Highlights and Shadows

I dreamed of a great life
I wished to be a tower on a hill
But the immediate path was hard
And failure had me at standstill
I believed in a better day
Looked to a great tomorrow
But expectations were dashed
And many were days of sorrow
Within the disappointments
Surrounded by loneliness
I discovered who I was
And found that I could bless
#db

I’m giving a couple of talks in the next few days, one is this Saturday at a TedX event, and the other is at a “singles” event VCF Alabang. Given that people are so easily excited, it’s time for another “don’t be so easily impressed” post.

Here’s why: It’s stupid.

It’s stupid to look at someone’s highlights (like his social media posts, his talks, his  writing, painting, and other public wins) and be impressed, without taking into account a person’s basic humanity.

It’s even more stupid to compare a person’s public highlights to our own personal shadows, the things we’re not so proud off, and even ashamed off. Let’s say we take all of Vince Carter’s slam dunks (he’s known for them) and compare them with Lebron James’ missed shots, lost games, and turnovers, we would mistakenly think that Vince Carter is a better player than Lebron James. He’s not. Get the point? When you’re easily impressed by the highlights, you forget that’s not the complete picture. There are things you’re not seeing. Like any great painting, that seemingly amazing person, is an interplay of highlights and shadows.

And so are you.

You are an interplay of highlights and shadows. You’re the person who doesn’t have a girlfriend at the moment AND you’re the person bootstrapping a future million Dollar company. You’re the person who was kicked-out of school AND you’re the person who is making that artistic masterpiece. I can go on, but the simple points are:

  1. Don’t be so easily impressed by someone’s highlights. That’s never the full story. There are shadows there too. And it’s not lying that they don’t post their shadows. That’s prudence actually.
  2. Don’t compare your life’s mundane-ness, failures, or shameful memories (your life’s shadows) to someone else’s highlights. You might just find they have more shadows. That’s what I’ve found.
  3. Don’t waste your time as a spectator in someone else’s highlights and shadows. That’s living vicariously. Be grateful for your highlights, learn from your shadows, and live your own life.

The person you idolize is a human (like you), takes a crap (like you), loses his temper (like you), worries (like you), gets tired (like you), gets impatient (like you), and does stupid things (like you).

But…

Doesn’t spend his time living vicariously admiring someone else (unlike you). That’s probably the biggest difference. It’s not between lucky and unlucky, great and mere mortals, nor blessed and cursed. The difference is between those who take responsibility for their own life’s results and those who don’t.

I don’t like having fans. Maybe that’s why I rarely reply to them. Haha! They’re of no use to me. At best, they’re people to maintain, and at worst, they’re future crucifiers, such as what happened to Jesus. Those who praised Him, crucified Him. I like partners. I like people I can rely on. I like people I can work with, build with, people who can stand on their own enough to be useful to others. These are the people I reply to the most, the people I plan with, and execute with.

Don’t be fan. Don’t be mine. Don’t be anyone’s. Focus instead on your every day, and make your highlights and shadows count.

To See Clearly, To Know Truthfully

Father, help me see
Things for what they are
Not always a mirror
Constatnly reflecting me

Father, help me know
When there are lies
Especially my own
That in me thickly grow


When I was formulating our values at Bridge, I gave myself some criteria. They had to be very simple. Nothing fancy and pretentious. They had to be well-defined. People these days no longer know the meanings of words. Like is as good love, nice is as good as right, and loud and reactionary is as good as radical. (They’re not by the way. But that’s another topic.) Our values had to be easy to memorize, so they had to be short. And they had to represent not just our corporate face but the kind of person, the kind of man and woman, I want Bridge to be full of. Our values had to be lived-out. After a lot of trial and error, I narrowed our values to three words: Understanding, Diligence, and Empowerment. I want to share more on the thinking behind why I chose the word Understanding, because I find that many well-meaning people lack this, particularly in the Philippines, for it is the context I find myself in.. We are incredibly nice and sociable, and we care deeply, but have our feelings led to sustainable and sustained widespread good?

Personally, I have been very active in helping others, and have built-in regular contributions of time, money, and energy, to help build opportunities, help the poor, help the disenfranchised, and challenge ideas I think are destructive. But I can’t (and won’t) brag that ALL my actions combined merit me to think that I’m doing my part. I’m not. The proof of this is the poverty, the poverty of soul, the poverty of mind, the poverty of spirit, and the physical poverty, that is widespread around me. If I was doing enough, then I would be able to see significant elimination of these “poverties”. But I don’t see significant improvement, or maybe haven’t yet, so I question my contributions, I question my methods, and I question my ideas, that I may serve better and achieve more results. Results need to be specific and measurable, and for me, Jesus gave us a nice model for proof of result, the proof He Himself offered when He explained His ministry was legitimate: the sick healed (and not just their bodies), the poor fed (and not just their stomachs), the blind see (and not just their eyes), and the divided restored (and not just politically).

When I look at my contributions towards these results, the data shows I have more to do, more to give, and more to figure out, that I may be of actual use to such a beautiful reason to be alive.

What I don’t think is a productive use of my time is to constantly comment without my own results, thinking I’m a thought leader, thinking my active involvement in my chosen cause makes me better than others who are active elsewhere or not active at all. As far as I’m concerned, despite all my efforts, my results are really not that much greater than many others. Who am I to think that my opinions are greater than theirs when my results don’t show superiority? I am lying to myself. So I am not only proud, I am deluded. My pride is based on my own myth of myself. I can give whatever excuse I want for my lack of results, not having money, not having connections, not knowing where to start, being too busy, having family problems, and a bunch of other things, but if the data doesn’t show significant sick healed, poor fed, blind seeing, and restoration, I simply do not have results to make me, or anything I say, credible.

Again, by results, I’m not talking about my activities, which anyone who knows me will say are plenty, but the actual outcome of sick healed, poor fed, blind seeing, and the divided restored. My wife, Yasmin, and I have been thinking about this, and this has led us to review our involvements and approaches. I’m hopeful that the contributions we’ll be making in the next 10 years will surpass all our previous years combined.

Why am I confident that our coming efforts will lead better results? It’s not because we’re “good”. We actually like to be “bad”. Haha! Just kidding. Yasmin is going to kill me for that one. Seriously, it’s because we allow ourselves to be corrected. To be corrected means we allow ourselves to be first confronted with the truth, with principle, with data, NOT opinion. Then we allow ourselves to be compared to the truth, to the principle, to the data, again NOT the opinion. And finally, we allow ourselves to be corrected by the truth, by the principle, by the data, again NOT the opinion.

We don’t insist that the Earth is flat when it’s proven that it is round. Neither do we insist that our opinions count, when they do not count nearly as much, as certain actions that lead to the measurable results. And if you think these are too high standards to expect of the average person, than you degrade the average person’s responsibilities and the average person’s potential. The truth is, we are all average people. Where we differ is in the level of responsibility we take up AND in the level of impact we effect. All parents have a responsibility to take care of their kids, but not all kids will enjoy thriving childhoods. This shows us that knowing our responsibility is not enough. We actually have to get good at fulfilling them, or else, those who rely on us, or those who could benefit from us, will receive less than those who rely and benefit from others. That’s simple logic.

This is why we need to move from a “Here is how I feel about this” discourse to a “Here is the wise path we should take.” To do this, we need Understanding, and that’s what this post is about.

Understanding for us at Bridge is defined with two words: Empathy + Wisdom. I expect everyone in our company to cultivate the ability to understand people, understand situations, to know what’s going on, to feel what’s going on, but also, not to stop with feeling or intellectual knowledge, but to respond to these people and situations with wisdom and right actions. Empathy is a popular word right now, but what most people think is empathy is really sympathy. Real empathy doesn’t just concern itself with the emotion of the person but the context as well. Thinking empathy is only an (or even primarily) an emotional response can lead to wrong decisions. For example, feeling bad for someone who might fail a test, and might get kicked-out because of it, may convince us to help them cheat because we want to help them. This is feeling for someone without responding with wisdom. A wiser decision would consider the wider picture than just the emotion of the moment, because it also takes into account the greater implications of the moment. Does passing an exam by cheating really help a person? No. It fact, it probably does the opposite. By not combining empathy with wisdom we end up making worse a situation that we meant to improve.

How do we know if we’re truly improving a situation? Again, let us let the defined and measurable results we mentioned earlier guide us. If our efforts don’t lead to effective and sustainable results, then we haven’t figure things out yet, and there’s a chance we’re not helping as much as we think we are, and there’s also a chance that we’re not helping at all, or worse, holding others back.

In my limited experience, I think understanding comes from being able to See Clearly and Knowing Truthfully. Seeing Clearly means being able to look at things for what they really are, not for how our bias sees them. I can easily admit my bias because they’re so obvious, but it’s harder for me to admit that many times my biases and inclinations tinge my view. For example, there are people I don’t respect at all, and because I don’t, I sometimes have a hard time seeing them for who they really are: a person whom Jesus died for. Due to my tinged seeing, I now see a distortion of what I am supposed to see. The other thing that affects wisdom is Knowing Truthfully. Using my example earlier, when I put more emphasis on my biased opinion that a person isn’t respectable, I actually fail to respect the greater truth that all humans, even humans I don’t respect, have an ontological dignity. Knowing truthfully, allows me to respond not according to my bias (which would cause me to disrespect the person), but according to non-biased, principle-based, dispassionate truth: all people are valuable, all people have an ontological dignity. I must at all times, even in tricky cases of confronting the evil in people, afford them the maximum dignity the situation allows.

When we don’t see clearly nor know truthfully we will be prone to jumping to conclusions, commenting on things we really have no understanding on, fail to assess our own selves honestly, and all the while, think we’re better than others.

Here are some examples from my own network (online and off) of opinions that lack understanding:

– Someone commenting that she wishes there was no money so that there wouldn’t be any poor people.
Money is amoral. It is neither bad or good. It’s a tool. Even if there was no money, there would still be people who have and people who have not. Why? Because of both greed and laziness, and both have existed even before currency. There’s sympathy for the poor but no wisdom on how to help them. One great effect of having a more convenient means of exchange is the amount of options in the market. Without money, we’d have to barter for everything. The barber will only be able to eat when there’s someone who needs a haircut.

– The split between die-hard followers of different political parties, so quick to point out the mistakes of the other side, so quick to defend their own hero, so sensitive to criticism, yet so useless to their own circles and communities. Our public officials are supposed to be public servants, not public celebrities. Is it possible that our heroes make mistakes? Um… yes. And it’s likely. And it’s inevitable. Why then are we sensitive to our hero being criticized? Shouldn’t the people be working together to hold public officials accountable instead of taking political sides? And how did a person who barely contributes to anyone beyond his or her own immediate family be credible in knowing what it takes to serve a whole country? I think that if people simply donated 1 Peso for every word they used to criticize others into the university education of others, they would help way more than all the griping and commenting. Again, empathy for those suffering unjustly, but really no wisdom on how to solve it.

– Sharing and falling in love with “unlimited leaves at work” or “doing only what you love” or falling hook, line, and sinker for the latest cool work trends. I find, at least among the people I know, there is a direct link between sharing a lot of feel-good articles, inspiring quotes, and lacking originality and brilliance. If there’s anything history teaches us about truly brilliant people, people who stand out, is that they’re not doing what the crowd is doing. In fact, many times, they’re doing the opposite. They’re not regressing to the mean. They don’t think along average lines so don’t become average people. They’re not seeking the safety nets average people are seeking. Instead they’re seeking a standard, a seemingly impossible standard. They’re not seeing the comforts of average people. They passionately pursue a vision in their heads, many times, a vision only they can see. This is why I prefer biographies to most of the new literature on success. They don’t give you feel good formulas. They don’t give you stuff like “late people become more successful” or “messy people are more creative” or “open office structures are better than cubicles” or “why it’s important to have free food”, or any of the other popular ideas today. What do the lives of great men and women tell you? They tell you be courageous, be resilient, be diligent, be disciplined, be committed, be adaptable, and whole list of timeless virtues. They tell you virtues not formulas, and they show you the beauty of living out those virtues as well as the pain when we fail in these virtues. I’m glad the great men and women of history didn’t follow today’s popular advice. We wouldn’t have the car, the airplane, or the computer, neither would we have Universal Suffrage, independence, and education. Don’t fall in love with the latest and greatest, shiny new idea. Fall in love with virtue.

I could go on with examples of just simple mindedness. So many comments reveal a lack of understanding. The problem isn’t the commenting. The problem is the ignorance. Commenting while ignorant reveals a greater ignorance: we’re ignorant of our ignorance.

This is why, I constantly drive this practice into our people: Before you react, understand. Before you weigh-in on a topic, take time to understand the whole picture, to look at as many angles as possible. If you don’t, you’re not really acting intelligently – you’re reacting.

Before complaining about your workload, understand what output you need to achieve, then understand how much time you’ll need, but more than that, understand new ways to automate your workflow, get people to help you, and improve efficiency. Don’t react. Understand then act.

Before commenting on the economy, understand economics. This sounds so obvious but based on my friends’ Facebook posts, it’s not. Read Adam Smith. Read Karl Marx. Read Keynes. Read the Economist. Read your economics 101 text books. That won’t get you likes, and it won’t push any agenda further. It will make you wise on the topic. Don’t react. Understand then act.

Before criticizing others, understand their positions, and try to understand where they’re coming from. You probably won’t agree anyway, but at least you broadened your view. At least you’re more informed of positions others than yours. Don’t react. Understand then act.

It’s sad that many of today’s leaders are poor examples of what it means to be teachable. They’re reactors (a nuclear reactor came into mind when I typed that). It seems the default response these days is to be defensive, to say others don’t understand, or to bring up the faults of others to discredit them. We call others judgmental, stupid, idiots, insensitive, or mean, simply because we don’t like the lesson or don’t like the teacher. And we insist. We insist on our positions, positions already proven wrong, or already proven false, because we live in a world where we can’t show we’re ever wrong, even if we really are.

This is dangerous, because I find that the biggest threat to myself, my family, and the companies I manage is… drumroll… me. My pride has hurt my wife more than anyone else’s pride. My mistakes have cost us more than the mistakes of others. But if I humble myself, if I allow myself to be taught, to learn, not just from books, not just from friends, but also from mistakes, from criticism, and from embarrassing situations, and if I allow the data, not my opinion, improve my decisions I will not only grow wisdom, but will strengthen in character.

Things can only improve for us if we’re teachable. Maybe, instead of saying “You’re an idiot” or “You don’t understand” we should say, “Help me understand your perspective. Maybe there’s something I can learn”. And, from my experience, there always is.

To see clearly and to know truly, and to respond to life wisely, this is understanding. None of us will ever see everything nor know everything, that is why being teachable, not pretending to be great, not being defensive, makes more sense. Knowing that we don’t know much is one of the most honest things we can admit. The beauty is, if we follow this up with teachability, we ending knowing more.

Brothers Bonifacio – For Millions Still Unborn

January 3, 2017
I had gone to work early – really early – 2am early. Yasmin and I had been arguing, and I decided to do what I do when I need to relax: work. Later in the morning, I got a text from Yasmin telling me she was at the hospital and needed to tell me something. She had not been feeling well, feeling easily tired with aches, so she was really planning to have a check-up. Embarrassingly, ungentlemanly of me, I had taken the car my wife uses without thinking (I usually take Uber everywhere), so my sick wife decided to walk to St. Luke’s since it wasn’t too far. When I got the text, I had a feeling I knew what it was about already but I don’t know why. I called Yasmin, and heard the news that would seismically alter my life.

“I’m pregnant.”

Out the door went the pride, offense, and anger I had been harboring from the argument before. And I quickly settled things in the office and drove to the hospital. There’s nothing like being responsible for another life that brings out the better parts of our nature.

After the check-up, Yasmin said, “No wonder my breasts were getting so tender. They’re going to get bigger.”

“Nice!” I answered.

“You’re terrible! I can’t believe that’s what you’re thinking about!” Yasmin reacted.

“Sorry… What I meant is, I’m sorry you’re feeling pain.” I corrected.

“Whatever…” she said with a slight smile.

 

Being married has revealed different parts of me – for better AND worse. But I’m making up for my insensitivity these days with my daily role as Chief Body Butter applier. Apparently, there’s a whole line of products just for helping with the stretching a woman undergoes while pregnant. It’s not easy being Chief Body Butter Applier, but someone has to do it. It’s part of the many sacrifices a husband has to make. I’m being sarcastic of course. My wife’s body gets stretched and expanded, and that’s just what I can see. Inside her, she is literally chemically changing. I can’t imagine what that’s like. All I need to do is massage her. The more I read up on it, the more I think “I’m lucky to be a guy”. When my wife’s not pregnant, she’s bleeding every month. When she is pregnant, she’s…

She’s…

She’s…

I don’t know what she is.

Just kidding.

My wife is, pregnant or not pregnant, always beautiful.

 

Someone’s 179 BPM
On the way to a meeting yesterday, with order restored with me in an Uber, I stared at the photo of my baby. I’ve been staring at that photo since I took it. I remembered seeing the heartbeat and the doctor telling us, “There’s the heart beating. 179bpm.” I was so excited, that as I posted a photo on Instagram, the only word I could think of was “Joy”. Yasmin laughed. She said, “You were thinking so long about your post that I was worried you’d say something smart and make mine look corny. After all that, you ended up with one word. For once, David Bonifacio has nothing to say.”

It happens more than Yasmin knows, like when I watch her sleeping beside me. In those moments, I also have nothing to say. I just feel joy.

I wrote this poem while stuck in traffic:

179
BPM
Our treasure’s heart
A beating gem

“Is that  healthy?”
We asked naively
Doctor said, “Quite fast,
But safe. Believe me.”

“Of course it’s fast”
I thought with sanguinity
“That’s my child
Also chasing infinity”

So much hope you bring,
With so many a concern
But we’re not without ways
And what we lack, we’ll learn

I want so much to be perfect
For you, but you’ll find
What your mother now knows
I can be blinder than blind

But I will do my utmost
And where I fall short
There is One who watches
Our first and last resort

Best you meet Him early
For He already knows your frame
Best you get used to calling on Him,
To crying out His name

I am getting ahead of myself
As I am prone to do
You’re still forming
But you’re there, that’s you

You already hold my heart
Just a few weeks, yet you do
I feel my chest getting tighter
At the thought of beautiful you

We love you our treasure,
We love you our beating gem
We love you more than you’ll ever know
We love you 179 BPM
#db

But my thoughts for my child were suddenly overtaken by the faces of team members and the people who work with me. And this question popped into my head, “Am I the kind of leader that a wise father would enthusiastically encourage their child to follow?”

I thought about this idea. Let’s say my baby was now a grown up, would I tell him or her “Go work with David. You’ll produce your life’s best work, you’ll grow, you’ll become a better version, you won’t have to compromise your values, you’ll be successful, you’ll achieve your goals, you’ll be healthy, you’ll be well provided, you’ll have great relationships, follow him, follow his instructions, and follow his example”?

Would I?

All of them are someone else’s 179 bpm. All of them have the potential to bring the joy I’m feeling. Putting myself in their shoes, would I enthusiastically recommend my leadership? And would I be wise for doing so?

These thoughts quickly revealed many areas of improvement that I quickly jotted down and made plans to improve on. I made a commitment to myself to become the type of leader that a wise father would enthusiastically recommend that their child follow me.

 

For Millions Still Unborn
I’ve been reading on the different Founding Fathers of America. I’ve read the biographies of Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and Alexander Hamilton, and now reading through Thomas Jefferson. I’m always blown away by the work they were able to accomplish despite the diversity of their perspectives and interests. Reading about their lives removed the myth of perfection and showed really really really flawed men – even terrible men. But a few things struck me about them. One was a deep desire to live out their principles, as flawed as they were. The other was how the idea of “the millions still unborn” was so important to them. They realized that their lives, their decisions and actions, the principles they defended, the institutions they erected, and the battles they fought would go beyond their own lifetimes and would affect generations, the millions yet unborn. So even as they lived in the present, their perspective gave them the foresight to build for far into the future.

I’m no George Washington or Benjamin Franklin. I’m no great leader. I simply have myself, my family, and our companies to lead. Our companies are not huge. I believe they will be. But I’m biased of course. Just as I think my baby is the most beautiful baby in the world even if no one, not even I, know how he or she looks like, even if it’s only been 6 weeks – in my wife’s tummy. But the decisions I make today will impact my baby decisions. If I save for the future, my baby will have money for the future. If I build a good name my baby will have a good name. If I build a strong relationship with my wife our baby will have that security. My decisions today will greatly affect my child still not yet born.

In the same way, in business, in anything I’m leading, my decisions today affect the millions yet to be impacted. Current employees and future employees, current shareholders and future shareholders, current customers and future customers, all will be affected. Are my present actions guided by the knowledge of future implications?

Am I the kind of person who is living with such a big purpose that it impacts the millions still unborn?

Or have I shrunk my purpose to just myself and today?

Do I throw that piece of trash on the street for my convenience now and ignore the pollution the millions still not born will face?

Do I spend the resources on my current impulse and neglect the future education, the future opportunities, and the future quality of living of the millions still not born will experience?

Do I truly love my neighbor as myself, and am I truly living a big purpose, that mobilizes the same type of resources for others, for future others, as I do for myself?

My 179 bpm is already impacting the world by impacting me. And it’s not because he’s done anything yet, and it’s not because he’s perfect, or healthy, or a boy, or a girl, or anything more than this growing form. In a world that’s so entitled, materialistic, and no longer capable or willing to suffer, we’ve managed to rationalize the killing of babies as practical but this is ignorant to this fact:

The first gift our child ever gives us has nothing to do with their perfection. It has everything to do with the child being ours. Perfection, at least as we know it, after all, is basically how close the baby is to “normal”, and “normal” is how close it is to average. The first gift our child gives us is joy that comes from loving someone beyond the love you have for yourself, and the second, for those willing to learn, is that we learn a new kind of love, a love not based on external excellences, but exclusive possession. I love my unborn child because he or she is mine.

Maybe this is also why God can love me so much despite how terrible I am. I am loved because I am His. It’s as simple, and as beautiful, as that.