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Many people do not understand forgiveness. They think that forgiving someone is dependent on the other person’s repentance. “How can I forgive if the other person is not sorry?” is their battlecry.

At a seminar long ago, I encountered a woman I’ll call Linda (not her real name). Linda was in her mid-30’s and worked in middle management in a firm in Makati. When she started sharing, the anger in her voice was thick and palpable. She talked about her job and how she felt she was being unfairly treated by her boss — how she had been expecting a promotion twice already but had been bypassed in favor of people who were her juniors.

The facilitator, I’ll call him Gary (also not his real name), asked about her childhood and so she talked about her mother, who had worked as an OFW when she was around 6 and later ran off with another man. She had never come back, leaving her father alone to raise Linda and her brother. Every time Linda saw her father drunk and crying in the kitchen, her hatred for her mother grew more and more.

“But now that you’re all grown up and are already a mother yourself, have you forgiven her?” asked Gary.

“How can I forgive her when I don’t even know if she’s sorry for what she has done?” said Linda.

“You know what, Linda? Forgiveness isn’t about the other person. It’s about you. Forgiveness is about not letting the pain of your past affect your present. You are obviously holding on to your anger. What benefit do you get out of it?” asked Gary.

“I don’t know, nothing, It just stresses me out,” said Linda.

“That’s not true,” said Gary. “If you weren’t getting anything out of it, you wouldn’t be holding on to it for so long. Here, let me demonstrate.”

Gary walks over to a table and picks up a rubber ball used in a previous activity. He gives it to Linda and asks her to grip it tight, which she does. “Don’t loosen your grip,” said Gary.

After a minute or so, Gary asked, “How does your hand feel?”

Linda says, “Tired and tense, can I let go of the ball now?”

“Sure,” says Gary, “Just open your hand and let it drop.”

Linda drops the ball.

Then Gary says, “You know, Linda, your hand felt tired and stressed after just a minute of gripping the ball. And yet your heart has been holding tight to this anger since you were 6. That’s around 30 years. Like I said, you wouldn’t be holding on to it if it did not benefit you in some way. Letting it go would be as simple as letting that ball drop. You want to know what you’re getting out of it?”

“Yes,” said Linda.

“What you’re getting out of it is that you have someone to blame — and that’s a tremendous benefit” said Gary. “When your life goes wrong, you look back and remember your mother, who didn’t love you enough, who left you and your father and brother to fend for yourselves. It’s her fault your life is a mess. It’s her fault you grew up this way, and so on and so forth. And very often, that anger is what drives you to push yourself to succeed, to prove to her that you can make it without her, that despite what she did, you will still win.”

Linda nods.

“But remember that anger also carries a heavy price. It takes a toll on your mind and body. Just as your hand grew tired of gripping the ball, your body also suffers because of your anger, and it even radiates to those around you.”

Gary turns to the rest of the attendees and asks, “How many of you felt Linda’s anger the moment she started speaking?” Everyone of us, including me, raised our hands.

“See?” said Gary. “That is the price you pay. Maybe that’s why your boss doesn’t promote you, because he feels that anger too, and may deem you unfit or emotionally incapable of handling the higher position. Maybe that’s why you get frequent headaches and tire easily. Linda, you are now an adult and you have made something of yourself. You have made a lot of life decisions that have nothing whatsoever to do with your mother. So why do you continue to let the memory of what she did haunt you? Let it go now and be free.”

We then had some more activities during the rest of the seminar and Linda did let go. She forgave her mother and was a very happy woman at the end of the seminar. Even today when I get the occasional chance to talk to her, she seems very different from how I first perceived her. She still talks about her past, but it is just normal storytelling with no more overtones of hate or anger.

Genuine forgiveness brings a person into a space of real joy and peace.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

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Bitcoin: Beyond the Hype

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Is it the right time to buy? Isn’t it too expensive already?

These are the questions I most often hear from people asking me about bitcoin. I heard this question back when bitcoin rose from a lethargic $200 to upwards of $300. I heard it when bitcoin hit $700, then $1000, then $2000 and $3000 and I’m still hearing it even until now.

When I began writing about cryptocurrency last June, the price of bitcoin had hit an all-time high of $2,800. Today, it is December and bitcoin had just broken past $10,000. That means if you had bought bitcoin last June and simply held on until today, you would have made four times your money’s worth in six months.

This year alone, I have seen more people becoming interested in bitcoin than I have in the previous 2 years combined. The reactions are varied — some want to jump in immediately while others are skeptical and holding back.

Just this morning, I read two articles — one was from a local politician warning people against investing in bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies and the other was a comparison between bitcoin and email.

The warning had some valid points — that people should not pour their life savings into this, that prices are volatile and have no safeguards in place — this is sound advice that I myself also give to others.

The politician further said that, “Investors stand to lose everything overnight if exchange platforms for cryptocurrencies shut down or when the consumer’s virtual wallet containing confidential information is hacked or stolen” — and while that is true, there are also safety measures one can take to prevent that. The risk you take in leaving your currencies with an exchange is similar to the risk you take leaving your money in the bank. If the bank shuts down, there goes your money as well. Besides, it is possible to take your cryptocurrencies out of exchanges into your own private offline wallet – so that is virtually unhackable.

Life is one big risk. The key to investments, like life, is not avoiding risk, but managing it — and one manages risk by increasing one’s knowledge about the matter. The more you know, the better your decisions will be.

So yes, if you are too lazy, too unmotivated, or too uninterested to learn about cryptocurrencies, then I suggest you heed Mr. Politician’s advice and stay away. As my friend says, “Crypto is not for the weak of heart. It is an emotional roller coaster ride.”

The other article was more interesting, as it pointed out that for all the hype surrounding bitcoin, still less than 1% of the world’s population are using it, much less really understand it. The writer compares bitcoin today as similar to email, which was invented as far back as 1972. Twenty-two years later, in 1994, only 0.25% of the population were using it, but it quickly gained traction after that and another twenty-three years later today, well, who hasn’t heard of or learned to use email?

What is essential to understand about bitcoin is that it is not just some kind of money that sits on thin air. Its value does not rest on pure speculation alone. Yes, there are many casual investors jumping on the bitcoin bandwagon wanting to get rich quick.

But beyond that, bitcoin is built on the revolutionary technology called the blockchain and those who understand what that is all about know that will forever change the landscape of how programmers understand how information is stored and transmitted, how transactions can be truly “trustless”, and how decentralization works.

For those who understand, that is what we are putting our money on, and that is the vision you must embrace when you are in it for the long term. It’s not just about buying low and selling high. It’s about seeing a future where we pay and get paid in currency that we control, not our banks nor our governments.

So is it the right time to buy? Is it too expensive? I don’t know, it depends on how you see the future. Perhaps you’ll decide to take the plunge, or perhaps you will still be asking yourself the same question at this time next year.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

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Science in 140 Characters

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Twitter launched in 2006 and introduced the concept of micro-messaging. It was originally designed to mimic text messaging on cellphones and thus had a limit of 140 characters per message or “tweet.” So friends could send these bite-sized messages or updates about what they were currently doing and they could follow each other, or they could follow people that they liked to hear from. It became a great tool for celebrities to use to update their fanbase on what they were doing, what they were eating, who they were dating, and so on.

Twitter also popularized the use of the #hashtag although it didn’t invent it as some mistakenly think so — hashtags were used back in the IRC (internet relay chat) days of the 90’s but most of the people using it then were computer geeks like me and it had not yet gained mass popularity and usage like it has today. Hashtags are a way to group different tweets together in a topic so one could, for example, search #FastCars or #Bitcoin and very quickly see what others are posting about the topic at hand.

An entomologist named Dalton Ludwick recently tweeted a hashtag called #MyOneScienceTweet asking scientists all over the world: “If you could have the entire world know just one thing about your field of study, then what would it be?”

I have gathered some of the tweets that I found interesting. Of course, these are condensed tidbits of information and I suggest you read further on the topic that jumps out at you to get a more comprehensive understanding:

  1. Homeopathy is a scam. – Scientia Portal
  2. ‘Natural’ doesn’t always mean safe, and ‘chemical’ doesn’t necessarily mean bad. – Scientific American
  3. EVERYTHING is made of ‘chemicals’; including us! – Michael Winiberg
  4. Less access to health and preventive care lead to early mortality in patients with mental illness. – Cedric Bornes
  5. Interaction and institutions shape people’s behavior and beliefs as much if not more than cognition, genes or instincts. – Judson Everitt
  6. 1 of 2 belief systems guide our behavior; faith based or evidence based. The results are compelling. Choose wisely. – Donald Keys
  7. ‘Evidence’ is not a pure, platonic ideal — it matters who gathered it, how, where and why. Diversity = better evidence. – Fiona Robertson
  8. Science education should train students to BE scientists (wonder, question, gather data, draw conclusions) rather than only learn what scientists have discovered in the past; that’s called history. – Alison Stuart
  9. Our immune system changes as we age but we can still manipulate it to improve health and resilience. – Dawn Bowdish
  10. Vaccines do not cause autism, SIDS, autoimmune disorders, diabetes, or cancer. They cause adults. – Rodrigo Guerrero
  11. Your gut is inhabited by trillions of bacteria affecting your health, take care of them. – Robin Mesnage
  12. Every computer ever built is based on the ideas of one man who was arrested, drugged and ostracized for being gay. – Matthew Parets
  13. The plural of anecdote is not data. – Julia Jung
  14. Civilizations rarely collapse. Sociopolitical structures, however, often change and restructure with conflict episodes or waves of instability preceding political breakdown. Also, the Maya never disappeared. Millions of Maya live in Central America. – Valorie V. Aquino
  15. The Higgs boson is responsible for the mass of all the elementary particles I’m made of, which is only 1% of my mass. – David Rosseau

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

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A Benefit and a Price

ALC – 8 Davao

I had the opportunity last weekend to reconnect with an organization that has had a tremendous impact on my life since I joined their seminar programs around 7 years ago. In fact, one of the reasons that I am now a columnist is the result of a dream and a goal that I set during a coaching program with them. At that time, I simply had the goal to write a set number of blog entries on a certain theme.

Around a year or two after that, I expanded the goal from being just a write-whenever-you-want or a write-whenever-you-feel-inspired kind of writer to one that can write and produce articles on a regular basis — putting aside excuses such as “I’m not inspired,” or having writer’s block or having nothing to write about. So here I am at 4am on Thursday morning, on the second paragraph of an article that I still do not know how I will end. But I’ll worry about that later. Let’s go back to the what happened during the weekend.

This time around, I was not in a seminar as a student but as a volunteer staffer. Together with other volunteers, we helped the facilitators create the right conditions for a successful session, which included room setup and assistance with some activities. Nevertheless, it was a great experience and was as close as possible to a re-audit of the course.

One of the lessons that struck me most was that every choice we make has both a benefit and a price. Now, people are often used to thinking in dichotomy, in terms of either/or, good or bad, light or dark, black or white. So when one hears that statement for the first time, one usually understands it as “every choice we make has a benefit OR a price.” It usually takes a little more time for one to fully grasp the lesson.

For example, there are people who are always angry at something or someone — it may have been someone who physically, verbally or sexually abused them in the past, or it may have been someone who betrayed their trust, or someone who hurt them in a very deep way. Almost every time you converse with this person, the object of their rage eventually crops up and they go on a mini-rant about it for a few minutes.

Why do they hold onto their anger and rage? What is the benefit?

The automatic answer is often “none,” but that is wrong. People who cling to their anger derive some benefit from it whether they realize it or not, whether consciously or subconsciously (but often times it is the latter).

The benefit is this: that they have someone or something or some circumstance to blame whenever their life goes wrong. “I am like this because of that bully who kept hurting me and calling me names in 4th grade,” or “I am emotionally unstable because I was raped in high school,” or “It’s the president’s fault” and so on. Not that I am belittling those circumstances or saying they are insignificant, but it is startling that people will hold on to some circumstance that happened years or even decades ago as the one thing that is ruining their lives, totally ignoring all other positive experiences or opportunities for growth and happiness.

Here’s another benefit, they become the star of their own soap operas. First time listeners, especially, will hang on to their sob stories and will often fawn over them, or offer consoling words, or also get mad at the object of their wrath. They get some much needed attention.

But what is the price? Well holding on to rage causes a lot of stress and takes a toll on the body. The person’s demeanor also suffers. While it may be interesting for a few minutes, no one wants to be around an angry person for long because everything feels so tense and unrelaxed.

So anyway, I had a chance to revisit that lesson last weekend, to review my own life and examine what I hold on to and what I have let go of, and to ask myself that question again about my life choices. What is the benefit AND what is the price of my choice?


* Many thanks to Rey Inobaya and Chona Santos of OCCI (Organizational Change Consultants Inc.) for your love and dedication to creating “a world that works with no one left out.” The program mentioned is ALC or the Advanced Leadership Course — which is the second of a trilogy of courses offered by OCCI — the others being FLEX (Foundations of Leadership Excellence) and LEAP (Leadership Excellence Achievement Program).

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

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Object Permanence

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I came across an article entitled “Though You Do Not See Him, You Love Him” by Mike Schumman. It sounded like a typical devotional piece that I would often come across back in the day. I thought it would be interesting to read it with a former believer’s eyes and record the thoughts that come to mind.

The author writes with a dramatic flair, opening with a scene of a hailstorm. Then he lends an air of science as he cites John Piaget’s concept of object permanence — that even through the darkness of the storm, he knew that the sun did not disappear but was simply covered behind the clouds, even if he could not see it.

I know where this is going, I say to myself, and true enough, the article goes on to compare this with God and that people ought to have this idea of object permanence when it comes to their belief in him. Schumman asserts: “Many unbelievers know this, and yet are inconsistent about it. When asked why they struggle to believe in Jesus, a common reply is that ‘if I could only see him, then I would believe.’”

Hang on now. That’s a dubious claim. Many unbelievers know this? That kid born in a war-torn village in Africa, he knows this? That kid born to Muslim parents in Iraq, he knows this? Yes, I’m sure that Buddhist couple in a remote village in Nepal know all about Jesus but are simply being “inconsistent” about it.

Quoting Piaget does nothing for his case because Piaget’s studies require that one first sees the object in question before it is hidden. You cannot have object permanence to something you have never seen in the first place. How would you convince a man born blind that there are stars in the sky, even on a cloudy night? He would simply have to take your word for it, but if he doesn’t, you cannot claim object permanence because he has not fulfilled the first requirement for that to happen.

So no, an unbeliever is not being inconsistent when he asks first to see before believing. He is, in fact, being consistent with the reality he knows.

Schumman knows very well about this hole in his argument because his article takes a predictable turn as he scrambles to address this. He says: “You cannot develop object permanence with Christ unless you first receive a true Spirit-enabled sight of Jesus. This is the reason why some fall away in the midst of persecution, while others are choked out by the cares of the world — they had never truly seen Jesus in the first place.”

Now this is pretty convenient because now those who have never believed in the first place were never gifted with the “Spirit-enabled sight of Jesus” and those like me who previously believed but now do not, “had never truly seen Jesus in the first place.” It also introduces guilt-feelings in believers who are beginning to doubt. After all, you wouldn’t want to be the one person in your little Bible study group who hasn’t actually seen the Lord or felt his touch, would you?

Instead of strengthening his argument, however, this actually goes against it because it all the more reinforces the fact that an unbeliever has never seen God or Jesus and therefore cannot have any sort of object permanence with him, her or it. This claim contradicts his earlier statement that the unbeliever knows about God but is being inconsistent about it. If anything, it is this muddled teaching that is inconsistent with itself.

The article ends with an exhortation to believers to continue believing in the Son they cannot see, who is just hiding behind the dark clouds of life, and would soon (very soon) be showing himself. And again, there is the unstated threat that you wouldn’t want to be caught doubting him when that happens, would you?

I understand that many people find comfort in stuff that people like Schumman write, but I am not one of them. In fact, I have never found such clarity and peace in my life as when I shed off my beliefs like one discards old clothes that no longer fit, like throwing down a heavy burden on one’s back. It is seeing through the smoke and mirrors of religious dogma.

It is freedom.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

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