Thursday, 19 March 2009

Being who you are, and being proud of it

John Mangun
Outside the Box
Business Mirror

What am I? Well, I am a very good poker player, excellent public speaker and a fine enough cook to have worked as a sous chef on a cruise ship. I cannot sing or paint anything more than a wall or ceiling.

I cannot play the piano or rebuild an automatic transmission. I can find a position using a sextant and navigate and pilot a boat without error. I am too short for basketball and too small for football, but I can scuba-dive and endurance-swim. I am who I am, the product of 50 generations of genetics and much more than 50 years of life. That’s what makes people who they are and makes countries what they are.

I keep reading things that bother me. The first is that the Philippines is not facing some of the same economic problems as those countries dependent on exports to the West because we were too stupid, too lazy or maybe too unlucky to have developed our export business during the last 20 years. They often say the Philippines could have done so much more had we gone into manufacturing. How we wasted opportunities and did not progress like our neighbors because we did not do what they did. Just look at China and Taiwan.

That reminds me of a nasty old aunt of mine who constantly said I was wasting my life because I did not train to be a doctor. Maybe I could have been a doctor except for one thing: I do not like being around sick people. And for five generations, no member of my family has ever been a doctor. Perhaps it is in my genes.

People have to do what they do best, based on the characteristics they are born with and their life experience. Just like countries.

America was never really good at making things. What America did well was growing food and inventing things. The food-growing came from having productive lands and farming methods. The United States ranks No. 65 among countries in terms of arable lands, but produces a disproportionately large portion of all the food consumed on the planet.

The individualism of Americans made possible men like Whitney, Edison, Ford and Gates to create things and processes like interchangeable parts, the light bulb, assembly-line manufacturing and computer operating systems.

But if you needed precision engineering like a camera or machinery, the Germans were the ones to see. Fine wines and other specialty agricultural products could only come from Italy or France. The British created the greatest trading companies and banks in history. The Japanese built the finest factories and manufacturing facilities the world has ever seen.

Using the resources that you have combined with the skills you possess is what a person and a nation does to be successful.

The Philippines can never be a major manufacturing nation capable of being an exporting force. The country does not have the resources, the geography or the cultural mindset.

The Americans were inventors because the culture was attuned to individual effort. The Germans had the intense discipline for precision. The Japanese could work in an ant-colony environment, with incredible cooperation and coordination lacking in most societies. And who better to create robust and sensual wines than Italians, who created the most lavish and extravagant form of entertainment—the opera?

And there is a social cost of being who you are. No one would ever expect a Brit to be the life of the party. How could he? Brits are bankers and accountants and money-counting merchants. Yet their offspring, the Australians, are loud and bold. Of course. They live in a desolate land where you can drive for two days and not see another living soul.

We read often how terrible it is that so many Filipinos work abroad. Separation perhaps diminishes the “Filipinism” of some Filipino families. Yet, perhaps the genetic and cultural quality of the Filipino makes our overseas workers extremely special and able to do jobs that no others can do.

Go to the thousands of schools and hospitals around the world and see the Filipinos in positions of high and important trust. Go to Japan, Hong Kong, Italy, Germany, Britain, the United States and Canada and see the thousands of children and elderly cared for by Filipinos. What other nation and people can claim that kind of respect? None. Mothers from nations around the world leave the nurturing and education of the children to Filipinos, not to anyone else.

With contempt and scorn, some, even here, call the Filipino “little brown Americans.” Yet, there are “little brown Japanese.” And Spaniards, French and Dutch. One time in the dead of winter, in the oil town of Stavanger, I met a “little brown Norwegian” who managed a hotel-restaurant. He was from Malolos. There is a television talk show in Tokyo hosted by Filipinos, all speaking perfect Japanese. A head of one of the world’s largest investment banks is a Filipino. The White House executive chef grew up in Sampaloc, Manila. Stories like these are endless as Filipinos have adapted and prospered in nearly every culture and nation on earth. The Filipino company driver working at the Saudi Telecom has the same “mother” as the ones that makes the newspaper front page. Many migrate away but many more, the vast majority, always come home.

Being truly a citizen of the world is something that the Filipino does better than anyone else. And like every other part of life of every life, this success has a price.

A nation, just like a person, must do what it does well.

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