Chapter 1 – Focusing on today vs Looking at the “Big Picture”
I, like most westerners I know, tend towards being a “planner”. That seems to involve most aspects of my life from financial matters to vacations or even the meals that I have, and sometimes I notice that this need to plan can be considered somewhat anal. My thinking with just about everything centers around what I consider being proactive approach to life where I consider consequences and how to avoid negative ones and try to develop positive ones.
My life involves lists, such as tasks on my daily calendar at least a week or two in advance and what things to pack when I go on a trip. In business and in my personal finances I use cash flow projections to determine the best use of what money I get when in order to not go out and buy something I want, but don’t particularly need, then be stuck with some one knocking on my door to settle a bill that I do not have the money to pay. The examples of how and why I plan is endless and it is clearly just the way I think about most things in life.
What I have come to find here in the Philippines is that that type of thinking is generally rare. Filipinos seem to think more in the minute and live just for today, then deal with the consequences of tomorrow in a reactive way. One perfect example of this is with the purchase of a new boat we just made. We made the decision to buy a Banca Boat for our tour business and on a recent trip to Sipalay on the other side of Negros Island found one we liked. While there we made a deposit and then I set about planning the process to get the boat dependably seaworthy for the trip to Dumaguete where we would be waiting, organised to get the boat dry docked and the necessary refitting done. Before what I feel was the proper planning was ddone, my wife received a call from the seller with the sad tale of how his wife had cancer and he needed the sale money to pay for her chemotherapy. My thinking was that though I felt compassion for the situation he was in, we just were not prepared to drop everything, run to the other side of the island, pay him off and not wanting to leave a paid for boat unattended, sail it back on a 12 hour trip. I myself was also just about to head off on a trip to Manila and would not be able to personally oversee the turnover, the trip back or have the necessary preparations in place to get it safely out of the water. Well, after constant urging, and against my better judgement, I decided to take what I mistakenly thought would be the easier softer route and relented. what came next was pure chaos. No sooner had I landed than I started receiving text and phone calls that there was a typhoon about to engulf the region with the boat out to sea. Things went from bad to worse as when they finally got the boat to Dumaguete, it was seriously taking on water, the engine was overheating and the waves too strong to get it even close to shore. For the next several days, while I was in Manila and unable to do anything the boat situation continued into this downward spiral of chaos. When I did return and was able to assess the situation, it was ugly. the boat had not sunk but we had spent close to 20,000 pesos on labor to continually bail the boat and try unsuccesfully to dry dock it. Worse yet was that the boat was not properly checked when accepted to confirm the necessary work was done on the engine as had been specified, as well as the proper paperwork being skipped committing the seller to a gaurentee that any liability for the work having not been done would have been his responsibility. In the end, we were left with a beaten and battered boat sitting on shore requiring 100,000 pesos of additional work.
This is just one extreme example but I run into many on a daily basis where obviously the thinking of Filipinos is not just not geared to the “big picture” but more to the “just for today”. Family members and employees who prefer the cash in their pocket than the donation to a medical insurance plan, then cannot pay unexpected medical bills, a night out at the fiesta then being unable to show up for work the next day, or having a 5 man construction crew on site and none of the materials or tools to do the job. Or something seemingly simple like being courteous and helpful to a customer so that they will keep coming back or refer new customers which will ensure the business they work for will thrive and be able to continue paying them. Then something as important as having a baby means additional costs to a household that just might not have the means to support it.
Above, I have maybe focused more on the negatives I have seen and experienced in regards to the thinking for today without planning for tomorrow, but I also have to point out that I feel that this way of thinking definitely has its positives as well.
In the west generally, and myself specifically I believe thinking too much about tomorrow inhibits us from enjoying what is really important, and that is, life as it presents itself to us today. I sometimes rue over the beautiful sunrises and sunsets I paid no attention to because I was too busy planning or worrying about what was to come in the future. How often have I not spent a few seconds hugging the person I love, or bending down and petting the loyal dog that is craving my attention. Those are moments missed that can not be taken back, simply because I did not take the time to appreciate them. I personally have experienced serenity, and those wonderful moments came about because I allowed myself to “enjoy the moment” and stop along the way to smell the roses. Immense freedom can only be achieved when I do not concern myself about what is to come. This is a freedom and a joy that a lot of Filipinos seemed to be able to find on a daily basis and I am sure it comes as a result of a thinking that is different than mine, and certainly not because their “reality” is any better than mine.
Filipino Mentality and how it affects my Life in The Philippines
So, how does this difference in thinking affect me in my daily life in the Philippines and the relationships I have with Filipinos. To be truthful, it often causes me much frustration, stress, and yes, sometimes anger. I feel most at ease with a life of organization and I find that a life in the Philippines, with Filipinos, often spirals quickly into a chaos that unhinges me. I sometimes show that frustration in ways that are disrespectful, judgmental and hurtful to those around me, some of whom I love very much. Sometimes, honestly, I lie awake at night and wonder what I am doing in this country and regret my decision to move here. Often I mistakenly think that a return home would solve all my problems, in the classic “grass is greener on the other side” attitude.
Dealing with Filipino Mentality
The only question that really is important though, is how do I deal with this difference in thinking? In that respect I have good days and I have bad. The good days come when I remember my core values of acceptance of other people exactly as they are and do not judge them for being different than me. I think that is called humility? The other thing that helps is to be secure in who I am and my right to be how I am and want to be. That person is one who likes and needs to plan for tomorrow, but is striving hard to find the proper balance between planning for the future while enjoying the beautiful gifts I have been given today. And lastly, as soon as I start to fall into the trap of thinking it is better somewhere else, I have to remember why I am here in the first place. Quite simply I am here because I like it more here than anywhere else I have been!