NO HOLDS BARRED aptly captures the origin and development of this book. Let me illustrate it to you, anecdotally.
A couple of years ago, an inquisitive friend, a college sophomore at that time, invited me to celebrate his birthday with him.
We had already been chatting for 20 minutes every week for several months, but at the end of each chat, we always felt the need to spend more time talking. However, we had other obligations to attend to, so we always stuck to 20 minutes.
His birthday was a very good excuse to have a longer chat. He made me reply to a barrage of questions in his usual jovial and witty manner of asking them—applying liberally our NO HOLDS BARRED policy. He asked questions ranging from studies to girls, contraception and the family, the existence of God and prayer, and to what he termed “sex life” (which I found rather strange due to its apparent dichotomy from life). Whenever I expressed opposition to him, our chat became livelier—quite heated actually—in a public pizza parlor full of young people!
In spite of our apparently contradictory ideas at the start of the conversation, his open-minded attitude and hunger for what he called “the real thing” (the truth, you know) sparked my interest once again to finally jump-start this project, which I had been toying with on my mind for some time already. I thought that there are many other young people like him who may appear hostile at the start but with some explanation suited to their condition, coupled with patience and a bit of prayer, they will realize the attractiveness of a life founded on virtue.
This is the common thread that connects the different chapters of this little book: the reality, joy and attractiveness of a virtuous life. Many people prefer to just talk about values—those things we hold dear in life. But what really builds up our character and perfects our human nature are those habitual dispositions to be and to do good, which are called virtues. They are true to all men and women of all times regardless of color, race or creed. It is therefore my hope that many young people get to read this book which may be instrumental in helping them firm up their conviction and life-long commitment to live a virtuous life—an open secret to a happier life!
Going back to the anecdote, I made a draft of the conversation and sent it back to him. I also sent a copy of it to some friends I had been chatting with and asked them what they thought about the project. Their response was overwhelmingly positive. It then dawned upon me that the only thing that would stall this project—as it actually did—was my own personal limitations brought about by the many other responsibilities that I have.
After years of trying to write some of these conversations whenever I could find some ‘window’ in the middle of so much work (you may understand better what I mean by checking below where I first wrote this introduction), you now have it.
I initially wanted to publish the 17 most relevant questions I have been asked in the last 17 years of chatting with young people, mostly incubated in a house whose number is 17. I also wanted to dedicate the book to my 17 nephews and nieces, and a friend who has contributed to make this book a reality and whose favorite number is 17.
When I finally decided the 17 most relevant topics to write, a friend advised me to reduce it to just a few chapters in order to make the book more portable and appealing to young people for whom it is written. I struggled a bit with the idea of publishing a short book, which I did not like at all, but I guess that is a matter of opinion I had to yield to. And so you have nine (being my favorite number) chapters in this book. If it catches on, I may then have to publish the other chapters I have in mind, some of which have already been written down.
Since I spent most of my professional life as a faculty member at the University of the Philippines (which was actually my first job after graduating also from U.P.), most of the questions and answers in this book were a product of my conversations with U.P. students, which may explain the way I answered the questions—bordering on secular reasons even in apparently religious topics. These are not actual conversations since I do not record these chats. They were written recalling those conversations, distinguishing their words from mine using italics. More importantly, they were inspired by these young people, who eventually became my close friends. And so I owe much of the content of this book to them.
By the way, an excerpt of the chat I mentioned in this Introduction has become one of the chapters of this book. Guess which one?