You’ve probably read an article by my friend and finance coach Randell Tiongson on Why our neighbors are richer than us. I always hesitate to simplify too much when trying to understand things (though I believe that there are dominant factors) because the idea of context is very real. It’s easy to compare situations and point to obvious differences, but it’s more difficult when we weigh our comparisons with contextual realities such as a country’s history (experiences, influences, and development), its geography, its relationships, and even its environment. So to say that one thing is the cause of everything isn’t my style.
Having said that, I do agree with Randell on the importance of saving. The Philippines is, as I will explain later, a “comfort culture” with a very short perspective, and that is something that has to be addressed, no matter what our explanation or excuse is. A healthy savings rate (coupled with wise deployment or investment) has always been, and will always be (in my opinion), a fundamentally important part of long term development. I recommend meeting Randell and exploring how he can help you with your finances.
Life is Not Nothing
I saw a few comments asking, no, more like rebutting, “how can one save when there’s nothing to begin with?” And the answer to that, based on my short 6-7 years of working with the poor, is that no one has nothing. Some people don’t have money, but the fact that they exist without money means they live, and to be living means to have life, and to have life is to have “something”, something amazing in fact.
We need to help people make the most of their lives, by helping them live with a purpose, and help them achieve that purpose with an economic engine (among other things, lest you think it’s only about money). I believe that no excellence, if truly excellent, will remain unrewarded and unrecognized. Excellence is too rare in our society not to stand out.
Broad Strokes for Simple Folks – Like Me
Anyway, I told Randell I’d give him my thoughts on the subject, and while I haven’t had time to crunch through the intricacies of the Philippine context as compared to our neighbors, so I really can’t say why exactly our neighbors are richer than us, I will share some broad thoughts on the topic. I asked a few people and I got some simplistic answers and I’d like to shoot down the religious reply:
“Because we don’t’ believe in Jesus.”
Umm… I can name quite a few economically rich nations that don’t believe in Jesus. I can actually name a lot. God is our provider, and He does own the cattle on a thousand hills, and He can miraculously bless us, but he has also instituted principles (such as sowing and reaping for example) that must be followed. I believe that Jesus is Lord, but I’ll be the first to admit that I have not achieved my full financial potential because I have not fully obeyed a lot of these principles. That being said, we can actually obey these principles without believing in Jesus and become wealthy – wealthy with treasures on earth that moth and rust can destroy, that thieves can steal, and that we cannot take with us to the grave.
Anyway, let me give my humble broad thoughts on why the Philippines is not richer than its neighbors.
We have negotiable values – As a unified body, we don’t know what’s truly, non-negotiably important to us. So everything is for sale. Our trees are for sale. Our corals are for sale. Our earth is for sale. Our women are for sale. Our children are for sale. Our principles are for sale. Our future is for sale. Our leadership is for sale. Our organs are for sale. Everything is for sale for a people who do not know what they hold most important. The sad thing is, when we take things for granted, we lose them for far less than they’re worth.
We have tiny shared vision because we can’t see past ourselves – Whenever our focus is on ourselves, our issues, our problems, our opinions (such as this, hehe), and our significance, we will inevitably be left with a small vision. Why? Because a single person is tiny. A country of 96 million people, if unable to see past themselves and share a great vision, will never harness the great potential that lies within its people.
Unknown mission – What’s the purpose of our country? Have we ever stopped to think about this? What is the purpose of the Philippines? Everyone needs a purpose, a reason to exist beyond more than just hanging around. Successful business gets this, and they get this well, which explains the profits, even when that mission isn’t too great. Disney’s mission is “To make people happy.” Amazon.com “seeks to be the world’s most customer-centric company, where customers can find and discover anything they want to buy online at a great price.” And Nike wants “To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.” What’s our mission?
Undefined goals – Goals are important. Imagine a football match without goals or a basketball game without baskets. There has to be a way to tell whether we’re winning or not. When the goals of our lives, and of our collective goals as a people, are undefined or un-agreed upon, no one fails, but no one wins either because there’s no measure to track progress.
Irresponsible leadership – What’s the difference between irresponsible and un-responsible? Irresponsible means “not acting with a sense of responsibility” or simply “not responding to the needs and opportunities around us. I talk about this more in another post. And unresponsible? It’s not even a word. It’s not? Nope. And the reason is because to be un-responsible means a person is not liable to respond, but the original concept of responsibility is that we’re all always liable, and not to do anything is essentially to turn our back and deny our role. When our leadership doesn’t take responsibility and wisely respond to the needs and opportunities of our country, we will limit our achievements.
The Essential Leader
I remember another writer friend of mine share that, in his opinion, the Philippines has a “broken system not a damaged culture” and that we can’t hide behind the excuse that our culture is really damaged this way. While I agree that our system of governance is broken (such as how people are able to break the law and get away with it), and I agree that we can’t hide behind where we’re lacking and we must address the implementation of our laws, I do not agree that our culture is not damaged. In fact, it doesn’t take close inspection to see that it has many elements that are damaging to us, our children, and our future generations. Any system, even the best ones, will fail when the pervading culture is severely cracked.
And what is culture?
The set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution, organization or group.
The Filipino people, as a group, have many attitudes, values, goals, and practices that are honorable and admirable. You’ll never find a kinder, more hospitable, and more beautiful people anywhere else in the world. Traditional Filipino values such as being malikhain (creativity), practicing bayanihan (being a united community and serving one another), and being matapat (committed to good) are still alive in many ways, but so are the negative traits of kanya-kanya (a selfish concept that puts one’s needs ahead), bahala na (which is masked as a reliance on God, but really a lazy act of surrender and resignation), ningas-cogon (lack of enduring commitment), manana (procrastination), and excessive utang na loob (indebtedness to the favors others show you).
We are a relational culture, which is good, but are, as seen in different instances, reduced to a “harmony at any cost” culture. And you cannot run anything, a business, an organization, a family, our own lives, much less a country on a friendship first (versus principle first), don’t rock the boat (versus grow, innovate, and change) set of decision guiding values.
Sounds pretty damaged to me. Damaged, but not destroyed, and very redeemable
– Redeemable by the herculean task of uniting everyone (or at least a dominant number) under foundational core values, a clear and great vision, with a significant mission of purpose, all broken down to defined goals, and led by responsible people.
What a job. And that’s why we need great leaders.