Monday, November 16, 2015

“Nobody’s got it all figured out”

If indeed our “captains of industry are at a loss” and “we’re at the gates of hell,” should we then take pause and figure out where we are? For example, haven’t we all been prescribing cures for what ails us when we have yet to come to terms with our reality?

“To be not corrupt is necessary . . . but not enough. Furthermore, what is sorely lacking from all the candidates, is a national strategy and vision . . . Rex Drilon II, chairman of the Management Association of the Philippines’ National Issues Committee, agreed. ‘The first thing any elected president should do is to design a road map for the country.’ It sounds commonsensical—too, when you get behind the wheel of your vehicle, you have to know exactly where you are going so you can figure out the best way to get there.” [‘Muddling through,’ Adelle Chua, The Standard, 2nd Nov 2015]

“How come we never get the visionary leaders — with the strength of character, firmness of principles, and integrity of life — who can impose the discipline to get all the fractious elements of our society to rally around a common banner?” [On our way, Dr. Jesus P. Estanislao, Manila Bulletin, 23rd Oct 2015]

To have a common banner presupposes being predisposed to the common good? But where does the sense of the common good come from? If development is about growing up, the sense of the common good is where the men are separated from the boys? And if Juan de la Cruz values hierarchy, political patronage and oligarchy, what does it say about what and who we are?

For example, hierarchy lends itself to political patronage which then nurtures oligarchy. When we see ourselves as slotted into levels and ranks we fall victim to self-fulfilling prophecy – we take “our destiny” as a given. And those at the higher levels of the hierarchy would fall victim to complacency – they see themselves as masters. Which William Pollard [1911-1989, physicist-priest; a colleague of Einstein in the Manhattan Project] called “arrogance of success – i.e., to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.” It explains how technology has upended once great enterprises, and Apple is a testament to that. 

And why our government officials are themselves being shortsighted railing against our ranking in the WB's competitiveness index. Competitiveness respects no rank even if it may rankle our sensibilities. And worse is how such shortsightedness would encourage group think – and undermine our creative-thinking capacity. The evidence? The absence of visionary and strategic leadership has likewise brought about the Philippines’ low innovation quotient. In other words, what we call “Pinoy abilidad” doesn’t equate to innovation – because in reality it is about “making do” in a culture that is hierarchical and subservient.

If that is our reality, should we be surprised that we not only lag the region in infrastructure development and also suffer from the absence of an industrialization policy – while we relied on OFW remittances and the more recent BPO industry? If we look back to these phenomena, it wasn’t industrialization that we were pursuing but employment. Sadly employment, like an inclusive economy, doesn't come from the goodness of our hearts per se.

It comes from creating the building blocks of a robust economy with industrialization as its platform. Major human undertakings require an ecosystem, the hard and the soft elements. To be kind and gentle are great attributes but that was not how da Vinci, for example, created his masterpieces. He was a master in visualization and utilized tools like an architect to visualize the outcome of his ideas.

On the other hand, we saw virtue in Filipinos finding jobs overseas, and locally, lining up behind the service industry via the BPO industry. Don't we say matter-of-factly that we must teach people how to fish and not just give fish? And so we finally realized that such “make-do” efforts can’t compensate for our missteps in development and nation-building?

In the meantime, hierarchy, political patronage and oligarchy have remained the pillars of our development journey. It is a journey that has brought about persistent poverty. We take it for granted that these pillars are what would keep body and soul together. And what are we missing? Juan de la Cruz wasn't meant to just keep body and soul together. He was made in the image and likeness of the Creator. And he is destined for greatness not subservience.

But if we carefully dissect what hierarchy, political patronage and oligarchy are about, they pigeonhole Juan de la Cruz. And sadly they dominate our conversation and what we get from our media day in and day out – with a little help from the church as it preaches compassion?

And worse, because we’re too close to the trees we keep missing the forest? And that would explain why despite incessantly prescribing cures for what ails us we’re still unable to deliver the goods? But is it about ideology? Yet even Francis doesn’t buy the ideology professed by churchgoing people like us – nor the Curia.

And Japan, Inc. and China, Inc. and Singapore, Inc. are all different yet they all became wealthy economies. What do they have in common? They all sought development and its prerequisite, investment. Did we think there’s a substitute for investment – like manna from heaven?

And can underdevelopment be a consequence of linear thinking, preoccupied with activity but not necessarily driven by a desired outcome like a vision? But then again that is not surprising: visionaries come few and far between.

Yet visionary and strategic leadership isn’t confined to the West as the Asian Tigers demonstrated. If indeed we're at a loss . . . and at the gates of hell, do we owe it to ourselves to traverse a different path?

Should we be scared that we are decreasing our odds to make a do-over whenever we allow hierarchy, political patronage and oligarchy, akin to the social cancer Rizal saw, to metastasize?

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