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In My Culture

There are very few people I can talk to about my dreams. Very few who won’t think I’m nuts, careless, arrogant, or a combination of the three, or who won’t respond with a veiled or not so veiled version of what happens when Icarus flies too close to the sun.

In my culture, people give lip service to faith and courage, yet raise their children to be afraid of God (versus being awed by Him), afraid of man, afraid of risk, afraid of the possible failure that risk brings, and afraid of the sure shame failure brings. In my culture, the wise man doesn’t rock the boat (even if that boat is sinking and people are asleep), doesn’t question the community (even if these communities require complete accountability from him), doesn’t consider doubt because doubt is automatically unbelief. But without shaking things up, everything settles into a nice peaceful bottom like silt. Peaceful, yet at the bottom. Without questions there can be no understanding, and what kind of a community preaches that we must be accountable to it, pay its taxes, and obey its laws, yet never question it? What kind of government promotes transparency without it being transparent?

In my culture, we don’t really want wisdom. We want security. We don’t really want progress. We want comfort. We don’t really want learning. We want dogma. We want superstitions that tell us that if we do this, we get that, no matter how life disproves this simplistic cause and effect.

Because in my culture, what we want to achieve most is our version of a lifestyle sweet spot, a standard of living that is religiously, traditionally, socially, and economically comfortable.

And anyone who decides differently, anyone who questions, anyone who blazes his own trail, anyone who says “This sucks. I’m going to change things.” Is nuts, careless, arrogant, or a combination of the three.

You Can Change the World – In Fact, You Must

The Haunting

Love your neighbour AS yourself.

This really haunts me.

Jesus simplified His teaching into two things: “Love the Lord your God with all of you and love your neighbour as yourself.”

All theology, doctrine, dogma, whatever, boils down to these two. You get these two, and you have everything there is to get about Christianity. You miss these two, you missed the point.

He said, “Love me with your heart. Do you desire me most? Do you desire me exclusively? Love me with your soul. Do I affect the deepest parts of you? Love me with your strength. Do you invest energy into being with me? Do I get the best of you? Love me with your mind. Do you think of me first? Do you think of me most?”

Then he puts one line at the end. Love your neighbour AS yourself.

He said, “You know how you’re always thinking of your own well-being, your own success, your own hunger, your own safety, your own happiness? Think of others that way. You know how you’re always doing whatever you can to make sure you’re comfortable and enjoying and growing and fulfilled? Be like that for your neighbour.

Again, this really haunts me.

When I’m hungry, I automatically think about what I’m going to eat. But how many times has my own hunger triggered the memory of the hunger of my neighbour? Even more, how many times has my own hunger triggered an action on my part to feed my neighbour?

When I’m feeling discouraged, depressed, or hurt, or lonely (which of course happens to me too), does it just lock me into a state of sorrow and uselessness or does it trigger the memory of friends who are going through tough situations and does it trigger action on my part to pray for them, to be available to them, to help them?

When I’m excited about the potential of my interests, does it trigger a desire to serve others and help them achieve their dreams as well? Or is my involvement in their dream only continent on how their dreams help me achieve mine?

I can go on with the examples.

Like I said, this thought haunts me. “David, love YOUR neighbour, AS yourself.”

The Outsourcing of Good
One question I get asked a lot is this, “How do I get involved in helping others?”

I always thought the answer to this would be obvious because there’s so much need surrounding us on a daily basis but apparently it’s not. I’ve come to realise that a huge reason why this is so is because we’ve marked the doing of good works, of giving, of serving, of helping others, of community building as a specialisation for professionals, and we’ve added labels as community development, social work, NGO, public servant, and whole set of jargon.

We’ve outsourced the practice of being a good neighbour.

Now when being a good neighbour becomes a specialisation, a profession, a career, it naturally leads to three adverse effects:

The Halo Effect and Reverse Halo Effect
The do-gooders take on a halo that sets them apart as generous, as selfless, as kind, as not-affected-by-everyday-material-needs. And it puts the rest of us in a category called “normal” wherein we’re also nice guys and girls, but we’re not as extreme as the do-gooders. Those guys are heroes. We’re mere mortals and don’t live as selflessly as they do. When we outsource good works to “heroes” we deprive the word of an army of neighbours: you and I.

And what do we do with our heroes? The same thing humanity does to all its heroes. We kill them. In the community development world, we kill them with low-wages, with huge expectations, with heavy workloads (it’s heavy to provide 4 million homes for example), with our token support.

Entitlements – On ALL Sides
Another adverse effect of outsourcing the practice of being a good neighbour is that it gives ALL of us entitlements. For the poor among us, it makes us feel that since we’re poor we need to be served and served and served – forgetting that we too are called to the responsibility and privilege of loving our neighbour.

There’s also entitlement in the do-gooders side. I know this well. I recognised this once when I was so frustrated at others for not helping our foundation more. I was thinking to myself, “These greedy guys. So many selfish people. bla bla” then it hit me, “You’re not entitled to their help David. You’re not entitled to anyone’s good just because you think you’re doing good. You’re not entitled to having your business succeed because you were generous or kind. I thought you were generous and kind because you love God – Period?”

And it creates an entitlement that we mere mortals are “allowed to be selfish” once we’ve done “our part”.

“I’ve given my donation, I’ve done my community service”, as if doing good towards others was a punishment for a crime.

“I’ve given my P1000 to the community, I can now just think of myself.”

“I’ve given my donation to protect animals. I can now be my usual selfish self towards humans.”

Part of the entitlement that’s created is the expectation that doing good has to always be fun and fulfilling. It doesn’t have to be. Many times, most of the time, it’s painful and frustrating, and it will cost you time, money, energy, emotions, opportunities, sleep, among other things.

And when the outcome of our token good works doesn’t pan out we’re left wondering or jaded.

A Layers of Inefficiency
When the work of being a good neighbour is outsourced to professionals, specialists and experts, when the different players of community have entitlements, what happens is that we set up a layer of inefficiency.

To explain this, let me give an example my dad always shares.

When people don’t do their part and throw trash in the proper places, someone will have to now pick it up for us. In the case of public places, the government will have to hire people to pick them up for us because we can’t simply throw them in the right place. Because of this, the government now taxes us for that service, and for every service we’re not willing to do ourselves, we end up paying more time, money, and energy to have the exact same thing done.

In this case, we would have saved time, energy, and money (especially our taxes stolen by our government) if we all just threw our garbage where we’re supposed to.

Now we compound this by not being a neighbour in other areas.

For example, we don’t follow traffic regulations, so we hire a ton of enforcers. We don’t love each other, so we hire a ton of security people – undertrained, under equipped, and out of shape, yes – but still better than thieves and murderers. Then we don’t pay these people well, we don’t respect them, we even shout at them, abuse them, bribe them, and we wonder why they become thieves and murderers themselves. Take a guy, he wants to do the right thing, but then he enters a world where every single day he has to face people who don’t follow rules, get mad at him when he tries to enforce the rules, gets offered bribes that add up to way more than his salary that can barely sustain his family and can’t meet tuition, so guess what happens? He gets corrupted. I’m not saying it’s right. It’s not.

But this is the logical conclusion of a human being immersed in that world.

What can we mere mortals do about it? Grumble at government? Criticise cops?

How about being more disciplined with our time so we’re not rushing as we drive? That would also help us undo our image of always being late. How about not bribing our cops when we’re caught? How about not shouting at them and trying to push our weight around? How about finding a cop friend we know and offering to help him with his groceries or tuition or whatever.

The point is this: for every issue, and I mean every issue, that bothers us, there is something we can do, yes maybe only in a small way, but before you start pointing fingers, go do that small way.

Because if not, and we have not, the specialisation of good works and the entitlements of our communities have given us layers of inefficiency.

A business will pay their people low wages, not invest in their training and development, not inspire them, then go around and donate a portion of its profits to help poor people who can’t afford certain needs.

That’s inefficient. You can’t afford things because you have no money. In the real world, you earn money through work. The more valuable your contributions the more money you earn. You’re able to make more valuable contributions when you grow as a person, when you’re developed. A good word for that is education. To educate means to bring out the best in someone – I don’t mean a useless degree that research now tells us it’s not simply about having a degree but about having relevant degrees and even more importantly key skills. So if a company actually invested more into its people, developed them to deliver incredible value, and incentivised them by sharing more of the profits even with the lower rungs, the business will deliver more value, capture more value in return, the people will be greater rewarded and so can afford more, and with continued guidance and education, hopefully make wiser choices.

But we don’t do this so we donate to an NGO (which is like paying an NGO), to do for others what we could have done more efficiently for ourselves.

When we (private individuals) do not passionately and wisely love and serve our neighbour and the people within our spheres of influence, we end up outsourcing the job of ensuring healthy communities to government, which is proven corrupt, inefficient, and limited at the cost of high taxes, and NGOs, who are professional community developers, many of which are fake, inefficient, can’t scale, and are unsustainable. Even the good ones are inherently inefficient compared to an empowered individual who is generous and serves. Why? Because the model of having to pay or donate to someone else to serve OUR own household help, our drivers, our employees, their families, our children, our families, and our people adds a layer of cost. Because we live selfishly, we end up having to hire professionals to live unselfishly. I’m grateful for our credible NGOs and foundations because the need is definitely there, someone has to address it, and in general we’re not willing.

And because we’re not willing, we might as well support these NGOs. But don’t be deluded to think that a handful of NGOs and our token generosity and kindness can overcome, much less undo, waves of selfishness. It can’t. It won’t. And the consequences will pile up.


Who are we kidding?

– Who are we kidding when we give our token tithe and not truly love God?

– Who are we kidding when we donate to NGOs and foundations but pay our maids and drivers lower than minimum wage?
Yes, they would not have jobs if not for these low-paying work, but if we spend more for dog, your cellphone, or your comfort, then it just reveals that we do not love them AS ourselves. We love them less.

– Who are we kidding when go to we’re more active in church than we are at home?

– Who are we kidding when we’re the most famous, most successful person in a country of tens of millions of poor people?

– Who are we kidding when we’re the star players of a losing team? We’re all part of a losing country because our teammates are losing EVEN as we get higher investment grade.

– Who are we kidding when we say we pay minimum wage, we’ve done our part, and feel no compulsion to do more for our employees? Yes, we’re legal. And that’s way better than most. But it’s not loving them AS ourselves.

– Who are we kidding when we demand higher compensation yet come to work late or do sloppy work or stop developing ourselves? Yes, we would all like to make more money, but are you being a valuable neighbour by contributing excellent output from your life? Before you look at what you wish you had, look at what you have, and look at what you’re doing with it.

– Who are we kidding when we refuse to pay more for great government officials and great NGO workers? Not only will you not attract amazing talent to public service you’ll breed your future corrupt and your future poor. I once had this debate with an executive who told me that social workers should be helping others from the goodness of their hearts not because the pay is attractive. I told him that I believe that EVERYONE should be helping from the goodness of their hearts and that people should be paid based on their value contribution regardless of whether they sell hamburgers of come up with creative ways to help communities. I punctuated it with “If you can understand that paying the president of a company that sells hamburgers millions surely you can understand that the developing of lives is more valuable and should be compensated valuably as well.”

But the main reason why we have a problem with that is because we know intuitively, when we actually give it thought, that this model doesn’t make sense. Why will I pay nice guys to do good? If being a nice guy would make me a hero AND pay me well, then we should all just be nice guys.

When we outsource the doing of good to others, and when we don’t properly support or compensate our community servants, we face massive greed and massive poverty and massive selfishness with the Charge of the Light Brigade. Brave? Yes. Successful? No.

Because when we don’t become true neighbours, when we don’t love the people around us, in our employ, in our homes, when we live selfishly, even just predominantly selfishly, the only people we’re kidding, are ourselves.


You Can Change the World – In Fact, You Must
Jesus said, “Love me.”

He didn’t say the most important thing is that you go to church, you give your tithes, you give to the poor, you sing and clap, you cry and participate in church activities, or that you join a small group, or that your prophecy and heal, or many of the other things that impress us.

He said, “Love me.”

Jesus understood that when a person is in love, as in truly in love, they don’t offer tokens or minimum participation. They offer everything. If you really love God you will be generous. It’s inevitable because you’re overflowing. If you really love God you will worship. It’s inevitable when you’re daily faced with such beauty. If you really love God you will get connected with other people who love Him. It’s inevitable to want to be with people who value the same things. If you really love God you will prophecy. It’s inevitable because you’re always conversing with God, you’ll be full of His words.

You know a man is in love with his business when it engulfs him. You know a mother is in love with her kids when they engulf her. You know someone is in love when he or she is engulfed.

Frankly, my life many times reveals the truth that I am in love with myself because when I look at the things that engulf me, my dreams, my hopes, my concerns, my needs, my joy, my pain, my work, my comfort, and so on, it’s overwhelmingly about me.

Here once more we see the genius of Jesus when He says, “So you’ll always know what my definition of love is, so you’ll never forget to love others, let me make it clear to you. Love others AS you love yourself. You never forget to love yourself, in fact, you’re always thinking of ways to love yourself. Do the same for others.”

Loving your neighbour as yourself does not mean “Do what you can for others”. It means “Do what you would do for yourself”. In other words “Do whatever it takes to see them flourish”. As Timothy Keller said in one of his sermons, with the same kind of concern, passion, creativity, ingenuity, and effort you place on fulfilling yourself, do so for others.

I believe that every single person can change the world, at least their world around them. In fact I believe that that is what it means to live a life of loving others, to care about others so much you spend yourself for their good.

But I also believe this, if we truly love others, and spend our resources for others the way we do for ourselves, changing the world will be inevitable.

I believe we can change the world, in fact, because we are called to love, we must, and in fact, if we truly love, we will.

You Can’t Workout 7 Times A Year…

… and expect to be strong and healthy.

That’s obvious, David.

It is.

But there are equally obvious things, common sensical things, that, for whatever reasons, we fail to understand, such as:

It’s not enough to do relief work.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that people are getting involved. People do need our help. But the smartest way to help people is to live excellently and generously daily – not simply when there’s a disaster. Let’s take this last storm for example. I don’t know if the rainfall was as much as the previous typhoons but, according to one article, Metro Manila had double the the flood spots than the last one.

Yes, double.

So now there are more people to relieve. When you take into account that there are still many families displaced from past floods, families we’ve mostly forgotten since “disaster mode” is over, we realize that we’re not solving the real issues that hurt people during heavy rains. Along with the growing pictures of people helping on social media is the growing number of the affected, adding up each year with the growing number of flood spots.

Until we fix the issues of illegal settlers, urban congestion, and lack of provincial development (many times due to the corrupt people running these areas), we can expect more of these disasters. We already know that there will be a few periods of major rains and storms in the country, yet we don’t have a long term solution.

David, we can only do our part. You should be glad people are even helping.

I’m not saying I’m mad. I’m just saying it’s not enough. And if our part can be summed up to reactive volunteerism than we’re in trouble.

More on “our part” later.

It’s not enough to rally.
It’s a great step. But, again, it’s not enough. More than our right to rally, we have a right to vote, a right which should be exercised and exercised wisely. I like a song by Rodriguez that goes, “Public goes irate but forgets the vote date”. It perfectly captures the problem with most societies that suffer from corruption: Good at complaining. Bad at the most fundamental things.

The people leading us? We empowered them. We voted them (or didn’t vote at all). We recommended them to our friends, to our employees, to our congregations. We dealt with them. We made their jingles, made their campaign strategies. We drank their Kool Aid. We allowed them to get away with this for so long.

And it’s not because we didn’t rally sooner.

It’s because we have other rights we didn’t exercise daily. Particularly the much abused  word “Freedom”. We’re free to be amazing people daily – not just rich or powerful or influencial or sexy or impressive – but generous, kind, helpful, encouraging, law-abiding, developing, growing, helping individuals. Yet, where is the general focus?

When democracy was conceptualized, with the idea of liberty (or freedom) were two other pillars: equality and fraternity. Way back then, the brains behind democracy understood, that if it was all about being able to do whatever one wanted, we would end up with chaos. Liberty needed to be balanced with equal opportunity (as is possible under the law) and an understanding that we are all responsible for each other as brothers.

So the only way democracy was supposed to work, the only it could work, was if people used their personal freedom to promote equality and fraternity. The body that was supposed to promote and safeguard this was the government they setup.

Keep in mind that during this period in France, the people rose up because two powers were wielding an unhealthy amount of power over them: the monarchy (the elite) and the church (religious institutions). The elite felt entitled to the power and to the services of the people. Sound familiar? The church was influencing a relatively superstitious and uneducated people who were afraid of crossing the church because they would be sent to hell. Sound familiar?

Before someone thinks I’m a communist, I’m not, I want to say that I do believe in the importance of leadership and that leaders will take a prominent role in society – but not to gain advantages but to serve. To serve actually means to be disadvantaged by advantaging others.

I’m also not an atheist. I believe in God and the importance of the church, but not to control people with superstition, not to threaten people with damnation and curses, which will happen anyway to anyone who rejects the source of goodness, Christ, but to present the Gospel, a gift, that while we cannot save ourselves we can turn to Jesus who loves all and wants to save all. Like I said in an old post:

Paul (the apostle) understood that love cannot be enforced, as many of us attempt to do. Love cannot be coerced. You cannot threaten someone with punishment so that they’ll love you – that’s manipulation. You cannot bribe love with blessings – that’s prostitution. You can try to explain love, yet you won’t go very far. We can’t explain the taste of chocolate to someone who hasn’t tried it. What more love? Love must be shown and love must be experienced, over and over, and over again.

I just want to be clear. I’m not a communist nor an atheist, but I do believe in aiming for equality (at least under the law) and, like Nacho Libre’s friend said, “I believe in science”. Good philosophy and good science are not enemies of faith, in my opinion they are incredible supporters of faith, so use your brain.

Which leads me to the final part of this post…

It’s enough to do our part.
One of the problems I have with people who keep promoting “rights” is that many times they forget that these “rights” are only possible if there is a higher authority that is capable of enforcing these rights.

All rights have a cost, and the way citizens can enjoy rights is for government to promote and protect these rights, and government is able to do that if its leaders are held accountable to the people. So there’s a cycle, a theoretical correcting mechanism. People enjoy the rights a government is capable of enforcing because they’ve been given power by the people, who also hold them accountable.

The point of all of that is to say, you want a better government? Start with yourself. Because you are actually the power behind powerful people. Politics is a popularity contest. And in general, we have bad taste. Most of our popular people have incredible impact on the habits of people but have a very shallow understanding of social issues, of really deep concerns. 
Some of you might say, “But they’re not leaders David. They’re actors / celebrities / singers / politicians / whatevers.”

Exactly. That’s all they are. So stop giving them so much. Stop giving them such a disproportionate amount of your time, energy, and money. 

“We’re not giving them much at all.”
Yes you do.When you watch their shows instead of studying, you power the disease of celebrityism, and you lose a moment to be a better citizen. When you waste your time on noontime shows instead of working your ass off, you lose a moment to be a better citizen. If you’re always early for movies (because you want to see the trailers) but always late for work, you betray your priorities. When you know more about the latest gossip but don’t take the time to learn how your government actually works, how you can actually take part, you default on your ability to be a force of good in a big way.
We know more about the coolest new series and have so little knowledge on how the executive, legislative, and judiciary works.
“That’s for smart people David.”

If you really believe that, then you should be ok with only smart people enjoying the benefits. But you don’t believe that because you know that’s not good for those who have no benefits. 
Every right we want to enjoy is powered by a responsibility accepted. 
You want a driver’s license? You’re responsible for your driving. You want to go to school? You’re responsible for your grades. You want to be a politician? You’re responsible for constituents. You want to be a pastor? You’re responsible for your theology. And if you fail in these responsibilities, you hurt your right, you may even lose your right.
There are certain opportunities I know are no longer for me because I did not decide responsibly.
And this is our part as a citizen: to take the freedoms we’ve been given, abundant or little, and use it as best as we can to promote justice (equality under the law) and to daily build our neighbor up to become better (fraternity). 
Democracies thrive when individuals, out of their own volition, driven by personal conviction, make it their life’s purpose to live for each other.
Liberty. Equality. Fraternity.
As a Christian, the book of James says it well:
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. – James 1:27The religion that Jesus promotes, the role of the truly religious is to look after the widows and orphans (who represent the most vulnerable in society) – in their distress (in their lack, need, and hopelessness).
Widows and orphans had no chance on ancient culture. Jesus was saying that the religion God accepts is a religion that looks after the most vulnerable.

It is not only good citizenry to be an amazing neighbor, it is also what it means to be a good Christian. 
The verse ends by saying, “and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” When I look at my own life, I am most selfish, most apathetic, when I am most greedy for the power, recognition, and comforts that society offers.This is also when I am most blind to the needs of others. I am most blind to the vulnerable around me when I am most polluted by the rewards of society.And many times I find myself in this spot, when I’m actually making more money, gaining more recognition, and this is simply because that’s the human condition. Even in church, look who is exalted: the success story, the successful guy who also happens to be a  Christian. He’s the example. The successful girl who also happens to be chaste. She’s the example. Every sector of society has their own set of the exulted based on the criteria they value. And those who are far from this, who fail this, are rejected.


Success, virtue, these are good. But the practice of these virtues are not for gaining exultation but must be motivated by a desire to please God. I am guilty of this over and over: practicing virtues such as discipline and hard work and forgetting the source of all virtue, the Lover of my soul, God. Even as I am blinded by the pats on my back for the achievements, I must daily search my soul for the many sins that live in my heart, that no one but God sees, and isn’t He the one who truly counts?

Christianity says this:

Don’t be like that. Don’t go for the exalted. Don’t be overly impressed with the success stories of the world, even religious success stories. Jesus has a different definition of success.  Go for the vulnerable. Spend your time, energy, and money on lifting the vulnerable – these includes those you call sinners – because you’re one too. In fact, defend them from those who take from them, who trap them, who abuse them, who condemn them. Be the servant. That’s greatness. Make yourself last. That’s winning. Disadvantage yourself for them, that’s what Jesus did for you. 

If you see someone succeeding and using that influence to trap, and alienate and manipulate someone else, that’s a good sign he or she is missing it. If you see someone who is apathetic, who has no interest in taking part in the bigger picture or defending the vulnerable because it doesn’t or shouldn’t affect him or her, that’s a good sign that he or she is missing the point as well.

I see this a lot to be honest. I see this most when I look in the mirror – so I must remind myself not to miss the point of democratic  freedom, even more, not to miss the point of Christian freedom as well.