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.

Email me at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

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.

Email me at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

The Myth of Pursuing Your Dreams

 

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When I was still involved in Multi-Level Marketing, one of the strategies we used to convince people to join was to show them the key to getting their dream house or their dream car did not lie in their little jobs but in “doing their own business.” It was often necessary for us to demonize employment as a kind of modern day slavery. There would be “baliwan” meetings when those who were successful would encourage prospects to resign and “fire your boss” because they were not working for their dreams but rather for the dreams of their employers.

This mentality still persists in one form or another and we have heard perhaps one too many “inspirational” speakers echo that sentiment. Just recently, I came across someone who said: “If you will not pursue your dreams, other people will drag you to become their slave to fulfill theirs. Its called employment.”

This is a false dichotomy. Being employed is not slavery, nor should it be seen as an opposition to the pursuit of your dreams. It is an agreed-upon exchange of time and labor for wages — you applied for a the job and your employer agreed to give you one.

Not everyone is an entrepreneur, and that is as a good thing because who would entrepreneurs employ if everyone wanted to be one? And why should pursuing a dream be slanted towards being an entrepreneur? Some people could very well dream to be a high-ranking officer, but still an employee, and there ought to be nothing wrong with that.

Why not instead see employment as a stepping-stone or as a means to achieve your dreams? There is a lot that you can learn from being employed especially if you get a good boss. But even if you get a bad boss, there are also many things to learn, especially on things you should not do when you decide to start your own business.

There are never-ending lessons you can glean by just being observant. Why is it that a highly paid co-worker is mired in debt while a relatively lower paid one manages just fine? That’s a lesson in how to manage cashflow and expenses right there. Why is the seemingly intelligent supervisor being ignored and disliked by many while the boisterous office clerk gets a lot of affection and support? That’s a lesson in leadership and influence.

Pursuing your dreams doesn’t mean throwing caution and planning to the wind and shouting, “Just do it!” Very often, you will end up falling flat on your face as I have experienced time and again. Of course, you read of the success stories of people like Steve Jobs, Jack Ma, J.K. Rowling, and so on, but you have to understand that the reason you read or watch about them is precisely because they have made it. If you could read or watch the lives of the many people who worked just as hard as them but didn’t make it, for whatever reason, you would realize that there are a whole lot more of these than the former.

Statistics in the US show that half of businesses do not survive past 5 years, and only a third make it past 10 years.

When my wife and I were in New York, we signed up for a short tour of the Juilliard School which is famous for its programs in dance, drama and music. We were shown an impressive concert hall, an opulent theater, hundreds of practice rooms, a dance studio overlooking the streets below and so on, and then we were also shown a relatively new office that assists students in planning out their career paths. They had also realized that a lot of students enroll to “pursue their dream” but have really no idea on how to go about doing that in a very practical sense, or have no clue on what sacrifices need to be made. Indeed New York has a lot of artists selling their art on the sidewalk and street performers singing and dancing in the parks and subway stations.

There is a point when dream meets reality and if your head is floating too much in the clouds, you will be in for a rude awakening when you come crashing down the pavement. Best follow the advice of Theodore Roosevelt: “Keep your eyes on the stars, and your feet on the ground.”

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Email me at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

Adam and Steve

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There are many things that House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez has said and done over the past year or more that I find wrong and distasteful. What he did last October 10, however, is worthy of note, as he and a few other congressmen filed House Bill 6595, which aims to legalize and grant the same rights to LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) couples as that of married couples.

In other words, this is about as good as the same-sex marriage law that many have been waiting for; or dreading, depending on who is reading this.

I’m sure this will be the hot topic of many sermons, bible studies, and prayer meetings in the coming days and I’m pretty sure that at one point or another, Leviticus 20:13 will come up: “If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them.”

Just for fun, bring a realistic toy gun or knife to these meetings and enthusiastically volunteer to kill these abominations. Let’s see how your pastor reacts.

Oh, and don’t forget the verses before that. You’re also supposed to kill adulterers, which would probably wipe out most of congress because according to the House Speaker himself, “Who doesn’t have a girlfriend?” On second thought, wiping out congress might not be such a bad…Okay, I’ll stop right here and move on to the next point.

Just 9 chapters before in Leviticus 11, the Lord talks about what you can and cannot eat and among those you cannot eat, which are interestingly also called abominations, are pigs, crabs and shrimps. So if you still eat lechon or that sinigang na hipon or garlic crabs, you should question why you aren’t as strict in following these other commands.

Leviticus 19:26-28 also prohibits eating anything with blood (no dinuguan or those medium-rare steaks as well), shaving the sides of your head or trimming the edges of your beard, or getting tattoos. Anyway, go read the entire book (and add a dash of Deuteronomy there as well) and see how many people you have to kill for being abominations or doing abominable acts.

“God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve,” is the battlecry of many a Christian in the fight against same-sex marriage. However, if you do believe that God created everything, then you would come to the inevitable conclusion that God did, in fact, create Steve as well.

Seriously, if you are so keen on that one verse in Leviticus 20:13, why don’t you take these other verses seriously as well? And no, this is NOT advice or a directive for you to take those verses seriously. I am not telling you to go out and kill people but to sit down and think.

Anyway, back to the bill and some other points. The writer(s) tries to draw away some flak by using the term “civil partnership” instead of saying “marriage” or “same sex marriage,” but all the rights, obligations, benefits and protections of marriage seem to be included in this bill as outlined in Section 11:

“Civil partnership couples shall be afforded the following benefits, protections and responsibilities…all benefits and protections as are granted to spouses in a marriage under existing laws, administrative orders, court rulings, or those derived as a matter of public policy, or any other source of civil law.”

The only strange clause I found was on adoption where homosexual couples can only adopt a child if the child either belongs biologically to one of the partners, or if there are no married heterosexual couples willing to adopt the child (Section 14). This suggests that the bill’s author still maintains the view that heterosexual parents are somehow better or more ideal for the child than having homosexual parents, which I consider rubbish.

There are good parents and there are bad parents, period. Their genders are hardly an issue, although I understand the social impact on a child in a conservative society such as ours. Yet, that should not be a hindrance for good and well-meaning LGBT couples to adopt a child and love him or her as their own. That would certainly be a better situation than leaving them parent-less.

If this bill passes, we will be one of the first countries in Asia to have such a law. Same-sex marriage is currently legal mostly in dominantly Western societies — Europe, the Americas and Australia.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Email me at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

Autumn in New York

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My wife and I decided to spend our anniversary in New York City. It would be our first time there and we prepared heavy jackets and boots as our friends told us it would be quite chilly this time of the year. We had a vision of strolling through Central Park when the leaves would be in their autumn colors. We would sit on a bench munching our New York bagels while sipping hot coffee, enjoying the fresh cool air.

I knew something was wrong when I stepped out of the John F. Kennedy airport at midnight and the air was only mildly cool, like a rainy night in Davao City.

It turned out that we were experiencing what our host, Erik, explained as an “Indian Summer” which is a period of uncharacteristically warm weather during the fall season.

We had a number of unusual experiences, the first of which occurred even when we were still in the air and the flight attendant made a call for any doctor or medical practitioner on board that they needed assistance. We would later learn during our stopover in Vancouver that someone had passed away on board, and that someone turned out to be Filipino-Chinese business icon Washington Sycip.

Another unusual but very welcome and pleasant experience was being greeted by a familiar face as we were in the airport walkway going towards immigration. Charles and I were neighbors and best friends when we were 10. We would walk home from school together and explore abandoned or burned down houses in our neighborhood. He was now working as a supervisor in another airline but he knew we were flying in so he waited for us, then escorted us past the long lines and instead of waiting for what would have been an hour or more, we spent only around 15 minutes in immigration. I don’t get to experience VIP treatment often, but this was a welcome respite after a long and arduous flight.

Walking around the streets of Manhattan was an overload for the senses. We could smell hotdogs and chicken over rice cooking from the many hotdog and halal food stands in many street corners. Just like in the movies, people talked loudly on their cellphones with animated faces and expressions.

On Wall Street, amidst men in their business suits and women with fine jewelry and wide-eyed tourists like us, there were crazy people muttering to themselves or talking to their imaginary friends. There were beggars with cardboard signs saying, “Need help. Any amount will do,” or “Just diagnosed with lupus. Please help.” A more creative one lay on the sidewalk with a suit and a Donald Trump mask, and a sign that said “Mexican Wall Fund.” I donated to his fund and took a photo.

While we were riding the subway, an old man burst in and started talking in a loud voice, about how the Trump administration didn’t support veterans like him and then he walked through the train car with his hat held out asking for any amount. When he walked over to the next car, Charles remarked, “That guy has been here for 5 years. He was blaming Obama before.”

We had time to see a few sights — the Empire State Building, the World Trade Center Memorial, the Metropolitan Museum, the Statue of Liberty — and meet with friends and family  we haven’t seen in years, re-establishing bonds and friendships, and making new ones as well. We were able to watch some Broadway shows, which we both loved, and were absolutely amazed at the skill, dedication and talent of the performers.

We visited Central Park again, on the day we were leaving, but the leaves were still green and hadn’t been convinced to grace us with their majestic autumn colors. Never mind, my wife had a crepe and coffee while sitting on a bench, and I had a classic New York hotdog. It was a lovely time, made more pleasant by the warmth of friends and family.

 

Email me at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

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