JCI Corner: Imagine

Last Friday, November 13, extremists groups attacked six separate locations throughout Paris, killing 129 people and wounding 352, of whom ninety-nine were reported to be in very serious condition. Immediately afterward, Francoise Hollande, President of France, went on national TV to express his sympathy towards the victims and to declare three days of national mourning. He also went on to vow vengeance upon the perpetrators and warned that France would be “ruthless in its response.” State leaders around the world followed in condemnation of the attacks and voiced their support for France.

On Saturday, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) claimed responsibility for the attacks, saying this was in retaliation for France’s support in the attacks against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. The group warned of “more attacks to follow” and that France was “a key target.”

On Sunday, France started bombing ISIS targets in Raqqa, Syria. It announced more to follow.

Today, we mourn in conjunction with the families of those who died in the attacks. We offer our condolences and sympathies, and give them our solidarity in their time of need. We also offer our prayers — that in all of the chaos happening around the world today, love should win out, not hatred.

As an international organization, Junior Chamber International (JCI) supports all efforts at worldwide peace. In fact, just two months ago, JCI celebrated World Peace Week, in support of the United Nation’s Annual Day of Peace, held every 21st of September. Local JCI chapters around the world came out in support of the event, holding peace rallies, initiating flash mob dances, and organizing various community projects aimed at raising awareness about peace worldwide.

JCI World Peace Week aims to bring 100 countries together for 100 years of JCI existence. JCI aims not just to raise awareness about peace worldwide, but also to collaborate with chapters across the globe so that we can all create a positive impact in our communities.

There is a line in the JCI creed which says “We believe that the brotherhood of man transcends the sovereignty of nations” that resonated deeply within me. It is the same belief that ran through John Lennon when he composed and sang the song “Imagine.”

“Imagine there’s no countries, it isn’t hard to do. Nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too. Imagine all the people living life in peace…”

In one of the JCI seminars I attended regarding peace and conflict resolution, the speaker told us that the first step to peace is communication. She said that most conflicts arise from misunderstanding; that most of the world’s conflict can be resolved if sincere and genuine dialogue will be undertaken by all parties involved. That is why ambassadors and diplomats are required to be fluent in more than just one language. That is why in any negotiation, parties in conflict meet and talk before signing any agreement.

But how do you communicate with hatred? How do you hold a dialogue with religious fanatics whose aims are, as stated in their magazine Dabiq “to conquer the world and put to the sword anyone who does not believe in its interpretation of the Koran?” How do you communicate with people who believe that “all religions who agree with democracy have to die?”

How do you get through hatred?

In the words of a very wise man, LOVE.

“But I say unto you which hear, love your enemies, do good to them which hate you. Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which use you.”

As Salvor Hardin, a fictional character in Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series says, “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.”

This is not to say that the competent uses violence as first resort. Rather, briefly explained, the maxim implies that incompetent people do not possess the skill and wisdom, so that when they exhaust their limited options, they invariably resort to violence. Hence, anyone using violence must therefore be incompetent. Stated in the affirmative, a competent person will never use violence because he is capable of solving any problem. A person who uses violence as a first resort may not necessarily be incompetent, but he is certainly evil.

Going back to the JCI creed; that one line that states that “the brotherhood of man transcends the sovereignty of nations,” is JCI’s way of saying that humanity’s kinship with each other is not limited by borders, nationality, race, or color. We are the citizens of the world. We belong to one race, one family.

I joined this organization for this one great ideal, this one line that resonated deeply within me. And like John Lennon, I too dream of the day when I can sing the lyrics of “Imagine” but not have to tell people to “imagine.” Because then, we would be living the dream.

“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us, and the world will be as one.”

First published in Bicol Mail, November 2015.

JCI Corner: Volunteerism and the Demand to Earn a Living

As members of Junior Chamber International (JCI), one of the very first thing we learn in JCI is that membership in the organization is purely voluntary. We cannot force someone to join us, we cannot force them to be active, and we certainly cannot force them to stay. Everything we do revolves around the voluntary action of each member. Each member decides on their own to give their own time, resources, and share their own talent and skills. Many of the tenets of JCI revolve around the principle of volunteerism. The organization as a whole cannot function without people volunteering.

However, when the demand of volunteerism goes up against the demand to earn a living, many mistakenly believe that they have to choose between the two. Many cannot imagine the two co-existing, or many have trouble balancing both in their lives.

One of the reasons why JCI is such a great training ground for future executives and leaders is that JCI has all the trappings of a corporation but none of its inherent advantages. JCI leaders do not have the advantage a corporate executive has when it comes to demanding obedience and prompting people to work towards a goal. JCI leaders cannot force their members to work upon the threat of being fired, nor can they entice members to work upon the expectation of being paid a salary. Yet JCI leadership structure imitates that of a corporation. There is a President, a Vice President, a Secretary, and a Board of Directors. And every member, from the newest, to the oldest, to those who have leadership positions, is expected to work towards a common goal: that of creating positive change within their communities.

It’s a hard goal to achieve, especially if your members are not your employees and you cannot simply demand obedience or compliance by virtue of authority or the enticement of financial compensation.

So JCI leaders discover that in order to be successful, one must be able to convince people to work towards a goal purely for altruistic reasons. Members who rise to leadership positions gain insight on how to lead others through persuasion, inspiration, and respect rather than through tyranny, horse-trading, and fear. Because JCI is a non-profit organization, it does not have the resources a big corporation has, prompting JCI leaders to be creative and ingenious in their organizational drive.

Going back to the dilemma of volunteerism vs earning a living, JCI leaders must realize that the same principles required of them to lead, are also the same principles needed in balancing the two opposing forces each member experiences.

Members don’t have to choose between their jobs or JCI, they can employ a balancing act. Being a volunteer organization, JCI respects and recognizes each member’s right (and need) to earn a living. In fact, the two doesn’t even have to be diametrically opposed, as both can be in harmony in many instances (for example, many members have gotten better opportunities in their jobs or businesses because of JCI).

What every member must realize, is that for JCI, it isn’t about choosing between the two, it’s about learning how to maintain a balancing act. As I mentioned earlier, JCI is a great training ground for future executives and leaders. Not only because it prepares its members in becoming leaders, but also because it teaches its members to manage their time and resources wisely.

Meanwhile, members must also realize that even though JCI is a volunteer organization, work must still be done. And no work can be done without anyone giving their time, talent, or resources. And since they have pledged to “faithfully and truly perform my duty, and uphold and promote the objectives of Junior Chamber International,” then they are morally obligated to uphold such pledge, and work to fulfill such promise, to the end result that they must work, and work voluntarily, freely and with gladness in their hearts. For any work done in bitterness will taste the same, and any work done in joy will taste sweetly.

In the end, we all do this thing we call volunteering because we believe in the power of positive change. We believe that promoting good isn’t only for others, but ultimately for ourselves. Personally, I have followed the logical conclusion of altruism to its very end, and in my analysis, discovered this: if you do good to your fellow man, all the good you do will come back to you. How? Every man you help will be one less person wanting to rob you, kill you, rape you, or mindlessly do you harm. If you start a project helping people who have drug addictions, then you lessen the people who will do all those drug-related crimes. If you start a livelihood project, then you lessen the people who rob and kill for money.

So when you look at me and I tell you I’m all-in about altruism, understand that I am just being the selfish person I am, and all I really want to do is leave a better world for my son, where he will not fear being killed, robbed, or harmed because people are destitute or crazily high on drugs. To that end, volunteerism and earning a living are all the same to me – a means to an end.

First published in Bicol Mail December 2015.

Youngblood: Corrupted

I MARVEL at how our world has developed over the centuries and how mankind has progressed from his early beginnings as a cave dweller to become an urban yuppie. I marvel at how our world has been transformed by the evolution of language — from simple hand signals and singular grunts that turned into words and became dialects and ultimately developed into national languages.

I marvel at how the spoken — or written — word has made and broken kingdoms and dynasties. I marvel at how mankind overcame ignorance to become informed and learned. I marvel at how we have harnessed the power of information to fuel our development economically, intellectually and spiritually.

And now I marvel at our generation’s stupidity as we harness that same power not to develop but to destroy utterly that which our forefathers have long strived to build. In place of a free press, we have a puppet press that is controlled and dictated to by commercialism, politicians, and/or fear. So instead of the youth learning from the media, they are being brainwashed by the media. Instead of integrity, we have scandals. Instead of straight talk, we have cheap talk. Instead of real news and public affairs programs, we have a nightly showbiz patrol interrupted by a brief segment of news. Instead of real reporters, we have “TV personalities” who don’t know the difference between getting facts before reporting the news and reporting first and then supplying the evidence to fit the news reported. Instead of a press to be trusted, we now have a press we must be wary of. For all they care about are ratings, profits and anything that brings in that confounding invention of man: money.

Greed has caused our generation’s decay. I am afraid that the day will come that that same greed will bring about our destruction.

The mass media have already corrupted the minds of our youth. The broadcast media, in particular, have a big influence on the masa’s mind, for as someone in the industry has boasted, even the poorest families strive to have three things: a radio, a television set and a karaoke. No wonder that whatever the media peddle, our people buy wholesale.

TV noontime shows don’t help uplift our people’s lives. Instead of teaching the value of hard work and pride in improving one’s lot through honest labor, they promote laziness by making people line up for game shows in the hope of winning the jackpot.

I pity all those people skipping their jobs or wasting their day lining up for a shot at P1 million or a house and lot. Some of them candidly admit that they have been going through the routine for months.

“Sus Ginoo!” [My God!] If Filipinos showed the same tenacity in looking for jobs, the number of people mired in poverty would probably go down. But no, Filipinos proudly declare, “Masaya na po basta magkakasama” [So long as we are together, we are happy], or “Diyos na po ang bahala” [God will provide].

If only our people would be taught that poverty is not a gift of fate or of faith, but a consequence of our actions, and that laziness is never rewarded with a cool P1 million, this sorry country of ours would be a lot better.

Joseph Dominic O. Romero, 24, is a physical therapy graduate of Universidad de Santa Isabel in Naga City and works as a copy editor in an advertising company.

First published in Philippine Daily Inquirer on September 2005.

The Inevitable Loss of Innocence

We’re all looking for that perfect dream vacation; that perfect picturesque, unspoiled, undiscovered piece of paradise; that pure unadulterated piece of nature that we can then take magnificent pictures of with our expensive DSLRs and GoPros, and curate and edit in our Macs and PCs, to post in our picture-perfect Instagram or Facebook accounts, using our high-end smartphones and laptops – only to lose the whole point of it.

Why did we go there anyway?

There’s a beautiful line in the movie The Beach that goes —

“by coming to paradise, we had inevitably destroyed it.”

My friend, Randall Dagooc, once posted this biting message on his Facebook page:

“Dear Siargao, please don’t become the luxury-surfer themed tourist-Disneyland that is Bali. Love, Me.”

All of us want to be that tourist who wants this perfect place to remain unspoiled, unmarred, untarnished – but somehow, all we can do is become those tourists who do the exact opposite. Randall told me that tourism by droves is inevitable. It’s what happened to Boracay, and it’s what’s happening now to Palawan and countless other beach front properties in the Philippines. There are no unspoiled places anymore, no secret getaway islands, no secret nature trails or caves. We’ve explored every face of the earth, marked every secret caves, travelled every nook and cranny there is to find.

Yet, once in a while, we do find a gem here and there. Again, my friend Randall, comes to me with an invitation. “It’s a place far off the beaten path,” he says. “No tourists,” he promises.31841986_10156389060793410_4736589598744903680_o

We set off just before lunch. We packed our gear and loaded it on his red-orange FJ cruiser. We didn’t pack much. Just our tent, cooking gear, swimwear, snorkeling gear — and beer. Lots and lots of beer. Food, Randall promised, would be caught fresh for us.

We arrived just past one. The villagers greeted us warmly (Randall had met and befriended them on his first visit) and Randall set about talking to them and giving out the gifts (various things the villagers had requested) he had brought for them. Simple stuff – a volleyball, a portable wood planer, aluminum foil (apparently, this stuff is a hit among them), and some swimming gear.31717975_10156383618358410_1645690842007994368_n

Later, we hiked down to the beach. We were greeted with a shoreline that was as unpeopled as you can ever find. We swam. Later, the villagers brought us coconuts to eat and drink. And that was just the beginning.31543505_10156381477153410_7295698699030626304_o

That night, we dined on freshly caught squid and lobster, while drinking and talking to the villagers over beer and cheap gin.31166381_10156364994203410_2481178022506397696_n31577842_10156383618753410_5408979480691605504_n31676557_10156383618703410_3890799259854831616_n31508765_10156381477968410_6644406611269910528_o

Their dreams and hopes were fairly simple. Protect the area from illegal fishing and environmental destruction, live a simple life, and enjoy a few modern necessities now and then. Their biggest problem was access to a doctor. Ka Isidro told us that if someone was sick, they have two choices: endure the pain or brave the trek to go to the city, which was 70 kilometers away – if the road was all smooth. Most of the time, their only medicine was to endure the pain, he said.

31073129_10156364993333410_8964161006670446592_n

I could not begin to imagine how to help these people. I mean, I could. But the cure seemed worse than the illness. We could help make this place like Boracay, and bring modernity and livelihood to these people, or we can leave this place as is – and preserve the place in its idyll.31693262_10156381477473410_2721908474135969792_o

We left the next day, leaving nothing on our camping site. We brought trash bags with us and collected all our trash before we left (I told you, we brought lots of beer). We left no trace of our passing except for the memories we shared with the fishermen whom we shared and drank the night with. Like that quote everyone likes to post on their vacation getaway photos, “Leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but memories.” Except everyone else doesn’t really do it. They just like to quote it. Hashtag savemotherearth.31518651_10156381842708410_8978544860734685184_o

I can’t really promise you that this place will remain unspoiled. That you’ll find it in the same state we found it in. When we got back and asked around the various local government agencies to inquire about help for the fishermen, we were told there were already various plans to turn the area into a mass tourism area.31732590_10156383618278410_4735131285549219840_n

Randall has this idealistic dream that we can protect every unspoiled place we find, preserve nature if only we could educate people better. In the past, I would have shared his idealism. But I know better now. I’ve accepted that until people see these places as home instead of a vacation site, things will remain as they are. They’ll come and take their pictures, leave their mark, and change the place from a once idyllic place into the next Boracay.

I’ve accepted that people aren’t like me and Randall. They don’t go to a secluded place and think “We’re home.” They go to a place and think “What a perfect place away from home.” Don’t get me wrong.

“I still believe in paradise. But now, at least I know it’s not some place you can look for. Because it’s not where you go, it’s how you feel for a moment in your life when you’re a part of something. And if you find that moment, it lasts forever.”

And in my mind, where it’s the only place where it can ever be truly perfect, I keep my memories pristine clear. No hashtags, no Instagram photos. Just memories — of that time, and that place, far off the beaten path, just as promised.31562840_10156383618518410_2091080479611551744_n

*all photos credit of Randall Dagooc of Mango Red. You can view more of his and his brother’s work, here.