Bonifacio Brothers: On Learning the Wrong Lessons

I remember lying on top of cracked pots on a cool yet sunny Baguio day. Just a few seconds ago I was at the top of a steep hill, about to attempt what my older brother, Joseph, just did with no difficulty: ride a bike down the hill. For some reason I’ve already forgotten, I was using Joshua’s bike which had broken breaks (but we didn’t know that). My dad instructed me, “You can do this David. Just ride it down, break if you feel like you’re going too fast, that’s it.”

So I kicked off and started going down. Very quickly it was apparent that something was wrong. I couldn’t break and the sight of a row of plants on large pots, a lamppost, and a drop in front of me just kept getting closer. The next thing I know, I’m squinting at the glare of a bright sun, my head hurts like crazy, I can feel sharp ceramic and thorns on my skin, and I’m saying “Lord” over and over.

Then I saw my dad run up, worried as hell, check me, and then I felt thorns plucking out of my jacket as he lifted me. “You’re really a tough kid.” my dad said. “I told you not to pedal. I told you to break.” He continued. “I shouldn’t have pedaled but I couldn’t break” I explained.

When we got into the house my mom wiped the blood from the side of my head. “You’re really like Rambo now” my dad told me, and I remember picturing a bloody Rambo from a movie I used to watch over and over. “Yeah”. I replied proudly.

“Ok, rest a bit, let’s fix the breaks, then let’s go back out there.”

And we did. And I rode down the hill with no problem. And my dad and brothers and I rode down that hill, and other hills, and other paths, and trails, and roads.

I remember that incident and I realize now what my dad did, he wanted me to learn the right lesson. The lesson wasn’t that riding bikes downhill is dangerous. The lesson wasn’t you’re too small for steep hills. The lesson wasn’t you’re no good at biking. The lesson was: here’s how you conquer things. Here’s how you conquer cliffs. Here’s how you face your fears. Here’s how you get back up from failure.

It’s similar to when, just the day after my brother Joseph nearly killed both of us in a total car wreck by driving too fast, my dad throws the keys to his car and says, “You drive for us”. He wanted Joseph to learn how to be careful. He didn’t want him to learn how to be afraid of driving.

Many times I find that different people in very similar contexts, living in the same county, working in the same offices, or sitting in the same classrooms, walk away with very very different lessons.

Most people go to class thinking: I need to pass. The smartest people I know are always thinking: How do I understand. The former will learn how to pass (even if it involves cheating). The latter will learn how to understand. Guess who’ll become more successful?

Some people are stressed at work and learn: “My boss is an ass” or “I need a vacation” or “work sucks” or “the setup sucks”. The most productive people I know, the ones who make things happen, are learning: “What can I learn from my boss?”, “What can I improve?” or “How do I lead up?” or “How do I manage my time better so that I can be productive AND recharge?” or “How do I change my context to make me more efficient?” The earlier group will learn how to rationalize their mediocrity. The latter group will change their workplaces for the better.

Some people go through a breakup and learn: “I need to kiss dating goodbye” or “guys suck” or “girls are liars” or “everyone is a cheater” or “I’m not pretty” or “no one will ever want me”. Others will go through one and learn “That’s the last time I’m making looks my main priority” or “Next time I won’t rush” or “it’s time I really clearly state my values”. One group will become bitter, fearful, and probably terrible future partners or never have a partner (which isn’t so bad really). The other group will be wiser and better prepared for a new beginning.

Some people tried the entrepreneurial route, went bust, and learned: “It’s risky”, “There’s no money”, “It’s hard”, “I’m better off with a stable job”. Others will learn “So that’s what I should have done!”, “I need to choose my partners better”. Guess who will build that next great business?

A lot of religiously superstitious people will fail at something and chalk it up to it not being “God’s will”, and will miss the true learning opportunities. Maybe the lesson needed was stewardship and discipline. Maybe it’s perseverance.

A lot of people will see get-rich-quick stories and think that’s what they need to figure out instead of learning about timing, about character-building, about the reality of breaks.

Some people will see an evil person succeed, a violent man gain power, or a manipulative woman move ahead, they’ll learn that the world is unfair, that good people finish last. They’ll miss the lesson that we get what we run after, we get what we sacrifice for, but even more, they’ll miss the opportunity to reflect that maybe money, and power and fame aren’t the barometers of success, and they’ll miss the chance to know their own personal values.

All of these examples are to say one thing: As you go through life don’t learn the wrong lessons. The wrong lessons like I mentioned in my last article are lessons that teach us fear, teach us pride, teach us bitterness. They are the lessons that trap us under the guise of wisdom. They are the lessons that teach us to mistrust instead of learn who to trust. They are the lessons that harden us for the sake of security, that make us selfish for the sake of practicality, that teach us pride for the sake of self-esteem.

No one progresses by learning the wrong lessons. They will only make us more narrow minded. A narrow mind is a mind choked by the wrong lessons. It’s so full that new ideas, new concepts, even the consideration of new thoughts, can’t pass, so discovery is killed at inception.

Instead, learn the right lessons. Failure should teach you to improve. Heartbreak should show us that we can bounce back from anything, even more, heartbreaks should remind us of how broken the world is, and of how we desperately need God. Goliaths should remind us of the Davids that toppled them, and the faith that powered them. Darkness should activate us to be the lights, even better to daily live as a light, like a star automatically shining bright in a world of cold nights. If we foster a mind that learns the right lessons from anything, we will find that the wisdom we need to face the things we have to face, do the things we ought to do, and be the person we hope to be is not just available but all around us.

Never Waste a Good Problem

“That’s impossible.” I don’t know how many times I’ve heard those words. I don’t know how many times I’ve told myself that.

“I don’t have enough money.”

“I don’t have enough time.”

“I lack experience.”

“The competition is too big.”

These are just some of the doubts that play through my head.

But here’s what I’ve realized, while all those statements are true, it is NOT true that something is impossible just because there are hurdles. In fact, whenever people ask me the key to creativity or how I’m able to be prolific at the different things I’m into, I tell them that I don’t waste two catalysts of creativity: Limitations and Problems. I’ve seen more creative people come from contexts of limitations and problems than I have from unlimited abundance and complete security.

One limitation is time. I only have 24 hours, so I meticulously plan each hour, and end up getting better at productivity per hour over time – though I still have a long way to go.

Another limitation was my lack experience. It’s true. So I read a lot of books. A lot. And I read them because these pages share different experiences with me, and in a few hours a day I learn from the experiences of others.

I also don’t have a lot of money, at least not the kind of money I’m planning to deploy to achieve our objectives, so we look for free things, we look for efficient things, we look for alternatives, and in the process we innovate.

I don’t have as sharp a mind as I would like or the minds of people around me, so I simplify and simplify and distill. This has helped me grasp difficult ideas in bite size pieces and share them in ways relevant to normal people like me.

My point is this: Don’t waste a good problem or limitation. Don’t waste them by accepting them as permanent or impossible to defeat. Don’t waste them by quitting, by not learning lessons, or by learning the wrong lessons  (I’ll write about this next). Wrong lessons include learning fearfulness, bitterness, or unbelief.

Instead, take your problems and limitations like an artist can take black and white yet make a beautiful illustration. Use them to force you to become creative, resourceful, innovative, and inventive.

Again, never waste a good problem or limitation.

Most people are complaining and whining and being defeated by their problems and limitations. By harnessing them instead to push you forward, you’ll discover that much of the things you believed you needed to succeed you don’t need at all.

Best of all, when you can make beautiful things with black and white, imagine what you’ll paint when you’ve earned the spectrum of the rainbow.

Beautiful Eyes

let(From my Series She Listened With Her Eyes. This is fiction.)

I had come to Simon’s house to ask for advice. I had been thinking about my relationship with Yasmin and about the big decisions we would need to make as things progressed, and boy were things progressing. I wanted to talk to him about the practicalities of being in a relationship, of starting a family, of the money issues basically. I wanted to ask, “How in the world do you afford everything???”

I was standing in the living room of his apartment, looking at a row of frames featuring photos of his family. Mat his eldest son, a future scientist; Josh, the most magnetic little boy you’ve ever met; Diane, the sweet princess; and William. I nearly forgot about William. Born next to Mat, William was the second born, though it seemed like he was the youngest, his autism stunting much of his natural processes. I fixed on a photo of Simon cradling William, both their faces beaming with unadulterated happiness.

“Hey David. Sorry to keep you waiting. I had to get the kids to bed.” Simon called to me as he walked into the room, carrying a sleeping William in his arms, covering nearly his whole torso. I had forgotten that he was no longer a toddler but a growing boy.

“Hi Simon.” I shook his hand. “Thanks for making time for me.”

“Of course, David. Did you bring drinks?”

“Right here.” I said, holding up a bottle of Soylent.

“What the heck is that?” he said, with a suspicious look.

“It’s a meal replacement.”

“Get a wife, David. You’re becoming even more abnormal. Do us both a favor and grab two beers from the fridge. The kitchen is at the door to your right.”

I grabbed two bottles. “Where’s your bottle opener?” I called out.

“It’s somewhere there.” he answered, not being very helpful. I found it anyway after opening a third drawer.

I went back to the living room, put our beers on the coffee table, using old magazines as makeshift coasters. He told me to take the master’s seat while he sat on a long sofa. “I prefer sitting here. Lets me lay William down beside me and still have space. He’s gotten quite heavy now. Carrying an 8 year old is a whole lot heavier than a baby.” he explained without insecurity or the self-righteousness common to people aware of their sacrifices.

Carefully laying William down with his head on his lap, he caressed his son’s hair, smiled, looked at me, and said, “So what’s up? What brings the hermit to my home?”

“I’m not that bad.”

“You’re worse. How can I help you?”

“Can I ask you something? Is it hard to have a special child?”

“All children are special, David.” He replied dryly

“You know what I mean.”

“No I don’t know what you mean.” He said, not making it easy for me.

“I mean a child with a condition.”

“You mean an autistic child?” he said.

“If you put it that way…”

“It’s not how I put it. It is what it is. Don’t worry. I’m not offended. We’ve been friends long enough to know you’re good with words when you have the luxury of drafts, but terrible on the spot.”

“Thanks…”

“It’s true. And that’s what’s important right?”

“What are you talking about?” I asked him a bit confused.

“You asked me a question. You asked me what it’s like to have William. I’m answering you. To have William is a challenge. It’s true. It is what it is. I was featured in our community newsletter once. They interviewed Susan and I about what it’s like to raise a child with autism. For a few months after, we were overwhelmed with support and encouragement. Letters came in, people even sent gifts and money. That was a few years ago. These days, there’s not much encouragement, no letters about on how much we’ve inspired others, no ‘praise Gods’ or ‘God bless yous’. What we do have is an early morning every day, 4:00am to be exact, when William wakes up crying. We wake up to piss on sheets, and piss on me as I carry him to calm him. What we do have are never ending medical bills with no end in sight. What we do have is a responsibility to make daily sacrifices of time, money, energy for him.” He said the last sentence looking down at his son, he smiled, and looked back at me. “But after 8 years, here’s what I’ve learned, more than the things I just mentioned, what we have now, what we’ve always had, is William. We don’t have a special case or lifetime of sacrifice. We have our son. And that’s as beautiful as it gets.”

“I can’t say I completely understand.” I admitted.

“I don’t blame you. You single guys can be efficiently selfish. But you will someday. You’ll understand when you truly fall in love. When the joy of holding someone overwhelms the weight the of the responsibility.

“We have to be realistic Simon. There are responsibilities in the real world.” I cut him.

“I never said there weren’t any. Why do you think I work so hard? There are bills to pay! A lot of bills!” he said with a laugh. “And it’s tough” he said in contrastingly subdued voice. “It can get really hard. Especially during bad days. There’s quite a few of them to be honest. But I like how my wife put it in a prayer once, during a particularly trying period, she said, ‘Father, give us beautiful eyes that we may always see Your beauty even though we face dark times.’ It’s when we lose sight of God’s beauty that things get really dark. It’s not the circumstance. It’s our perspective. It’s not William that makes my load heavy. It’s my selfish heart that forgets that to change his sheets is to love him, and to love him daily, to love others daily, is to truly live. Because of William I truly live. It’s not our lack of money that causes me to worry. It’s because I have been conditioned to trust in money too much. It’s not the medical bills that makes me feel deprived. It’s my lack of contentment. We always think a change in circumstances will make all the difference, that a beautiful life is made up of beautiful circumstances. I’ve learned that a beautiful life is a life lived with beautiful eyes.”

As he was speaking, I remembered my conversation with Yasmin just a few hours earlier, “David, promise me that you won’t do bad things to others.” she started. “Even if it will give us more stuff. I’d rather we sleep in sleeping bags than we do anything bad to others. I’d be happier, and I know God will be happier too.”

“It’s not our circumstances that make life beautiful” I caught Simon saying again, clicking back to our conversation, “It’s how we see our circumstances that determine the beauty we recognize. Too many of us are praying for beautiful circumstances when we really should be praying for beautiful eyes.”

I thought about Yasmin’s eyes. She has beautiful eyes. The most beautiful I’ve ever seen. They’re dark sharp, they’re dark brown, and they look like kindness, with no malice through to her soul.

“David.” I heard Simon’s voice call me.

“Sorry. I was thinking about what you were saying.”

“I’m sorry for rambling. You asked.”

“No, don’t be. I liked what you said.”

“So, you still haven’t told me why we’re here. I’m sure it wasn’t to hear me talk about William.”

“How do you afford everything? I know where you work. I have a pretty good idea of how much you make. Yet you never seem stressed.”

“Haha!” He laughed. “Seem is the key word. I definitely get stressed. But that’s why I’m so grateful, despite not being able to afford much, I have Susan, Matt, William, Josh, Diane. I know I’ll never truly be able to afford them, but the good news is this: I don’t have to. They’re gifts. You never have to afford gifts. They’re given to you. To have them, you simply need to receive them.” he winked at me with that last sentence.

I thought about what he said.

“Is there anything else you want to talk about?” he asked, still brushing the sleeping William’s hair.

“No. This was good. Thanks. This was good.”

He smiled. “Come by anytime. Thanks for the beer.”

“The beer was yours.” I reminded him.

“Thanks for giving me a great reason to have one.”

I looked at my friend. How did a foolish guy like me end up with such a wise friend?

“Thanks Simon.” I said as I walked out the door of his place. “I’ll remember what you told me. Beautiful eyes.”

“Beautiful eyes my friend.” he said nodding, carrying William once more. “Oh crap.” He said, as a darker shade of his blue shirt spread across his chest and stomach. “William just peed. Have to go change him.” he offered his hand and I shook it, feeling something warm and wet.

“Is that pee?” I asked more than a little grossed out.

“Haha!” Simon laughed. “Don’t be such a wuss. Welcome to my world. Come back in, wash your hands. It’s not the end of the world.”