Sunday, August 18, 2013


It is human nature . . . and confirmed by social scientists as being influenced by one’s or a people’s ‘comfort zone’. People don’t take on challenges that are beyond their comfort zones. Yet Americans have talked about ‘exceptionalism' and, not surprisingly, have accused President Obama of failing to measure up to the ideal – i.e., in demonstrating leadership at home and abroad – thus his rating recently dropped to below 50%.

It appears Pope Francis would satisfy American exceptionalism. “Shake up dioceses, Pope urges” while he was in Rio de Janeiro recently. “I want a mess . . . There would be great disorder, but I want trouble in the dioceses! I want to see the church get closer to the people. I want to get rid of clericalism, the mundane, this closing off ourselves within ourselves, in our parishes, schools or structures. Because these need to get out!”

We Pinoys have never looked at ourselves as paragons of exceptionalism and would feel more at home with incrementalism? Are we wondering how a pope could say, “I want a mess” – in the church where transparency was taken for granted? If there was one thing we weren't supposed to tolerate, it was a mess, and so all the way up to the Vatican the norm was to sweep things under the carpet? And a veteran American Jesuit who is almost 80 years old, and who surprised everyone by leaving the priesthood, did not spare the Jesuits of the same criticism. And we’ve assumed that the Society of Jesus equals liberal? [Veteran Jesuit explains choice to return to lay life, NCR, 15th Jul 2013]

Given our respect for hierarchy, we’ve never considered that ours is an innovation culture or an innovation economy, but one of oligopoly reflected in our largest conglomerates? And so we don’t see ourselves competing in the global market? But now – surprise, surprise – Francis speaks precisely about ‘structures,’ recognizing how structures have resulted in the parochialism of the church – “a mundane church that lives within itself, of itself, and for itself.” [In fairness, it applies to both the private and public sectors, including economic managers – and why MNCs benchmark globally?]

But weren’t we proud that as true Christians we were evangelists? [My wife and I were picked to lead a Christian community while we were still based in the Philippines, and were put through a crash program in evangelization. And as we went through the chores of community leadership, we experienced how mundane it could be – and what it was to live within ourselves, of ourselves and for ourselves. And I refer to the leadership group. And it was not uncommon to hear from those in the leadership circle about “dying to oneself” – and I had always wondered if that meant people could swallow their egos?]

Where does our comfort zone lie? For example, despite dominant conglomerates (sending the signal to the rest of the world that ours is a “closed economy”?) and their influence over our way of life, we rank in the lowest tier investment-wise in the region. And when we extend that to its full import – beyond infrastructure – we rank in the lowest tier of technology, innovation, education and training, product development and market development. Surprise, surprise, in the 21st century, we've remained an underdeveloped economy – that comes with widespread poverty! (And that is the kind of structure referred to by Francis?) And we’ve been barking at the wrong tree, because our definition of reform has been reduced to populism, like pork or patronage? True reform to be sustainable must be transparent and market-driven, not charity- or livelihood-driven? [And why I talk about my Eastern European friends.]

We may not be able to move from incrementalism to exceptionalism but we could work on expanding our comfort zone – to pave the way for change? Because if we can’t take change as an imperative, we've very little prospects to move forward as an economy? For example, we are an underdeveloped economy with a GDP per person at a mere tenth of developed economies! And our lopsided economy is akin if not worse than Occupy Wall Street, represented by the 50 wealthiest Filipinos! Clearly change could mean upheaval as Pope Francis has stressed, but hasn’t man (starting with Adam and Eve?) proved that he could handle upheavals despite the reality of his comfort zone?

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