The Steel Component: Excellence and Sense of Duty
We liken the support component of this foundation to professional excellence, and in the case of students, to academic excellence.
Let us be the best that we can be. We need a sense of professionalism, and together with that, a sense of time in fulfilling our tasks at hand. When I go to some provinces to give talks, I feel so relaxed. The pace of life is laid back with a little sense of urgency in doing one’s work. This ‘take it easy’ work attitude is reflected somehow in the ‘take it easy’ development that one observes in many of these provinces.
I am not advocating, on the other hand, a sense of professionalism just for the sake of it. Neither am I pushing for work, work and work as if that is the only thing in the world. I would tell my students as I convince them to excel in their studies that studying is not everything. We have to work, again, with a sense of purpose, i.e., to work not just for ourselves and our immediate family and friends but also for the others- our fellowmen and essentially, for God.
If we work this way, we will avoid acquiring illnesses related to work: “workosis” in general and “studiosis” for students in particular. These two concepts are both inflammations of work and study in as much as conjunctivitis or sore eyes is an inflammation of the conjunctiva. Those who fall into workosis bury themselves in their work night and day while they neglect their family, social and religious duties. Those who fall into studiosis are students who do not have anything else in mind but their assignments, their next report, examination or recitation class, at the expense of everything else.
Workosis and studiosis are extremes of work. I will not bother to discuss the other extreme of sloth because we are precisely talking here about excellence.
How do we excel then? We have to learn how to compete, not with others, but with ourselves- to outdo ourselves. They say that our tropical weather induces one to laziness. It may, but the human spirit could go beyond the dictates of weather. Unless we are completely convinced that we could give our best and be the best in whatever situation we find ourselves, we will not move forward or if we do, we will not aim for the highest we could reach. As what two summa cum laudes of my alma mater said two years ago: if you aim for the roof, you fall on the floor; if you aim for the sky, you fall on the roof.
Compete with yourself. Again, give your best in everything you do. You could truly give your best if you give yourself- body and soul- in what you do. The problem sometimes is we work on one thing and our mind is somewhere else. Aim to get the highest prestige you could in your profession. As my friend said to students: there is no excuse for those who could be scholars and are not. Prestige, yes, but without getting nervous, without stepping on the others, without falling into studiosis.
How about failure? Yes, we could fail. I would even go far as to say that we need failure in order to succeed, at least in this life. Failure makes us realize that we are not perfect and precisely because of this knowledge of our imperfection, we could go ahead working with our personal strengths and weaknesses at the back of our mind. Knowing our defects gives us a true picture of who we really are and it will eventually help us overcome them.
I always tell parents, when I get the chance to talk to them, not to be afraid to allow their children to experience failure. Otherwise, when will they learn to get over failure which is part and parcel of our earthly life? Have you ever met someone who never had failed in his life? I am not referring to failures in exams but to day to day discomforts and misfortunes brought about by our interpersonal relationships at home, in school and at work.
I have heard parents say many times that they do not want their children to experience the difficulties they underwent during their time: when they had to walk to school short of allowance; when they had to work in between classes to pay for their tuition and board, etc. Hence, they give everything the children want, not just what they need. They would even rescue them from “trifling failures” so they would not get hurt even just a bit. They start bringing up children in a fantasy world where everything works well or if they do not, they have a “supermom” or a “superdad” to rescue them.
Many times, these are the children who rebel when their parents could not give anymore what they want. Sometimes, after realizing their mistakes, parents start disciplining their children when they already got used to it. Hope that it is not yet too late or very difficult to teach the child. I am sometimes amazed with the invented problems of these children which are nothing compared to real problems of many of our poor countrymen. One child for example has a ‘big’ problem of not having a cell phone with a camera, while a poor kid of the same age does not even have sandals to wear.
That brings me to another point: strive for excellence in spite of financial difficulties. I often tell my friends that difficulties should only make us stronger! How fond it is to remember friends who have gone through college, even graduating with honors, in spite of financial straits! Since I have been working as a volunteer in several study centers since I was in college- Tuburan in Iloilo City and Lauan, Samar and Kapuluan in Quezon City- I have had first hand experience dealing with students who are poor. But their material poverty does not discourage them from excelling. I have several anecdotes but let me focus on one.
I have this friend who had to sometimes walk to our study center from U.P. since he did not have enough money sometimes to commute. One day, his mother called me up because she was not able to deposit a couple of a hundred pesos that day on time and hence, he did not have money to eat. In spite of this, he went through college topping his classes, graduated magna cum laude and even got the highest student award in his College. And he did not spend his entire life in U.P. just studying. He was into several social outreach projects- teaching English, Math, Values and catechism to public school children.
Again, do not let your difficulties and failures put you down. As what my friend said: step on them and then you will be higher from the ground than before. Then we will be happy with our achievements no matter how small they are and we will not be discouraged with failures brought about by our human limitation. We will also learn to be happy with the success of others. One of the defects of a Filipino I was taught in elementary school was crab mentality. We have to vow to keep away with it! We have to start working as a nation and not as Ilocanos, Visayans, Tagalogs and what have you. We have to start thinking not just of our immediate family but of our entire nation and then eventually, we could work for what I call true globalization where everyone is working together as brothers and sisters in one entire family on this earth, with God as our common Father.
In this way, we avoid falling into a wrong type of love for country which despises the others. I go for patriotism more than for nationalism as what my friend wrote, “Love your own country: it is a Christian virtue to be patriotic. But if patriotism becomes nationalism, which leads you to look at other people, at other countries, with indifference, with scorn, without Christian charity and justice, then it is a sin.”
Finally, let us strive for excellence loving our work. When I discovered that the Latin root word of diligence which is “diligere” means “to love”, I gave it as a bonus question to my ever diligent microbiology students. One of them approached me after the exam and said that he had been studying for the past years, giving his best, but without having learned to love what he had been doing. It struck me too that unless we put love into our work, especially in our computer generation, our work could just be the work of a machine: well done but does not have the human touch of love. When we start doing our work with a lot of love- for God, most especially- then, we start seeing panoramas we have never seen before and our work will not just be better but we will begin to see ourselves becoming better too.