Democracy: Grace, Wisdom and Confidence

Two prior blogs on Philippine governance and culture dealt with: (1) subservience as an ethical value in the Philippines which makes speaking out risky, and (2) an apparent lack of patriotic humility among most leaders in the Philippines; this results in the failure of dynastic leaders to respect that opposing views help keep democracy centered. Free speech is under attack in the Philippines, rather like kings don’t brook criticism.

This article will consider the following three concepts, applied to the Philippines, as defined in the Humpty Dumpty New World Dictionary:
  • Grace. Noun. The state of being kind and helpful toward others, a common application of the spiritual Christian meaning ” that which is of God, through Jesus”.
  • Wisdom. Noun. The uniting of knowledge and perspective to generate an elaborate yet precise understanding of a situation or condition.
  • Confidence. Noun. The assurance a person gets from within that he or she can do what needs to be done.
What is the importance of these words? The importance is found in understanding when they exist in Philippine daily living, and when they do not. And when they exist among political leaders . . . and when they do not.
Take the matter of grace. It’s meaning derives from religious faith, so it is easily found in Philippine churches. Catholic priests walk in grace within the cathedrals and in the outreach they do to ease the suffering of those in pain. This caretaking is enormously kind and helpful to the Filipino faithful, many of whom do not have much material wealth. They are granted spiritual ease through the grace of the Church.

 On the other hand, the priests, bishops and archbishops do not always walk in grace. When they engage in the dirt of political argument, they take positions. Hard positions, in many respects, helpful to some people and harmful to others. The Church is guided by rules, by doctrine. The rules are not elastic, not easily changed. They reflect choices: like the well-being of unborn babies over the well-being of the poor. The Church largely holds itself innocent of any result from its positions, from its doctrine. This is the opposite of grace which requires healthy doses of compassion and kindness and sober acceptance that decision means result. Doctrine that is imposed without responsibility is not grace.

Grace need not be a strictly religious term. Cory Aquino walked in grace because she was a fundamentally kind woman. We know now that Jesse Robredo worked and walked in grace, aware of the importance of living by high-principled rules of fairness and kindness and honesty.  He was rare. Most of us slog and connive and are weak of principle, taking advantage of circumstances and using others.
Grace has a kind of innocence attached to it. Or maybe purity is a better word. Honesty and kindness. Simplicity and empathy.
We all have a little of it, I suspect. We live it best in church.
Perhaps we should figure out how to walk in grace outside the church, too.
And perhaps Philippine political leaders should understand what faith REALLY means. Not use it as a marketing tool to secure votes.
I am reminded of basketball in the Philippines. The kids work hard on what I would call showboat dribbling, the fancy-pants ball-handling aimed to impress. They enjoy the one-on-one face-off with the defender. They love taking him off the dribble and making him look the fool. It’s all macho. Skill, for sure.
But they can’t shoot a bank shot. Can’t score the points.
Facts without perspective is rather like that. Facts without context or purpose is like that.
The goal is not finding facts, or dribbling.
The goal is finding knowledge, or scoring points. That is the distinction between ignorance and knowledge.
Wisdom is yet one step further than knowledge. It is found in comprehending that the score does not matter. How the game is played matters.
Wisdom is a very special enhancement of facts. It finds the deeper meanings. It is a rare quality of knowledge that is expert at assessing context and the intricate dimensions of smart. It takes a few knowns and unknowns and molds them into profound and useful meaning.
I suppose the opposite of a wise persona is a one-dimensional persona.  Or a reactive persona, one that defines its context by what has already happened rather than identifying the possibilities and risks looking forward. Rather like the Philippines deals with storms. After the damage and death, some of which may have been preventable if storm preparation were wiser.
I personally think wisdom is partially genetic; the brain has to be wired correctly. And it is partly learned, the skills of observation, deduction and logic, where logic includes an assessment of the risks of various choices. It also requires a softer quality of heart or compassion or spirit.
Readers Coco and Edgar Lores wrote that Philippine governing skills lack any special knowledge or capability. Dynasty-style governance is power that promotes and protects power. It lacks wisdom and utility. Lacks problem-solving that works in a determined way to take care of the Philippines.
It is understandable that the poor are practical and reactive. It is not understandable that self-proclaimed leaders would fail to acquire the wisdom needed to properly care for their nation.
In college I studied Radio and Television Arts at the University of Southern California. One of the professors was a man named Ed Borgers. Dr. Borgers looked a little like a truck driver, paunchy, big belly, tie too small resting on that big belly, sleepy-eyed, wandering around in front of the class stroking his chin and pondering before speaking. Each word measured and meaningful. He was a genius at seeing relationships and context.
The good Doctor argued that every expression contains three qualities: direction, weight and intensity.
Might we apply these dimensions to confidence? Direction is the outward act, purposeful and certain as to success. Weight is the amount of certitude. We can be absolutely convinced that we will achieve the goal. Or we can pray for the best in uncertain circumstances but proceed as if we know it will succeed. And intensity would be the effort we put into following through to make sure of success, the determination to overcome barriers that arise, without losing grasp of our assurance.
I recognize certitude in the Pilippines. Lots of ego and stubbornness. But many people seem to LACK confidence and use certitude as its proxy. Shout loud enough and people will become convinced that you know what you are talking about. Say often enough that something should be done “because I say it should be done”, not because it is the right thing to do, and it will be done.
The RH Bill is stalled right now because two views are at loggerheads. The view of the Catholic Church and the view of Women’s Rights advocates. Backers of both are absolutely convinced they are right. And therefore, will not bend.
Given those closed views, neither can possibly be confident they can accomplish what the Philippines needs. Confidence requires a comprehension that there is no one single path to achievement. It requires comprehension that problems will arise. That circumstances change. That give is as important as get.
A confident person would understand that either extreme is not the goal. The goal is a program that (1) promotes health care that is sensitive to the values of the Philippines and (2) builds values in the Philippines that are sensitive to the health of its citizens.
Values are not cement. They can change. They can be changed by confident people. Flexibility is an important part of confidence.
Philippine leaders do not exude confidence, I think. They exude bluster which is one part braggadocio and one part excuse-making. Hubris is a confidence of Ego, not a confidence of accomplishment.
Grace, Wisdom, Confidence
Each requires the other.
Philippine democracy, to be deep, rich and successful, requires all.
41 Responses to “Democracy: Grace, Wisdom and Confidence”
  1. Cha says:

    I've been keeping an eye on Congressman Erin Tanada, who got dropped from the administration's senatorial ticket, for some time now. Not quite a few people have been dismayed by this decision. The Liberal Party and especially the President should probably have done a better job fighting for a slot for him in the ticket.Anyway, I was impressed by his handking of this setback. No grovelling, no taking potshots or blaming his partymates and the President. He was urged to run as an independent, even offered up a place in UNA's line-up. But he said no, he was aginst political flip-flopping and would rather stay with the Liberal Party. Imagine that? A Filipino politico not willing to sell his soul, who believes in himself enough to know that he has other options in life other than an elective position. Grace, wisdom and confidence. maybe this is one Filipino leader who has all three.

  2. Interesting. I looked him up. He is third generation; fathar and grandfather were both Senators. He's in his third and final term as Rep. He was born in 1963, which makes him about 49. He separated from his wife in 2010 and has custody of the kids. The President should find a place for him in the executive heirarchy. Or the next President should. His family has been staunchly anti-Marcos, pro-Aquino. That explains his loyalty.

  3. andrew lim says:

    Joe, just hit me this morning. A lot of Fil-Ams living in the US have embraced the Tea Party/extreme right views, and I think that's reflective of the lack of depth or intellectual laziness of many Filipinos, both here and abroad. For instance, they believe Obama is a Muslim, oppose abortion even in rape cases since "God wanted it to happen" and other inane views. There's a wonderful piece written by Thomas Friedman (the economist) in the NY Times- "Why I am Pro-Life", which shows the contradictions in the conservative position of being anti-abortion but pro-automatic assault rifle, or want to shut down the Environmental Protection Agency or oppose Head Start. Locally applied, it is inconsistent to be anti-rh, but pro-tobacco industry or pro-corrupt leaderships. (Arroyo, Marcos, Estrada, etc)

  4. That's interesting, andrew. And it fits, in a way. Religious fundamentalism. Conservative culture, on the face. A tilt favoring "white" mainstream America. Not Mexican America or Black America or even Chinese America. Obedience or passiveness or "intellectual laziness" as you put it.Not too many radical satirists I suppose. Not too many cynics or libertarians in the crowd.I also agree that Republicans are masters of incomprehensible and conflicting advocacies. And the notion that some hold that only Republicans are "real Americans" is grossly offensive.

  5. Edgar Lores says:

    Hmm, another deep one. And two lyrical contributions in succession. Oooh, the bar is being raised much too high.1. The central concept of Grace in Christian theology is that it is God’s unmerited mercy made possible by the sacrifice of Jesus.1.1 It presumes that man is in need of salvation. But salvation from what? I think the original answer was salvation from eternal damnation. That does not seem to hold today.1.2 I rather like the opposite view that we are already perfect. We just need a little improvement.1.3 The definition used of “being kind and helpful” still holds. This definition and the other definition of “beauty of movement or expression” as applied to the Church are contrapuntal. In helping the poor the Church possesses Grace, but in increasing the population of the poor, it lacks Grace.1.4. Grace has other meanings. I like the short prayer before a meal and the extension of the period for paying a debt.1.5. I think the easiest way for a man to win Grace is to marry one. I merited Mercy.2. There is great wisdom in recognizing that wisdom consist, not in the score, but in how the game is played.2.1 This is reflected in such sayings as in Emerson’s, “Life is a journey, not a destination.” Or Krishnamurti’s, “What is important in meditation is the quality of the mind and the heart. It is not what you achieve.”2.2 The means, not the ends, are important. To achieve the economic success of neighboring countries, we should not step on the rights and freedoms of citizens as, for example, Malaysia has done. More to the point, we should not stage ambushes to justify imposition of martial law.2.3 Wisdom in government is as hard to find as the proverbial needle. It seems to me that much of politics and religion is contra wisdom. For example, the closing of the Guantanamo detention facility has not happened in spite of it being a key promise of Obama. The Church holds on to the discipline of celibacy in spite of the sexual abuses of the clergy. It has been observed that the sexual urge is so strong that a man will consider masturbation with a cheese grater.3. I agree that most Filipinos exhibit overconfidence (nice word: braggadocio) not true confidence.3.1 My moral compass quivered at “Values are not cement. They can change”. Those statements require reflection. I agree we must be flexible, but…3.2 I think some ethical values are absolute. They can be qualified or conditional but are not changeable.3.3 Take the ethical precept of “Do not steal.” In Islam, the commandment can be qualified in that a poor man may steal if he is hungry. The weight of the obligation rests not with the man but with the community to provide social justice in such a way that no man goes hungry. 3.4 Or take the ethical precept of proper sexual conduct. This might be an extreme hypothetical case, but if a man and his daughter were the last survivors of nuclear catastrophe, would they not be obligated to restart the human race? The paramount value here would be the survival of the species. Which begs the question: Are we better than T-Rex?

  6. Edgar Lores says:

    Lorenzo Tanada, the grandfather, sticks in my mind as one of the principled politicians of yesteryears alongside with Claro M. Recto.

  7. Anonymous says:

    We are definitely better than the T-rex but no match for the cockroach ( with the possible exception of JPE). In the Philippines, one of the great obstacles to obtaining these virtues is malnutrition. Think Lucky Me Instant Noodles. DocB

  8. Anonymous says:

    Same with Koko Pimentel who didn't want to be in the same ticket with his nemesis Migz Zubiri. Hardly anyone gave a fuss. What's happening here?DocB

  9. Coco says:

    Wow, I knew that paradise was close by, but now you want to create angels out of all Filipino politicians too. I praise your initiative, we all should have the grace, wisdom and confidence to make this happen.As an engineer I believe in the “conservation” theory. Mass is not created or disappearing it only change into different forms, same for energy, impulse and some more physical things. (for simplicity I left out Einstein.) Also with human properties something like conservation happens. Take knowledge, the brains of different people have identical structures, but total knowledge they contain is constant and yes there is variation within peoples. What differs more is WHAT people know. My grand-grandfather tasted the soil to decide what to plant and when, he had not less knowledge of soils than today’s engineers, but different knowledge. My helper knows exactly what to do to please the spirits on November 1, what food the like, where they need light, what door to keep open…, she knows little about Einstein. If you accept the conservation law, then the discussion is no more the need for grace, wisdom and confidence, but what should be the subject of their grace, the content of their wisdom, the substance of their confidence. Less grace walking to communion in a cathedral, more in accepting defeat. Less wisdom in sustaining dynasties, more in dealing with poverty. Less confidence in spinning the facts, more in defending the RH bill. Enrile has plenty of grace as an octogenarian, certainly wisdom and confidence, but is he using these qualities for the right reason? A last about wisdom. My favourite. I used to teach that wisdom is the combination of “share of mind” and “share of heart”, not only knowing a lot but also having a deep belief in what you know. The main source of belief is experience. (the other source is trusted friends). “Share of mind” leads to thinking, the more you know of a subject the more books you read on that subject. “Share of heart” leads to action, you do the things you believe in. A wise man makes things happen not out of position power. So the ultimate discussion points should be “what do we have to know?” and “what do we have to experience?”

  10. And once again you amplify the deep to make it rich. Your 1.2 is superb, and it is a frame of mind we ought to adopt; swear to, in fact. Then we'd see more good qualities in our enemies, perhaps.1.5 Congratulations to Mercy for nabbing Edgar, and vice versa.2.3 Ouch!3.1 I'm thinking of the notion that homosexuality is a sin, which scientists have disproven, or that women are inferior, which really riles Maude and her sisters and is something we men are foolish to insist on. When I see a woman priest, then I will know that the Church has agreed that today's rational is better than 14th Century bias.3.2 yes, agree. Murder is a sin. Always was, always will be.3.4 We are better than T-Rex because we can ASPIRE to be better than T-Rex.

  11. What, Lucky Me is not fine cuisine?

  12. I'd be happy if they'd simply wake up, for starters.Yes, grace, wisdom and confidence applied to some standard of "what is good and right" would be best. And what is good and right ought to be set forth in a secular Consitituion, with the Bible set aside for supplemental instruction to the faithful.You and Edgar come at mind and heart from the same place (see his quote at the top of the page).Thanks for the blog discussion ideas at the end. They are great topics and perhaps I'll wrestle with them. They require more thought than this top-of-mind reply offers.

  13. Edgar Lores says:

    3.1 See your point and agree. I quite don't know how to express it. To me, homosexuality was never a sin or that women were inferior. To me, homosexuality was natural, and women were not inferior, just different. (Vive le difference!) So it's perception that's changing and not necessarily innate qualities or values.

  14. Well, there are personal values and societal values. You are an advanced member of our species and so have sound personal values that need not change. Popular values are like reading levels, dumbed down to the slowest reader, or, at best, eighth grade. It is societal values that need to change to catch up to enlightenment.

  15. andrew lim says:

    No, it is part of cafeteria Catholicism. 🙂 You can choose the fortified ones, like the Korean ones which were found to be carcinogenic, or the ones that are "(too much)salt of the earth." Oh espresso butt is fine dining. ha ha ha

  16. Anonymous says:

    JoeYour last line: to be deep, rich and successful, requires all.No wonder Enrile embodies your descriptions! Grace: Enrile was kind enough to be the victim of an ambush he claimed was not staged. He could have been killed, ultimate kindness as sacrificial lamb of Marcos.Wisdom: Enrile precisely understood the situation that for martial law to be successfully declared, careful planning and right timing were essential.Confidence: Enrile was so sure he would not die in the "real ambush" by switching carsCha: are these the mysterious Drama Triangle you referenced on Johnny? Not Lin ;-)Am I sarcastic or satirical? Or, true "art of an insult"Johnny Lin

  17. Cha says:

    You are actually both right.Glossary:Personal values- refer to a set of personal principles, standards, concepts, beliefs and ideas that can be used to make everyday decisions. They develop from circumstances surrounding us and may change from time to time. (from wikipedia)Cultural values – the values that are largely shared by members of A group, society or culture. (also from wiki). They may also change as societies evolve.Ethical values – Directly relate to beliefs concerning what is right and proper (as opposed to what is correct, effective or desireable) – from Ethics Glossary. The following are considered universal or core ethical values : Trustworthiness (covers honesty, integrity, reliability, and loyalty), Respect (civility, courtesy and decency, tolerance), Responsibility, Fairness, Caring, and Citiizenship.

  18. Cha says:

    Ahaha! Johnny Lin. You da man!

  19. You are sardonic.And you echo, between the lines, Coco's point that these qualities ought to be aimed at righteous targets. Indeed, a crook or conniver can be filled with grace, wisdom and confidence.

  20. Whew. Arguing with Edgar is a vulnerable place to be. Although I did learn from GabbyD how to defeat him, if not win.

  21. Anonymous says:

    JoeSardonic!Erap would have requested you to serve it with garlic bread.Sardonic to him is combination of sardines as appetizer for gin tonicHe he heJohnny Lin

  22. Your mind is bent. That's a high compliment.

  23. Anonymous says:

    Thought sardonic comes from a kind of bread-sourdough.DocB

  24. Anonymous says:

    And wry humor comes from another kind of bread-rye. DocB

  25. Anonymous says:

    JoeI did not consume hemlock water drop wort nor my ancestors are Sardi. (try googling sardonicism on wikipedia) With your high complement, I might start taking St John's wort. He he heJohnny Lin

  26. Edgar Lores says:

    Thanks, Cha. So definition is essential. Or you have to state where you're coming from. Or add a modifier.

  27. Wry bread . . . . Pass the Doc some wort, Johnny. He's contracted something, and it ain't pretty . . .

  28. Anonymous says:

    Channeling Carlito Brigante now:"Somebody’s pullin’ me close to the ground. I can sense, but I can’t see. I ain’t panicked, I been here before. Same as when I got popped on 104th Street. Don’t take me to no hospital, please. Fuckin’ emergency rooms don’t save nobody. Sons of bitches always pop you at midnight when all they got is a Chinese intern with a dull spoon. Look at these suckers scramblin' around. What for? My Puerto Rican ass ain't supposed to have made it this far. Most of my crew got washed a long time ago. Don't worry. My heart, it don't ever quit. I ain't ready to check out. Seems like a just got out of thejoint. Stood up in front of that judge, and told him what was who."DocB

  29. That's downright beautiful. Louis Jenkins from the ghetto.

  30. Edgar Lores says:

    1. Second level of analysis: If certain ethical values are universally accepted, then shouldn't personal and cultural values align with them?2. They should align because ethical values, being universal are objective, whereas the other two are subjective. One could say the other two are subsets of the first.3. Like Respect per Cha's list is a core value. And Respect would be to hold all human beings in high regard – regardless of race, creed or gender.4. So for a person or a culture to say women are inferior, and to treat them as such, would imply that women are sub-human.5. Could I then extend that logic and say that people who think women are inferior are themselves inferior? And therefore they are sub-human and not deserving of Respect?6. Clearly, there is an error of perception/belief in item 4 for people who believe that women are inferior. But what about item 5? Is there any error in my perception?7. I think the solution to this ethical puzzle is not to perceive things as purely black and white. We should show respect to a misogynist because he could be, for example, a responsible and caring father even though he treats his wife as a servant.

  31. What happened to absolutism? ahahahahaha!I think the scale of values gets peculiar indeed if you try to sort out all the variables. A murderer who is a good father is not a good person, and ought not be respected for being a good father. I don't know how to define a "good person", but I know one when I see one.

  32. Anonymous says:

    Lovely, lovely discussion I stumbled into via raissa's blog. Appreciate the hairsplitting over finding the"right" combination of values to achieve ( or to journey by?).. Beats the academic chitchat over at the ivy walls of excellence over here where there is more fun.

  33. Good of you to stop by and comment. Sometimes it is the values we "put up with" in order not to be considered slobs.

  34. Edgar Lores says:

    One must be absolute in principle, kind in practice.

  35. Ah, very good. I've got this idea, however, that you trained in word usage under the master, Bill "it depends on what the definition of 'is' is" Clinton.

  36. Edgar Lores says:

    I am not an engineer, nor a physicist, but this is how I see Coco’s insights.1. It is remarkable what different schools of thought man can create and live by.2. From my point of view of the primacy of plurality, this “conservation” philosophy is valid. It is a framework of elements, it exhibits direction and it works. In fact, I would say it works very well.3. One can be picky and say that the philosophy only works in isolated systems and that it disregards entropy. Isolated systems do not exist in nature, unless the universe is considered one. (But then again there could be multiverses.)4. What I like about the philosophy is that it is pragmatic in its approach. If I correctly interpret it, it sees problems as improper formations of mass-energy and that solutions lie in directing energy to that energy-mass (or mess!) and transforming it into a proper form. There is a finite amount of mass-energy, but no mass or energy is lost in the transformation. 4.1 So the main direction is to refocus and apply energy to where it is most needed. It says, “Let’s stop wasting our time and talking about this baloney of grace, wisdom and confidence. These are nice-to-haves but not must-haves. Let’s give up on religion; it’s a lost cause so let’s focus our energies in building a better society. Let politicians stop perpetuating their power and use their power to solve the problems of poverty and squatters. Let politicians stop spin, and lend their support to the RH Bill, the FOI Bill, and the Anti-Political Dynasty Bill.” In short, “Let’s stop mucking around, roll up our sleeves, and attend to the real problems that require our attention.”4.2 Now in order to solve these problems, there are three things necessary. What do we have to know (methods)? What are the final outcomes that we expect (objectives)? And how will we know experientially that we have succeeded (metrics)?5. On wisdom, I believe there is general agreement.5.1. Wisdom is based on knowledge gained (mind) plus belief in that knowledge (heart).5.2 Wisdom is enlightened consciousness which results in enlightened action. That action may be active (commission or doing right) or passive (omission or not doing wrong).5.3 This blog provides great service in disseminating wisdom – or so I hope.6. In item 3 above, the issue of entropy was pointed out.6.1 Basically, entropy says that things decay over time, that things fall down. Even if energy is focused to overcome entropy, chaos will reign – ultimately.6.2 In fact, the more energy directed against entropy the faster chaos will become a reality. Therefore, we shouldn’t think too hard, we should refrain – if not altogether cease – from discussions of grace, wisdom and confidence because we are reducing the life of the universe!6.3 Don’t be depressed. That last sentence may not really apply. (Freeman) Dyson estimates that:• The complexity of present human society, “starting from the present time and continuing forever, the total reserve of energy required is about equal to the energy now radiated by the Sun in eight hours”.6.4 So feel free to agree or disagree.7. What I feel missing in the “conservation” school is basic declarations of principles, except the principle of conservation itself.

  37. I don't buy the conservation theory. I can sit drunk or I can agitate with a keyboard. The former does nothing, the latter creates new energy that did not exist previously. By defining the framework of action, to be in grace, wise and confident, we define the quality of our effort. To generate an internal energy that is responsible. Then, yes, it is wasted if it is not applied, and it should be applied to very practical things. Like agitating for F.O.I. legislation.So I am advocating principles of quality application of energy, your number 7.

  38. Cha says:

    Well then, you might like the psychologist Jean Piaget's take on conservation better. According to his Theory of Cognitive Development, at one stage of the child's development he should be able to understand that changing the form of the substance or object does not change its amount, overall volume or mass. This is his concept of conservation.Now we can say the same of grace, wisdom and confidence. A priest lacking in graciousness and kindness is still a priest lacking in graciousness and kindness even when he becomes a bishop. An idiot is still an idiot even if he becomes a senator. A good-looking, smooth talking egomaniac is still an egomaniac (only more dangerous and more likely to seek a legislative seat in the Philippines.)

  39. I've suddenly developed a crushing headache . . .

  40. Coco says:

    Omnis comparatio claudicat or every comparison limps and you can use them until you get a crushing headache. What I meant to say is all have a set of talents, but they use it in different ways. Even two people with the same set of talents will not achieve the same things.

  41. Well, dang, next time say that instead. But thanks for rounding it up and relieving me of the headache, which was simply an Arroyesque trick to avoid having to respond again. My brain had turned to mush.

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