like Plato. They are cardinal virtues because they serve as hinges to which other virtues could be traced and they refer to the different faculties of man’s body and soul. Prudence rests on man’s intellect; justice on his will; fortitude on his irascible appetite and temperance on his concupiscible appetite. You may refer to classic works on virtues, especially Aristotle’s, Aquinas’ and Pieper’s, if you wish to go deeper into this topic.
I started this chapter quoting a part of my speech to the RCMC where I pointed out the major concern the TOSP 1996 finalists presented to President Ramos at that time: that the real crisis that we have is not the crises brought about by social ills plaguing our country but in the ultimate sense, a moral crisis! And I now add that that moral crisis stems from a crisis in virtue.
It seems that our present day society has neglected the promotion of virtue. In fact, ask young people nowadays and you will be surprised that they do not really understand the meaning of virtue. There seems to be so much praise given on aberrant lifestyles which are actually external expressions of bad habits, and so little talk on good manners.
One of the most neglected virtues now is purity which has two brothers, modesty and decency. And it affects young people a lot. There is so much talk about sex in media- we have sex bomb dancers, sex in the city television program and all sorts of shows, ads, articles that refer directly or indirectly to sex. And yet, there is very little or no public talk on purity!
When I went to Dipolog recently, at the Dapitan port, I saw a poster perhaps misplaced in the Tourism desk, promoting the use of condom as a protection against AIDS. I saw a similar ad in the Perth airport that gave me a negative image of the city. Near the urinals in the men’s room are actual condoms posted with a similar message as the one in Dipolog. I wondered whether Perth had the reputation for sex trade such that the first impression they give of their city, in their very own airport, is ”protection” from AIDS. What are they asking us to protect ourselves against AIDS from? From our wives? I still remember the visit of a senator from Thailand nicknamed “condom king” in our country. He was promoting condom as a protection against AIDS. In Thailand where there condom use is prolific, AIDS cases number more than half a million. And he is asking us to use condom here where we only have around 3,000 cases of AIDS in a population of 85M?
What appears to be promoted here is not protection against AIDS but sexual promiscuity among the youth. What do you distribute condoms in schools for? Or in activities of school organizations or in university fairs? And our older ones are wondering why there is an increasing rate of premarital sex going on. And together with that, demand for abortions. It is a slippery slope- give them contraception and later they will ask for abortion and euthanasia. Just read what is going on in countries where there is easy access to and promotion of contraception. The destruction of life and its subsequent culture of death is unimaginable. We have to learn from their mistakes and be wise enough not to repeat them in our own country.
Purity is a very attractive virtue, like any virtue for that matter because it helps perfect human nature. It has to be presented as it is- a positive act that develops the whole person and upholds the very dignity that is proper to it. My friend best describes it as an affirmation of love. When you love someone, you will do everything, no matter how small to please him or her and you avoid everything, no matter how small, that would displease him or her in any way. That is purity. When you deny yourself of something that will destroy this virtue (e.g., not watching porn), it is not a deprivation of your capacity to act. It rather an appreciation of something higher, of your human dignity as enhanced by the virtue of purity.
It is part of the cardinal virtue of temperance whose small brothers, modesty and decency are but external manifestations of one’s inner purity. That is why those who are modest in their behavior and decent in the way they dress up and speak reflect an inner purity. That is why I always tell my friends to dress up well and elegantly because it reflects not just their character but their respects towards the people who will meet them.
I encourage all young people to see purity as it is – something good, attractive and positive. Start living it even if all your friends tell you otherwise. You are making a good investment for your future- it would help you keep away from marital infidelities that are becoming more common nowadays because precisely of the lack of training in purity in recent years. Live it because, as my friend wrote, “it is among the chaste where you find the finest men in every way and among the lustful predominate the timid, the selfish, the treacherous and cruel characters of little manliness.”
Another virtue that is perhaps talked about more but practiced less is honesty. There is so much graft and corruption around. Don’t look too far so as to blame the government. Look at where you live or where you work. Again, corruption starts as any vice with what is small and apparently trivial thing.
Have you not been told as a student that it is better to fail an exam than to cheat? It is quite surprising that many high school students, even from Catholic schools, have developed the attitude that it is all right to cheat in exams as long as you are not caught. It should have been less in Catholic schools where it is supposed to be taught that the teacher may not be around to watch over your exam but God is there to see you all the time. But even than doctrine which promotes honesty may not even be taught anymore.
Why is it better to cheat than to fail an exam? To fail an exam is just for a moment. It may even boost you to study better so as to pass the next exam. But to cheat in an exam is a personal failure and it may be the start of a whole string of cheating expeditions- to your parents, friends, spouse in the future, etc. Enough of the business and government scandals which, I opine, could be traced to some small acts of dishonesty that were not corrected by those involved, up to such point that they do not anymore notice that they are taking part in a scandal!
Look at this story of a public school teacher somewhere in the south. His superintendent asked him and his fellow teachers to help their senior students answer the National Secondary Aptitude Test (NSAT).
He found it difficult to teach honesty in class because he was compelled to teach and allow his students to cheat during a national exam. Why so? In order for their district to get a high mark in that national exam. This example shows our obsession for our “image,” of what people think about us, which is what vanity is all about. The other vice related to it is pride which refers to what we think of ourselves.
As the old saying says, we have to practice what we teach. Truly, good example is the best teacher. Yes, we also have to teach virtues while we strive to live them. It is not enough to say that values are caught not taught. A good way to start is to make a list of virtues that you think you have to work on like prudence, honesty, chastity, diligence, sincerity, generosity, civic- mindedness, patriotism, obedience, temperance, fortitude, etc. Then, prioritize. Determine which one you are going to work on first. It is best to start working on what you find most difficult. Read something about that virtue or attend a talk or a seminar about it. There are many good books around explaining virtues. I know of study centers all around the country which offer training on virtue. As you strive to acquire that first virtue, you will realize that you are also working on some aspects of another virtue and another, since they are interrelated. As what the angelic doctor said, virtues are like fingers which grow together at the same time. They are all rooted in human nature. Then, you would realize that it is not really that difficult to be good, or to acquire this particular virtue. The moment it becomes second nature to you, you would know that you have acquired that good habit, that you are now living the virtue.
I suggest that you start with the virtue of diligence. It is connected to the first component of this foundation which is aiming for excellence and it is a virtue that will help you live other virtues connected to work. As I mentioned above, diligence means learning how to love your work. It is connected with industriousness and hardwork. When one loves his work (diligence) and gives his very best efforts in it (industriousness), he does not mind the difficulties that come along the way (fortitude); he comes to work on time (punctuality) and follows a schedule (order); he tries to work well with the others (conviviality), helps them (charity) and shares to them his knowledge and skills (generosity); he is conscious of being tidy and well- dressed (decency) and avoids coarse manners and the use of foul language in dealing with his peers (modesty); he keeps his mind clean (purity) so as to focus on his work and not be distracted with impure thoughts; he comes home on time so as to take care of his family (responsibility) and he finds time to be with his children and attend to their needs and his wife’s (paternal piety); he offers his work to God (piety) which provides meaning to what he does and thereby makes him give his best in everything; with piety, he knows that he is but an administrator of the goods of this world and his own talents (humility) which will prevent him from falling into pride; and you could go on and on. Virtues are interconnected. Start with the one which will bring you to the rest.
Now you see that acquiring virtue is a lifelong process. We grow in virtue as we go through life. We could never really say that we are sufficiently formed, in as much as we could not really say that after several years of striving to acquire the virtue of humility and root out pride in our life, we are now humble. Formation never ends. It is rather moving to see older people undergoing formation as eagerly as high school students, year after year, month after month and week after week, not to mention their daily struggles to live virtues. I have seen that with my own eyes. I have several friends, some of them could have been my fathers, who up to know undergo formation with a lot of zest!
To end this gravel, sand and pebble component for nation building, I like to recall one of the most understood way of presenting the idea of building one’s character which is forged by virtue. We have to be aware that what enters our external senses- smell, taste, hearing, touch, sight- help form our thoughts, our ideas. Our ideas, in turn, are reflected in our actions. Our speech, for example, reflects what is in our mind. One cannot sustain a good deed if it is not based on firm convictions (e.g., good ideas). How many charitable works have been started and not sustained? These actions build up our habits- virtues if they are good and vices if they are bad. And our character is a summation of all these habits. And all these constitute our lifestyle- the way we live, the way we view events in our life. This gives use a good reason to be more discerning in our forms of entertainment. Now that mass media has become the greatest educator of our time, we have to be prudent in the type of music we listen to and most especially on what we watch.
It is sad but the television is not as wholesome as it was before. There is so much pornography around. There are so many scenes in movies that depict intimate relations in the name of art. There was even a point when I have not seen as many underwear billboards in other cities like Los Angeles, Perth, Singapore, Boston, Rome, San Francisco and Paris, as there was in Metro Manila. Creative people seem not to get out of the box showing skins and bodies.
We are losing our sense of intimacy, the self- respect that we have and that sensitivity towards our fellowmen. Some people say that sex scenes have to be shown in movies so as to portray what is going on, what is natural. I beg to disagree. What is natural in sex is that it is intimate, it is between two persons, man and woman. And not just between a man and a woman who meet each other on the street. Their relationship have to be sealed by marriage, an institution which ensures the commitment of the couple and not just their infatuation, and the proper nurturing of the fruits of that committed relationship- children who are actually you and me. Otherwise, we will just be a couple of dogs on the street, meeting each other and decide to have sex. That is why a woman who precisely act that way is called a bitch, a female dog. The same would be true for a man acting like a male dog. It seems that we have a lot of them now and it seems that that is what is promoted. Just look at Filipino movies and the ‘values’ they promote.
What is the effect of all these? So much promiscuity around. If we do not act to clean up our moral environment, the young people we ‘nurture’ now in such an environment will grow up spent and without deep moral convictions. Again, one does not get firm convictions overnight. We have to start forming the youth in virtue now.
The cementing material: faith
And what will put all these components- steel, gravel, sand and pebbles- together? The cement. This we liken to faith in God. You do not need to be “religious” for you to acknowledge the existence of God and your total dependence on Him, the source and end of all your actions.
Look at the preamble of the Philippine Constitution, a secular law which is the backbone of the whole judiciary system of our country. It talks about “imploring the aid of Almighty God.” The same thing is true with the Constitution of the United States which talks about the equality of men under one God.
Now one could see, a little bit more than before, people who call themselves atheists. That is just but one product of a hedonistic and materialistic environment that we now have in our society. This is because God is diametrically opposed to hedonism and materialism. He is a pure spirit, i.e., not bound by the limits of sensual pleasures and material goods.
There is a God and we could not possibly explain Him using natural science as a sole tool. As a man of science, I find it amusing when people confuse science with faith- when they say that there is conflict between the two. The object of natural science is material things even if they are not seen with one’s bare eyes. The object of faith is God who is a pure spirit, i.e., immaterial, one that is not made of parts. Air is invisible but material. Thanks to the advent of gas chromatography that allows us to examine the material components of air. But what is spiritual is both invisible and immaterial. And God is like that. That is why it is arrogant for a scientist to conclude, out of his own study of natural science, that there is no God because God is beyond the scope of mere scientific study. Science pursues the truth in material beings which could never be in conflict with God who is Truth Himself.
So there is a God. In fact, it is more difficult to prove that there is no God than to prove that there is a God. There are even ways of proving the existence of God using natural reason alone but this is not the scope of this book. God exists even if you sincerely believe that he does not exist- you are just sincerely wrong.
Why is this important? I mentioned at the start of this chapter that a minor digression from our path towards the Ultimate End when one is young may not be noticeable. Not so when you project several years hence. And that Ultimate End, which is the basis for the minor and apparent ends that we have in this life, is God. That Ultimate End is not worth attainable if it is less than God.
If you do not believe in God as the Supreme Being, you will start creating your own god. By his very nature, man is ‚religious. “Religion” comes from two Latin words, ”re” and “ligare”, which when combined could mean “to bind oneself.” If we do not “bind” ourselves to the Supreme Being, we will bind ourselves to other lesser beings- a person, an ideology or even to ourselves. We always “bind” ourselves to someone or to something. We are not hanging on thin air. Hence, it is but uplifting to one’s human nature to bind oneself to Him who is the Supreme Being, He who is, God, the fullness of truth and fullness of good. This is important because the effective orientation of our whole life depends on our acceptance of God.
Faith grows like any other virtue. That is why it is good to devote time to go deep in our knowledge of God through study and acts of piety. Thus completes the components of the foundation that we want to build: we work with competence based on firm virtues and anchored on a living faith in God.
A foundation that is deep
In my conversations with the youth as I give these talks around the country, I could see that youthful desire to go and live these principles. Yet, sometimes it is just all desires. Ideals are only as worth as their being carried out, their being lived. The components may be there but the foundation is not that deep. It is like putting together steel, sand, gravel, pebbles and cement on the floor. One has to dig deep to make the foundation and put these things together in their proper place.
Yes, deep. I would say further, very deep. We have the tendency to be shallow, to be contented on what we already have. There has to be that deep-seated desire to excel, that deep longing to live the virtues and that deep faith in God. For that we have to be leaders. And the essentials of leadership, as rightly stated by Charles Chaput, are character and competence- precisely the first two building blocks of the foundation we have been discussing about. In giving leadership seminars and expounding on character and competence, it seemed to me that there is another component of leadership that was made important in our country and in fact it seemed to be the only thing for some. And that is charm.
It is evident in our national politics that a big premium is invested in charm. You may not be very competent and virtuous but as long as you have charm, you could win an election. That is why some of those who wish to win national posts painstakingly become models for soaps or what have you before the elections. The need for charm is very much ingrained in our political life that many actors and actresses are now politicians. I am not saying that all of them are incompetent. What I am saying is that there is a growing number of politicians coming from people in mass media and the movie industry than those coming from other professions.
We have to commit ourselves to this ideal and go deep in it, up to such point that we make it our own. It should not be something “imposed” to us from outside. We have to voluntarily take it upon ourselves. We have to make it our own, personal project! Why? The building of a nation is the responsibility of its own citizens more than anyone else. If all of us have the attitude of going abroad when life becomes difficult in our country, we will never build our nation. We will not only miss the opportunity of helping our country when she needs us most but also the opportunity of “building” ourselves- to learn how to get over difficulties and not just escape from them. We should not be afraid to sweat, to suffer and to sacrifice ourselves for our country. Moreover, as stated above, we should not be contented with mere charm- we have to acquire a great deal of competence in our work and a solid, unfazed character!
The need for role models
We mentioned about the need for a good environment, a suitable place where to build our nation. This environment is provided to the youth by their elders. In more concrete terms, by their good example. A friend told me that the general lack of commitment among young people these days may be attributed to a lack of role models of commitment among the older ones.
It is quite evident that there are more and more children coming from broken families- another effect of the aberrant lifestyles promoted by the media. Young people are afraid to commit because they may end up having a failed marital life. This could stem from a lack of understanding of love. One of the articles in Chapter 4 entitled “I would rather” talks about this. How many among the youth understand love as giving one’s entire self to the loved one up to the point of sacrifice?
Let me discuss a bit then about my favorite topic: love. What is being presented to us by media is that love is merely sensual pleasure, feelings. As mentioned in that article on love in Chapter 4, love is more in the will than in feelings. Feelings may be strong for a time but if they are the only basis for love, they will not survive a lifelong relationship. As what a line from a popular song goes, “feelings, nothing more than feelings.” Look at couples who want to break away when they do not feel like it anymore. The problem is that many of our public figures either are divorced, have extramarital relationships, are “living-in,” or have homosexual partners. The problem is that these lifestyles are being promoted not just subliminally as before but in a more aggressive way through shows and films.
I am not trying to put down people in these situations. I pray they change their ways and correct their relationships in order for them to live better, happy lives. I always believe in the capacity of people to change for the better, to change for that which will perfect their humanity, although it may take a lot of effort. As I always tell my students: we should not condemn people because they could still change, although we may get mad for their actions which had been done and could not be changed anymore. My major concern is that young people are very much affected by this. They are presented with situations at an age where they could not discern yet what is right from wrong. With these, they are encouraged to “try things out” and without proper guidance, they end up destroying the integrity of their moral life. They become calloused and desensitized to these aberrant lifestyles up to the point of justifying them, instead of correcting them. And the rest of the story follows. Several broken families, children with no moral guides, etc.
Perhaps many would agree with me to call parents as domestic moral leaders. However, if parents themselves- and we are seeing a lot more of them now- do not have a strong sense of virtue and a real understanding of love, how could they command respect and authority in teaching their children these values? Hence, we need also some sort of parent education. More and more, parents are coming from those who grew up under the sexual revolution when all these confusions on human sexuality arose. And if they did not get the right education in these matters, it will be difficult for them to transmit the proper values to their children. There are some initiatives now on parent training I heard of like EDUCHILD where parents learn how to be good spouses and domestic leaders to their children starting with the example of their lives. One of the articles in Chapter 4 on “Table manners for the home” came from a world-renowned figure on parenting, James B. Stenson, whose articles could be downloaded from his website (www.parentleadership.com).
If the domestic moral leaders are doing their job very well, my experience in dealing with university students for the past ten years says that the children are saved by whatever bad influence they may encounter along the way. In case they get affected, they will most likely recover with a little reminder of basic moral principles which they knew by heart because they have grown with them. I got reminded of this when one day my sister told me that she revived the practice of praying the Rosary everyday with her children. She said that she wanted her children to have a good memory of their childhood piety so that in case they go astray in their old age, they would have a good memory to go back to and reform their lives once again. A friend told me a similar thing. He said that what brought him back to wanting to lead a good life is his basic values education and basic catechism which he learned in elementary school. He is afraid that the current neglect of these basics of life may bring a lot of despair to people in the future because they do not have any good thing or memory to return to.
After the family, a major concern on the need for role models is teachers. Hardly have I heard a top student dreaming of becoming a teacher, most especially a primary school teacher. Also, very few boys ever dream of becoming a teacher unless there is no other choice. And the result? An educational system wanting competent teachers and male models! I am not making a hasty generalization here. I am sure there are many competent teachers around in our primary and high school educational system. I am afraid they are concentrated in some specialized and private schools. It seems that the teaching profession is not highly built up as a career, aside from the low salary the profession connotes especially in public schools. If one is competent, he will be offered other things and he may end up going to a higher paying job. One really has to be dedicated in his work and has other means of financial support in order to survive in this career, especially when offered a greener “financial” pasture.
I suggest that our teachers also analyze the foundation they have- if they really strive for excellence in their work, if they strive to live the virtues and have faith in God. You cannot teach what you do not have. You could be a phony but only for a while. Teachers do not have a choice but to be good examples to their students. A good teacher will attract so many students around him and influence them positively. And so it is true for a bad teacher.
Teachers have to be moral leaders. What do you expect a teacher who has questionable morals to say in class? Competence in one’s field is not enough for a teacher because students do not only “study” what he teaches but they also learn from the example of his life. How many students started to masturbate because their high school teachers encouraged them to do so even specifying the frequency? I have heard that from students coming from different schools, even Catholic schools. And it is ironic that a teacher like me from a public school is saying that it is wrong to masturbate. I could not argue from a religious point of view because I do not come from a sectarian school. My arguments are purely human, biological. Your body tends to look for something it has done before. And if you keep on doing it, just like the virtues we discussed above, the body gets used to it up to such point that it becomes a habit. It does not end there, actions are preceded by thoughts, imagination, memory- the internal senses. And they are also followed by the same internal senses- imagination, memory. That is why those who engage so much in pornography, normally develop a habit of self-abuse or self-gratification (lighter terms for masturbation). If you do not cut the habit, it will become very much part of you and you start thinking that everybody is doing it, that it is a normal thing. And you create a fantasy world around you. If you could not discipline yourself now, how would you be able to practice self-mastery in marriage?
Yes, even if many of your friends do it. The moral value of an action is never reduced by a majority doing the contrary. I always remember a story about this with my students. One day, they were asking me to consider an answer in their exam (let’s say letter B instead of the correct answer A) because majority answered B. I told them that I may consider making that question in the exam a bonus (i.e., it will be discarded) but I can never make the answer B if it is A, i.e., I can never change the correct answer to suit or please the majority. If majority of our government officials are corrupt, it does not make dishonesty correct. But how many of our countrymen think this way on moral issues?
Having mentioned friends, one of my favorite topics in my dialogues with young people is friendship. One could see their interest everytime this topic is opened. Why do we talk about friendship under the heading on role models? In ending my talks to young people, I would always stress the need for role models among our elders. As I tried forming students to give similar seminars, I realized that young people themselves could be role models to their fellow youth, and they could be very effective because their audience could relate to them very well, they “connect” easily.
Pondering upon this reality, I realized that the lack of role models among our elders could be supplemented not only by role models among the youth but also by any authentic friendship. What do I mean? It seems to me that friendship is mistaken by some people for being accomplices. A true friend is one’s other self. You give your life to your friend and he gives his to you in such a way that you share a “common life.” And this life is something you have to defend from whatever may be harmful to it, i.e., whatever may be harmful to your friend and to yours. This is why when your friend is doing what is wrong, you have the obligation to tell him, not only because you are concerned with him but also because you want to keep intact that “common life” you share. And sometimes, to correct one’s friend is not that easy. But it you do it out of love for one’s friend, one of real concern for his good, it may be difficult but you would do it nonetheless. Here you find great wisdom in these words from the Holy Book: no greater love than this that a man lay down his life for his friends. Correcting out of love and affection is one of the articles in Chapter 4 that you may want to read to supplement this discussion.
If you see your friend doing something wrong and you do not correct him, you could not sincerely say that you are his friend. To love one’s friend is to want what is best for him. What is best for him can never be evil or that wrong deed. You may think it will appease him for a moment (e.g., taking drugs) but you do not help him see the evil it will bring him in the long run.
What is worse is when you do bad things together (e.g., watch pornographic films). That is not friendship at all but being accomplices. True friendship is always geared towards the truth and the good.
This love of friendship may take some sacrifice or even a lot of it. But it does not matter for someone who values real, authentic friendship. Love is tested in difficulties like any other human love. And as what I mentioned earlier, difficulties should only make us stronger, including our relationships. Misunderstandings may arise and may dampen friendship for awhile. But I guess they are needed. Because it is when some petty quarrels arise when one’s loyalty to one’s friend is tested. Loyalty is a virtue and like any other virtue, it is tested in adverse moments. A loyal friend will not tell everyone about your ‘secrets’ the moment a difficulty arises. He won’t make your quarrels public. You may be at odds at the moment and he may not like you for something you have done. But a loyal friend keeps his inner respect on you, not stabbing you at your back. And when the emotions have gone down, he would speak to you again, admit his mistake, tell you yours and will settle things together. I tell you, your friendship will never be as stronger as before after that!
This loyalty is translated to fidelity in marriage. How many young people are distraught and insecure because of their parents’ unstable relationships! That is why we advocate marriage between a man and woman, the natural institution where a child could be best nurtured and helped to mature until he is ready to face his “own” life. As I mentioned earlier, we are now suffering the effects of the sexual revolution of the 60’s. Those who were born during that time are now having their own families. Many of them are now the ones providing us entertainment in all media ventures. And what do we get? A lot of talk about sex and little on virtue. And the effect? Again, so much promiscuity which result to failed marriages. It is because infidelity is now sown even before marriage. Young people are enticed to try having sex even just with anyone before getting married. One’s intimacy is breached and when that intimacy, the person’s inner core, is destroyed, it leads to a lot of shameless acts many times in one’s private life and worse, even in public. If these are not corrected, one would start to justify them and even take pride in having such shameful lifestyle, as what the Holy Book said about them: they glory in their own shame.
Hence, there is no training on fidelity where one could build upon when one gets involved in premarital sex. Couples start having children without having had the minimum level of maturity to think of the others. James Stenson said that maturity is measured when one starts helping the others, not when one starts to stand on one’s own feet. He argued that a toddler may start doing things by himself but he is not yet mature. A sign of maturity is when a child starts helping his brothers and sisters. Hence, one needs a minimum level of maturity to be assured of one’s fidelity in a relationship. A couple has to start thinking not of themselves alone but of the welfare of their family. I would like to shout at the ears of many young couples: stop acting like kids, you already have kids! With my decade of experience dealing with students, I could truly say that there is no substitute to a strong, faithful and pious family. Children start comparing themselves with other children. And the child who was born out of wedlock always has that certain sense of insecurity which he may admit or try to cover up by doing other things, sometimes bad ones. That is how he tries to get the attention he lacks from having a single parent, or worse, no parent at all to attend to him. Only if that missing parent was just mature enough and forgot thinking of himself or stopped acting like a kid for the sake of his child! There are, however, exceptional children who are gifted (and worked hard for it) with maturity at an early age who are able to handle life in a normal way in spite of their parents’ irregular relationship.
We could then say that we should not look for role models too far. Our domestic moral leaders are just at home- our parents. If they do not live up to this duty, let us remind them, and why not, help them. Then our teachers who could be very influential to our lives and we hope that their influence is for the good. Our political leaders have to defend and protect the sanctity of our families and the welfare of our teachers, so that the profession of touching the lives of others will become more attractive to many of our outstanding youth. Then finally, our friendships- we have to be role models among our friends and help them defend and protect the integrity of the “common life” we share together.
Getting more concrete: VOICES analysis
Hopefully, you already got some concrete points to work on on a personal level in order to start digging (i.e., examining oneself) the foundation and building it, upon which we hope to contribute in building our nation together. But let us get more concrete.
There are a number of seminars advocating methods on formulating one’s vision-mission in life and all the other steps that go with it. Perhaps because of my scientific training, I find all the steps the same or confusing. I wanted something more concrete and measurable. Hence, we formulated a model for a personal and organizational analysis of one’s dreams, capabilities, goals and how to measure one’s progress. We call it VOICES analysis patterned after the scientific way of writing proposals. When one plans out his life, it is like making a proposal. The same is true with an organization. And parts of this proposal may have to be revised as you live it and as you encounter situations that you may not have foreseen. This happens in a scientific proposal too. A scientist may have to revise his strategies and methods as he fulfills the steps he outlined in his proposal, in order to fulfill his objectives faster or more efficiently. The final paper contains some of the original parts of the proposal and the revisions. And so it is true with our lives and with experiences of organizations. Hence, the comparison and pattern of VOICES with the scientific proposal.
V stands for Vision, how you see yourself or your organization in the future. This may be likened to the title of a scientific proposal. The title encapsulates the whole content of the paper in a few words. In making your vision, put into few words, at most one sentence, the whole agenda of your life- how you want it to be. For an example, your vision in life could be: a world-class neurosurgeon. For organizations, write what you want your group to be known for, how you want people to recognize it. For an example, your vision for your group could be: a training ground for competent leaders with strong sense of values. It could also be a vision for one of the projects of your organization, e.g., “Project Forge: a leadership training and social outreach program.”
O stands for Objectives, your aims or the aims of your organization. In scientific proposals, objectives are normally found in the introduction of the paper. They are sometimes divided into a general objective and some specific objectives. The general objective summarizes the whole work to be done It provides a framework for the whole work. The specific objectives, on the other hand, dissect the general objective into concrete aims. It is like putting feet into the Vision. Following the example above, you may put the following as a general objective: to pursue a prestigious career in neurosurgery in the best medical institutions here and abroad. Your specific objectives could be: a. to enroll at the U.P. College of Medicine and take up a specialization in neurosurgery in 7 years; b. to undergo residency training at the Massachusetts General Hospital’s nuerosurgery unit within three years hence; etc. Your organization with a vision of honing leaders that are competent and virtuous could come up with specific aims that will help you reach this vision, e.g., to develop leadership programs that focus on moral values, to invite top professionals who imbue these ideals to be honorary members of the group and who will provide training to its members, etc.
I stands for Introspection which is examining one’s capabilities and defects. In the business world, they call this SWOT analysis: examining one’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Strengths are one’s virtues, knowledge and skills. Weaknesses are one’s vices and defects. Both Strengths and Weaknesses are within the person. On the other hand, Opportunities and Threats are those factors that are external to the person. Opportunities are those situations or people around you that may help you reach your vision while Threats are those that may hinder your fulfilling it. Following the example above, one of your strengths could be your ability to study long hours under pressure; your weaknesses could be disorder as manifested in not having a schedule and easily misplacing your things; opportunities could be organizations you are affiliated with and easy access to a study center; and threats could be the exams you have to take for several years. Knowing one’s defects will help a great deal in overcoming them and knowing one’s threats make one anticipate them and overcome them in due time. Introspection may be likened to the Review of Related Literature or RRL in a scientific paper. In an RRL, the researcher makes a review of what has been done on the particular study he wants to work on. Then he would be able to situate his current research work in a realistic way after having had a global vision of what has been done in that field. When one does personal introspection or what other people call examination of conscience in a sincere way, one gets a good picture of oneself. A disinterested guide or a spiritual director (see Chapter 4 for an article about this topic) is indispensable in making an objective assessment of one’s capabilities and defects because we have the tendency to be biased with ourselves. In an organization, the input and feedback of the adviser and all members, not just the officers, have to be taken into account.
C stands for concrete steps. After making an honest introspection, the objectives have to be translated into deeds, into concrete action! If the objectives are like the feet of the vision, “concrete steps” are like its foot gears. In order not to make nebulous actions, pattern the formulation of your concrete steps from the objectives. In a scientific paper, this may be likened to the methodology. The methodology provides concrete steps into the objectives that have been previously enumerated. It is like making the specific objectives work. If your specific objective is to enroll at the U.P. College of Medicine, how are you going to do it? You may have to study at least 3 hours everyday in order to graduate with honors in your undergraduate degree. You may have to aim for a medical aptitude test score of 99+ which means devoting part of your weekend to prepare for it. Be as concrete as you can. This part of VOICES is that which you live out daily. If you are serious with your vision, all your actions- no matter how small- have to be directed towards it. There is no such thing as a trifle because you do not have the luxury to waste time. For an organization, C would refer to you activities and the daily administration of your group. I suggest that each officer and member has a list of “concrete steps” to do and from which one could assess if he is truly working for the attainment of the group’s vision. A regular, if possible weekly, assessment of one’s performance based on one’s list of “concrete steps” will help each member of the group to grow in personal responsibility, as he would see clearly that a little negligence in his duties may mean a delay in other members’ work or a delay in the attainment of the group’s vision as a whole. On a personal level, my advice is a daily examination of one’s effort in achieving one’s goal. It does not have to be too long. Three minutes would be enough. One’s personal list of “concrete (daily) steps” would help do it fast and smoothly. This list may be reviewed much longer and it could be revised without veering away from the vision on a weekly, monthly and yearly basis.
E stands for Expected Output. It is likened to the “expected results” section of a scientific proposal. After all the experiments have been performed, what do the scientists expect to achieve? The attainment of the objectives, obviously. The modifications in the experiments would be part of the scientific paper which will be written later and hence, not part of the proposal. The same is true with our VOICES analysis. We are still making a proposal here. Whatever modification which may come our way as we live out the proposal will be a part of our “notes of experience.” In this section, just list down all the things you expect to achieve after doing your “concrete steps.” You may, for an example, write the following: summa cum laude graduate of a B.S. Biology degree; magna cum laude graduate of the U.P. College of Medicine; a fellow at MGH; etc. At the organizational level, write the achievements “you wish to attain after employing all your “concrete steps.” Each member and officer could have a list of his own expected achievements where the over all achievement of the group will be measured.
Finally, S stands for Sources of Inspiration. These are people who or institutions which serve as role models to you in achieving your vision. They could also be your sources of financial support. They could be anyone who believe in your vision and who positively influence you to move on in spite of whatever difficulties that may come your way. This may be likened to the bibliography or literature cited section of a scientific proposal. These are the sources of a scientist’s work- they could have been what inspired the scientist to start this new project, his present work could have been an offshoot of a previous paper, etc.
Now that we have outlined the VOICES analysis, start doing your own! Make an initial draft. Do not spend so much time doing it. Ask someone you trust- a spiritual director, why not- to help you assess if your VOICES is demanding enough and at the same time realistic. Do the same with your organization and ask your adviser to check your VOICES. A sample VOICES analysis form follows this chapter. Do not forget to keep a list of things to do (read “C” again) which will serve as your daily guide. It will help you as well to keep your vision always in mind and you could use to it check if you are still on the right track.
Some final words- pass it on!
We cannot keep good things to ourselves. Goodness, by its very essence, demands communicating it to others. It is diffusive. If you sincerely believe in the goodness of this cause- of building your life on a sense of duty, virtue and love for God- you will necessarily share this with others starting with your own family and friends. Otherwise, I am afraid that you have not understood it well.
Goodness is a spiritual treasure. Unlike a material thing, you gain more of it the more you share it with others. If you have ten cookies, and you give half of them to your friend, you will only have five for yourself. But the ability to give requires generosity- even just a bit of it- which adds to your “goodness.” You may have 5 cookies less, but you have gained more generosity, more goodness.
I always tell my friends that the problem of this world is the “good people.” Let me explain. What I mean with “good people” are those who are contented with their own lives and do not bother to help the others. They are not actually good, they are just “good” or more aptly, goodish or “nice guys.” As the saying goes, for evil to triumph, it is enough for good people not to do anything.
I hope that this chapter has sparked you even just a little- a bit that may start to ignite your passion to help build our nation with your own life and help others to do the same! Live it and pass it on!