TED Talk: “Your elusive creative genius” by “Eat, Pray, Love” author Elizabeth Gilbert

(Originally posted in the blog, Out of the Universe)

Thanks to this great playlist by TED, we can watch more videos related to the birth and spread of new ideas, the discovery and cultivation of creativity, and other videos that are sure to inspire creativity, innovation, or at least the challenging of the status quo.

This next video I’m featuring on my blog is a TED talk by Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert on our “elusive creative genius.” One line that struck me during her talk is when she pointed out how we’ve been taught and conditioned to think and believe this line:

“Creativity and suffering are somehow inherently linked, and that artistry, ultimately, will always lead to anguish.”

She talks about the dangers of this “odious” assumption and of how a simple change in perspective–rooted in the ancient Greeks and Romans, and shared even by today’s contemporary creatives–can “change everything” and make the creative process a little less daunting and a little more awe-inspiring.

This made my tear up a bit and recognize some wildly creative minds around me. Do watch the video–especially if you’re in need of inspiration–and do share your thoughts here. 🙂

Within the Joker’s Grasp (Out of the Universe)

By Niña Terol (originally posted in the blog Out of the Universe)

 

And now we face yet another hundred-million-peso scandal, unfolding in real-time in the august chambers of the Philippine Senate, involving yet another fall guy who is now the country’s hottest topic (and butt of jokes) but who will later on be forgotten. The moment I heard his name—a few years ago, when my mom casually mentioned the name of the Rotary’s then-District Governor—I immediately felt that there was something fishy about a man named Jocelyn, who called himself Joc-Joc. I think that any public servant who respects his position enough should at least find a more suitable nickname upon assuming a position of great responsibility. Don’t trust a man who calls himself a joke—or, perhaps more accurately, a two-faced joker.

But I digress. This latest scandal to rock the Philippine shores—er, fields—paints yet another ugly caricature of this present administration and its cohorts and once again makes the Filipino nation look like a bunch of idiots. How can anyone justify distributing funds for agricultural inputs that are of the wrong kind, given at the wrong time, for the wrong districts? (And, oh yes, they were grossly overpriced, too.) I felt a brief moment of admiration for Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago when she admitted that, although she is an administration ally, Joc-Joc Bolante was simply “defending the indefensible.”

Former Agriculture undersecretary Jocelyn "Joc-Joc" Bolante at today's Senate hearing. (Inquirer.net)
Former Agriculture undersecretary Jocelyn “Joc-Joc” Bolante at today’s Senate hearing. (Inquirer.net)

There is simply no way of getting around this. And we cannot let these corrupt, unscrupulous officials get away with it. If I were a guy, I’d say that “nakakalalaki na ‘tong gobyernong ito (this government is challenging my manhood–or something to that effect).”

This whole episode reminds me of Dr. René Azurin’s book, aptly titled Power Without VirtueIn his introduction, he exhorts us to exact accountability from government, saying that “their powers should be strictly limited, constantly monitored, and held always in check.” Allow me to share some excerpts from his book’s introductory essay:

 “… Tremendous discretionary power over public funds, public resources, and public policies is vested in those who capture control of government, and that power has been consolidated, increased, refined, guarded, and avariciously used over the years by the nation’s politicos for their own private and personal gain. Irrespective of any labels or party names that presidents, senators, congressmen, and local government officials have attached to themselves over the more than hundred years since [Mabini’s time], all have been joined… by the notion that the positions they occupy are opportunities ‘to grasp’ and not ‘to serve.’

“By its very nature, of course, it is inescapable that power is vested in government and, by extension, in government officials. Because, however, it is not reasonable to expect that our public officials will be as moral or as ethical as the ‘sublime’ Mabini [whom Dr. Azurin refers to early on in his essay], their powers should be strictly limited, constantly monitored, and held always in check. Discretionary allocations in the national budget—like the huge presidential discretionary funds and legislative pork barrel—should be eliminated altogether. The decisions to award public projects should always be minutely scrutinized, publicly justified, and never cloaked in ‘executive privilege.’”

Joc-Joc Bolante has yet to invoke “executive privilege”, but he has asked that his right against self-incrimination be upheld, even if this is a right extended only to the accused and not to witnesses. He insists that he never knew who recommended him as Undersecretary of the Department of Agriculture, even if he later on admits that the only one he knows from the upper echelons of Malacañang is First Gentleman Mike Arroyo, a “good friend” of his. He apologizes for having made the Senate wait for three years for him to surface and offer his testimony, even if he has had plenty of opportunities to surface before his incarceration in the United States. Moreover, he is adamant that the President had nothing to do with this scandal, although incumbent officials acknowledge that Mrs. Arroyo is a micro-manager who dips her fingers (or those of her husband) in practically every matter in this government. Nobody believes that P728 million could be disbursed to over a hundred districts in the country without this president’s knowledge.

Clearly, what we have in front of us is a joker who cannot be trusted or given the benefit of the doubt. He is one of those avaricious men whose primary motivation for joining government is to enjoy its many under-the-table perks. Now that he has surfaced, we will have to bear with days—possibly even weeks—of a live telenovela that makes the Filipino people look tanga (idiotic) in the worst possible way. How much more of this will we take? Aren’t we tired of scandal after scandal, and of government officials who think that we’re stupid, apathetic, and callous, even?

More importantly, what are we going to do about it? I once more refer to Tito Rene’s introduction to show an alternative I do not want to see:

“In theory, the extent of government power is specified by the role the people assign to it. In practice, that role is actually determined by the latitude the political class is given to arrogate powers unto themselves. Unfortunately, ‘the people’—being a dispersed, diffuse mass—have no real ability to limit that latitude. It is therefore left to other organized institutions of society—such as civic groups, business groups, advocacy movements, professional associations, religious institutions, academic institutions, and media—to try to circumscribe (if they are so inclined) the role of government and the powers of government officials, and then hold them to account.

“A community holds together, I believe, largely because there are reasonable expectations that a system exists for ensuring that each member of it will be treated fairly and justly by the community itself, if not necessarily by every other member of it. Without this conviction, I think that communities will inevitably break apart (unless held together by force, in which case a revolt will eventually become inevitable). If the privileged few who exercise power in the community use this power to plunder and exploit, and they vulgarly display themselves as exempt from the rules imposed on the ordinary many without power, there is no compelling incentive for the powerless and unprivileged to stay within the community or, if they do, to follow its rules.”

If we want to keep intact what is left of the Philippine community, we need to demand accountability from our public officials NOW. The jokers in government have already taken too much from us—what else are we going to allow them to grasp?

___

Niña Terol, 28, is an officer of Team RP and YouthVotePhilippines and a member of other reform-oriented groups. She hopes to make real, positive change happen in the Philippines within her lifetime.

Profiles in “Out of the Universe Leadership” (part 1)

(Originally posted in the blog, Out of the Universe)

I consider myself fortunate to be one of the radio anchors of Lider Totoo, the Saturday-morning program on Radyo Veritas that tackles servant leadership through the experience of real leaders working in different fields and different parts of the country. There are few things I enjoy better than listening to great minds sharing their experiences, challenges, and aspirations, and working on this program makes it worthwhile for me to wake up early on a Saturday morning and trek all the way to North Avenue. (And I live in Pasay… so you can get the picture.)

My first interview, held on 11 October, was with Naga City Mayor Jesse Robredo, who started public service at the age of 29 (!) and introduced many innovations in government service, including running a website where Nagueños could log in to learn anything about their government and the services that they needed. Through the website www.naga.gov.ph, the people of Naga could look into ordinances and executive orders, view public biddings and government transactions, and gain free access to information that they, the public, had the right to know.

Naga City Mayor Jesse Robredo (photo taken from Naga.gov.ph)In 2000, Mayor Robredo won the highly prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service, where this citation was presented:

It is sad but true. Democratic government is not necessarily good government. Too often, elections yield power to the few, not the many. Injustices linger beneath the rhetoric of equality. Corruption and incompetence go on and on. Voters, alas, do not always choose wisely. And yet, in Asia and the world at large, much is at risk when democracy founders, because democracy is the hope of so many. Jesse Manalastas Robredo entered Philippine politics at a time when hope was high. As mayor of Naga City from 1988 to 1998 he demonstrated that democratic government can also be good government.

In the wake of his country’s People Power Revolution in 1986, Jesse Robredo responded to President Corazon Aquino’s call to public service. He abandoned his executive position at San Miguel Corporation to head the Bicol River Basin Development Program in Naga, his hometown. In 1988, he stood for election as mayor and won by a slim margin. He was twenty-nine.

Once the queen city of the Bicol region, Naga in 1989 was a dispirited provincial town of 120,000 souls. Traffic clogged its tawdry business district and vice syndicates operated at will. City services were fitful at best. Meanwhile, thousands of squatters filled Naga’s vacant lands, despite the dearth of jobs in the city’s stagnant economy. Indeed, Naga’s revenues were so low that it had been downgraded officially from a first-class to a third-class city.

Robredo began with a strike against patronage. He introduced a merit-based system of hiring and promotion and reorganized city employees on the basis of aptitude and competence. He then moved against local vice lords, ridding Naga of gambling and smut. Next, he relocated the bus and jeepney terminals outside the city center, ending gridlock and spurring new enterprises at the city’s edge. In partnership with business, he revitalized Naga’s economy. Public revenues rose and by 1990 Naga was a first-class city again. Robredo’s constituents took heart and reelected him.

Spurning bodyguards, Robredo moved freely among the people. By enlisting the support and active assistance of Naga’s NGOs and citizens, he improved public services dramatically. He established day-care centers in each of Naga’s twenty-seven districts and added five new high schools. He built a public hospital for low-income citizens. He set up a dependable twenty-four-hour emergency service. He constructed a network of farm-to-market roads and provided clean and reliable water systems in Naga’s rural communities. He launched programs for youth, farmers, laborers, women, the elderly, and the handicapped — drawing thousands into civic action in the process. No civic deed was too small, he told the people, including the simple act of reporting a broken street lamp. He sometimes swept the streets himself.

Consistently, Robredo prioritized the needs of the poor. Through his Kaantabay sa Kauswagan (Partners in Development) program, over forty-five hundred once-homeless families moved to home-lots of their own. They became part of Naga’s revival. So did a revitalized city government. Applying techniques from business, Robredo raised performance, productivity, and morale among city employees. As a culture of excellence overtook the culture of mediocrity at City Hall, Naga’s businesses doubled and local revenues rose by 573 percent.

Reelected without opposition in 1995, Robredo urged the Naga City Council to enact a unique Empowerment Ordinance. This created a People’s Council to institutionalize the participation of NGOs and people’s organizations in all future municipal deliberations. When obliged by law to step down after his third term, the popular Robredo made no effort to entrench his family. His advice to would-be leaders? “You have to have credibility.”

In electing Jesse Robredo to receive the 2000 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service, the board of trustees recognizes his giving credence to the promise of democracy by demonstrating that effective city management is compatible with yielding power to the people.

What struck me most during the interview was Mayor Robredo’s answer to our question about the legacy that he wanted to leave the people of Naga, and whether he feared that, as a last-term mayor, his achievements would be overturned by future city executives who might have different priorities and agenda items from those which he had promoted in Naga City since he first took office in 1988.

He said that the milestones they had achieved in Naga City were not his alone–they were achievements of the Nagueños themselves, who now had the power to work with their government because of the systems that had been institutionalized in the city. He said that if anyone tried to wrest power from the people and try to undo all the good work that they–the government and the people, together–had done over the past 20 years, then the people themselves would not allow it. They would not stand for a government that would trample over their rights, and they would make sure that whatever progress they had achieved over the past two decades would not go to waste. Mayor Robredo expressed his faith and belief that the people of Naga would remain vigilant and ensure that good, participatory governance would continue to rule over Naga even long after his term.

Why did the answer strike me? One reason was the mayor’s sincerity in his belief that his constituents are, first and foremost, not stupid. He knows that they had worked just as hard as his government had in ensuring a better life for themselves and their families. He relates that when a tax hike was being considered, residents and landowners even agreed to a tax hike in support of better social services. When citizens agree to a tax hike, it means that they know where their money is going.

Another reason was the mayor’s belief that participatory governance, because it had now empowered the people of Naga, will not end when his term does. Of course, there are risks that a city government with a drastically different agenda will alter Naga City’s course, but again, the people are not stupid. Having experienced their city’s transformation over the years, they will most likely vote for someone who can build on the city’s success. Perhaps, their participation in governance has also made Nagueños more mature than other segments of the electorate.

I admit to learning about Mayor Robredo’s accomplishments very late into my socio-political involvement, but now I am more eager to learn about the systems that have been established in Naga City as a result of his tenure. How much of a role does enabling technology truly empower people? What offline processes are essential to building a truly enabling environment? What management skills must one possess in order to make this happen? Is this kind of leadership replicable, and on a greater scale? Is this the kind of leadership that the Philippines needs? I don’t know the answers to these questions yet, but I will try to find out.

I suggest that you–believers and skeptics alike–try to do the same.

Stop Wasting My Time (Out of the Universe)

(Originally posted in the blog, Out of the Universe)

I know we’ve all encountered this at one time or another: being made to wait so g**dam* long for a meeting that turns out to last for only a very short while, with people whom you realize you don’t want to deal with at all–even if they paid you a million bucks to show up next time.

This is actually my first work-rant post in any blog, but I’m doing it here and now because an idea hit me during that 90-minute wait.

So I was in the lobby of a government agency, after having gotten up quite early and on the wrong side of the bed, and after having ridden a cab that was caught by two traffic cops for no apparent reason (save for the P50 that the poor cabbie willingly parted with that morning). My mom was with me because she had met these potential clients a couple of days ago, and she brought up to them an idea that I pitched to her a couple of years ago, and these “gentlemen” seemed open to the idea. (See, my mom’s kind of like a stage mom when it comes to me and my career, and she will introduce me to anyone who will agree to it. But I’m not complaining; I love my mom.)

BUT.

Hint #1: Government agency.

Hint #2: “Gentlemen”, who turned out to be a lawyer who was placed in a position he had admitted to knowing very little about, and his two cohorts who seemed to be the certain official’s gatekeepers but who had no official post in the said agency.

Back to the story: while waiting, and waiting, and waiting, it irked me that these people had no decency to even respond to my mom’s messages about us already being there at the lobby, or telling them about our other appointments and asking how much longer we should wait, and so on. To these people, the minute you step into their little fiefdoms, you’re trapped there until they decide to open their locked doors and grant you the privilege of their appearance. It doesn’t matter that you have other meetings lined up that day, or that your time is also worth quite a lot. NONE OF THAT MATTERS. In their world, they are the kings–even if they technically should be working for YOU because they are in government, and you help pay for their perks.

So the idea is this: Is there a way for consultants like myself to have meter widgets installed in our mobile phones, PDAs, laptops, etc. so that we will know exactly how much time our meetings (and the waiting in between) are worth? Not only that–can it PLEASE become reasonable for us to bill these people for our waiting time once it exceeds 30 minutes?? Corollary to that, if I make you wait for more than 30 minutes, then deduct that amount from my fees. REALLY. Just so we can all get a sense of how much each other’s time is worth, and for us to realize that wasted time IS wasted cash. Especially for freelancers like myself.

And the story doesn’t end there.

After 90 minutes, when the cohorts finally had time for us (the official in question was still not in), my mom started to pitch the idea. I was really just there to prove that the idea can happen because it’s something I’ve done for other companies already so many times in the past, and to show that I had the competency and the expertise to get it done. I was going to come in as a consultant, as is usually the case, and my main role was to oversee the project, provide the expertise, and get paid a standard professional fee.

But my radar went up with certain key words and phrases:

“Are you single? I am too.” (Uh, Tito. I don’t care if you’re single. It’s irrelevant. And you’re probably of the same age as my dad. )

“We can just set up a corporation for this and you’ll be part of the board.” (Uhm, I was pitching a PROJECT to a government office–not a racket entity to make money for YOU.)

“What’s the point if we don’t make money?” (Nobody’s SUPPOSED to make money on this, except for sponsorships for the project itself.)

“Are you sure you don’t need a ride? I can head in your direction.” (I’d rather walk from Makati to Cubao than sit within a foot away from you, thank you very much.)

In the end, I think I struck them as an uptight, prissy, idealistic do-gooder who didn’t understand the ways of the government’s underbelly. But it’s precisely because I DO understand it that I choose to NOT speak their language.

So, in the end, thank you Mom for the intro–but I think you and I will both be better off without those sleazeballs. I’ve got only four months left before I leave for my studies, and they are sooo not worth these next four months.

Lessons in Failed Leadership (Out of the Universe)

(Originally posted in the blog, Out of the Universe)

I committed one HUGE mistake that proved almost-fatal to my political career when I was in college: I wanted to emulate someone whose position I was aspiring for, and when I finally reached that position my intentions failed to translate into effective actions. It wasn’t because I didn’t care about the responsibilities that were entrusted to me or about the constituency that voted for me—in fact, my involvement in the student council meant pretty much everything to me in those days. In hindsight, I now see that my failure then was caused partly by my failure to understand WHY my “idol” did things the way he did, what he was trying to work towards, and what particular strengths I brought to the table that would have been my own unique contribution to the organization.

In short, I tried so hard to be someone I was not—and that caused so much grief for me and especially for the people I worked with.

In trying to be like my idol I wanted to copy everything that he did—even if it wasn’t working for our batch’s “mix” and our particular circumstances. In wanting everything to be “perfect” I sometimes failed to even begin because I was already bogged down by too many unnecessary details. In focusing on my position instead of on my responsibilities I lost sight of the reason why I was there in the first place.

That guy was a hero of sorts for me. But because I didn’t try to understand his motivations and because I still had a very shallow understanding of myself and my roles, I failed to become the leader—the hero—that I also wanted to be.

* * *

I am sharing this at the wake of the launch of the I Am Ninoy campaign and on the celebration of National Heroes Day because I have seen youth’s folly of trying to follow in the exact same footsteps of our elders and our heroes—only to be defeated and heartbroken because we assumed so many things and forgot so many others.

We assume that just because certain things worked for our elders and heroes (e.g., People Power) that those things will work for us as well. We forget that times differ, circumstances and personalities involved differ, and so outcomes will most likely differ as well.

We assume that just because they did certain things that those things “must have” worked. We forget that behind every story of victory are countless, untold stories of defeat and shame. (Imagine what could not be written in the history books!)

We assume that our heroes are infallible, perfect. We forget that, like us, they stumble and fall, they have their own failures and weaknesses, and that they, too, are subject to ego, pride, and all the nasty little things that can cause a human being to briefly swallow his principles and ideals. (Ever wonder why many heroes die young? Maybe because if they had lived to grow old they would have crossed over to the dark side as well.)

We assume that everything our heroes did was for “love of country.” We forget that, sometimes, life sets in and forces people—people like us, people like even our heroes—to choose practicality, pragmatism, convenience, or their own comforts and preferences. (I’m sure that whenever Rizal would profess his love for a woman it wasn’t necessarilypara la patria adorada.)

We assume, most dangerously of all, that we can fit into any leader’s or hero’s mold if we put our minds, hearts, and souls into it. We forget that we have our own strengths, talents, and capabilities and that we can be heroes in our own mold. (Yes, it’s easier to copy-and-paste, but that’s plagiarism. Be your own, beautifully written, original piece of work.)

* * *

And while it’s great that we are now being reminded of who Ninoy was and what he has done for the country, I exhort every young Filipino here: FIND YOUR OWN STRENGTH AND BE YOUR OWN HERO. Don’t be a “second-rate, trying hard copycat” of someone else; be the ultimate version of yourself that you can possibly be. Because if you can’t even be the best version of yourself in this planet, then what makes you think you’ll be a great version of someone else?

I Am Ninoy campaignSo if you want to be a Ninoy, by all means, GO AHEAD. But be clear, first of all, about what Ninoy means to you; about what qualities he has that you think this country needs now, in 21st-century Philippines; about what YOU have that you can contribute to this country; about why you’re doing this, and so on. Don’t believe everything that you hear or read about—do your own research. Don’t swallow everything that people tell you about what you should and should not be doing—go ahead and discover your own, authentic truths.

As the old adage goes, “First, know thyself.” It is only after that when you can unleash your true heroism and truly make a difference.

And now that I’m a tad older—hopefully a tad wiser—I can now confidently say: I am Niña, not Ninoy. And it’s perfectly okay; I’ll go and make a difference anyway.