Habits, Discipline, Passion

The Real (?) JoeAm Teaches Discipline

I don’t do resolutions. I do principles.

This article overworks the pronoun “I”. This is brought on by the normal tendency to self-reflect as we migrate, or are dragged, one year to another. Please excuse the self-absorption.
How does one rise to a higher plane of living, where one is claiming one’s own place in the surrounding social chaos? The opposite of strong is weak, the opposite of clean is unclean, the opposite of ambitious is lazy, the opposite of successful is weak, unclean and lazy.
My boss at the Big Bank in California during a period when the British owned us was a gentleman by the name of Ernie Field. Ernie was brilliant and the opposite of shy. He trained in South America where he was the banker to Panama’s dictator Manuel Noriega whom he would visit in jail to take his banking instructions. He made me a better executive during one afternoon’s casual chat when he advised me to develop a set of principles and stick to them.
I did, and still do.
You see, there are habits and there is discipline. Habits are what we learn to do because it is convenient or familiar or safe and secure. There are good ones and bad ones. Getting up as soon as the alarm rings is a good one, versus lollygagging in bed for 5 to 60 minutes. One is precise and reliable and strong. The other imprecise and unreliable and weak. And easy.
Therein lies the main distinction between a bad habit and a good habit, or an act derived from principle: the discipline to do that which is not easy.
What is discipline? It is one part knowledge, knowing what to do and why, and one part will power. Will power is the determination to do what is right, what is good, what others do not always do.
Will power is a passion not to let the bastards get us down, where the bastards are within (sloth, self condemnation, self delusion) and without (critics, naysayers, stupid people).
Should one require a new year to resolve to do that which is not easy?
I think not. One of my principles is not to make New Year’s resolutions. They are not serious enough, not reflective enough of the determination it takes to do that which is not easy. It is too faddish for me.
One of my principles is to read as if my knowledge and insight depended on it.  Here’s my reading pattern:
  1. One book every two weeks.
  2. A daily morning sweep of the news, repeated in the evening:
  • Rappler
  • The Philippine Blog Center
  • Raissa Robles
  • Google custom-tailored news focused on the United States, the Philippines, Business, Politics, Science and Technology
  1. Selected readings from: the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, The Atlantic, New Yorker, Time Magazine, and Los Angeles Times.
I follow live telecasts of Philippine Senate and House proceedings when they are available. I seldom watch any other television. Maybe a part of a Laker game until that ball-hog Bryant starts dribbling all over the joint.
Another principle is to work diligently on my chosen craft of writing for power. The power of literate expression. The power of understanding the land I have chosen as home. The power of learning from the wisdom and experiences of others who contribute to this blog. The power of reaching people who can make a difference as the Philippines emerges as a bright star in Asia.
  • I crank out six blogs per week. That is part discipline and part style. I don’t do the research and interviews that a journalistic blogger like Riassa Robles does. I simply leverage my experiences and readings and observations, and, yes, ignorance, about the Philippines to craft cross-cultural understandings. Or misunderstandings, as I sometimes discover.
I’m an idea-monger. There is no end game in sight. The journey is the enrichment.  The power is the antidote to growing narrow and intellectually inflexible.
I have other principles as well, dealing with money and family and religion. But there is no need to go into those. They pop up now and then in these blogs.
Now about passion . . .
That is the emotion one puts behind one’s discipline and dedication. Frankly, for me, it can be a negative if I get too angry. So I have brought Angry Maude onto the writing team to deal with the harder views. She allows me to remain LESS passionate and retain the balance that is important for a respectable overall presentation. Man she is one dogmatic battleaxe. How did Ben Kritz describe her?
  • “Oh, and by the way Maude, despite striking me as a hormone-addled dipshit at the beginning of your rant, your three points you gleaned from my article are exactly the points I was trying to make. . .”
Ahahahaha. Ben K is one sweet and lovable guy. He has his passions, for sure. I think he is secretly hot for Maude.
Well, passion is important, you know? Filipinos have it in spades so I need not elaborate further on that point. You understand.

The end of the year approaches. I’ll end this year’s writing with a few thank yous tomorrow.

I’d like to extend good wishes to you as you exercise your own commitments for the next year. I hope you decide to develop principles that will hold you in good stead. Not flimsy resolutions, for show, but deep commitments to do the hard, fulfilling things that will help you, those close to you, and the Philippines grow richer.
Here’s to discipline and passion and the ability to do that which is not easy. And to the principles that become your very own personal style.
16 Responses to “Habits, Discipline, Passion”
  1. Edgar Lores says:

    1. A friend once quoted this to me: “Principles have no real force except when one is well-fed”. Hmm, yes. And I consider him to be a principled man.2. The principles of nature, from the time of Aristotle to the time of Newton, were supposed to be eternal. Even Einstein said, “God does not play dice with the universe.”3. This rigidity in the perception of what truth consists of has governed religion – and science – for some time now.4. And yet when we come to the limits of observation, we do not find easily-defined principle but relativity and indeterminacy. And we come to the logical fallacy and contradiction of postmodernism which says that “Nothing is absolute”.5. In my personal life, I try to arrive at “first principles”. Broadly, these principles are:5.1 The freedoms we enjoy as detailed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.5.2 The ethical laws contained in the essay, “The Seven Commandments of Secular Ethics”.5.3 Loosely, the separation of Church and State, the search for enlightenment, and the necessity for reflection and solitude.6. The principle I find hardest to observe is that of doing no harm, specifically that of being non-judgmental. The mind is an absolute beast.7. The real tests of principles are, of course, hunger (the first temptation of Christ: miracle) and the million-dollar proposition (the second and third temptations: narcissism and wealth/power combined).8. I believe I am immune and would not succumb to the second test (Easy to say – hah!). But I pray that I am not put to the first test.

  2. Well, you are among the most disciplined of people, well grounded in intellectual and emotional maturity. So well worth listening to, or reading.I follow some of the nattering of youth debating divorce on Rappler and note the depth that self justification enters into the debate. Somewhere in the principles should be floating free of self engagement, whilst being totally engaged. So in that regard, I don't believe in being "non-judgmental", for in making judgments, we are merely citing the gap between real and ideal in our eyes, with the good intent of pushing evermore toward ideal. But we ought to do that detached from judgment of self, in all the ways it crops up. Like, usually, defensive. THAT's no easy trick.I find the biggest tests of principle are people-bound, inefficiency and sloth and sloppiness. And I abide by the principle that when one is life-threatened, the other principles are worth bending or abandoning.

  3. Proud Pinoy says:

    I make it a point to recite the Panatang Makabayan every morning, after coffee. For those of you who don't know what this is, here goes:Iniibig ko ang PilipinasIto ang aking lupang sinilanganIto ang tahanan ng aking lahiAko ay kanyang kinukupkop at tinutulunganUpang maging malakas, maligaya at kapakipakinabangBilang ganti, diringgin ko ang payo ng aking mga magulangSusundin ko ang mga tuntunin ng aking paaralanTutuparin ko ang mga tungkulin ng isang mamamayang makabayan at masunurin sa batasPaglilingkuran ko ang aking bayan nang walang pag-iimbot at nang buong katapatanSisikapin kong maging isang tunay na Pilipino sa isip, sa salita, at sa gawa.

  4. JosephIvo says:

    Thanks for making us think. I don't do resolutions too. I don’t do principles neither, I do:1- Pursuit happiness as opposite to being numb, frustrated, angry.1.1- Found a happy partner being factor number one, by far. Thank you Philippines for the kind of happiness you create so masterfully and for the one Filipina willing to share with me.1.2 – Recognize my blessings and that blessings are relative or I recognize there were times or are people less fortunate. 1.3- Create circumstances, when music makes me happy, I go to a concert.1-4- Practise my daily serenity prayer: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference” 2- Search for surprise and serendipity opposite of comfort, repetitiveness2.1- Move: I lived 2 years or more in 7 countries on 3 continents, had to speak 4 languages. 2.2- Experiment: I worked 2 years or more in education, manufacturing, petro-chemical industry, building industry, steel industry, automotive industry, electronics, civil service. Worked as teacher, maintenance supervisor, start-ups engineer, design engineer, production manager, quality manager, program manager and consulting. Worked for multinationals, family owned companies, the government, independent, in networks. 2.3- Don’t plan / avoid principles / but recognise opportunities and dare to jump in the deep.Nice to see that people are different in objectives, style, experiences… and still able to work at common projets.

  5. Well, I have to be argumentative. You appear to have two principles, and they are superb. You are also braver than I am, regarding 2.3. I find that I need lifelines or anchors or places to come back home to. Your concluding remark is sooo true. It is a much richer place if we welcome variety rather than try to hammer others into our shape.

  6. Edgar Lores says:

    Let me analyze that "non-judgmental" further.1. When we talk of ideas, I have no problem making a call after researching, analyzing, and all of that that goes into making a rational decision. I believe my "compass" is calibrated and re-calibrated often enough to point to true North.2. My difficulty is being non-judgmental about the people who I think cling to "wrong" ideas. The mind tends to identify the person with the idea, and to condemn one is to condemn both. This is alright when it comes to "obvious" matters like bishops and the use of condoms but it is difficult when it comes to, say, whole systems of belief that are not inclusive.3. You tend to lose the humanity of the person behind the idea and, in short time, they become the label – communist, Republican, terrorist or dynast. And you cannot help but see that person diminished in your sight.4. Of course, the reverse is true, not even in terms of ideas but simple gifts. Give a person a four-wheel drive and he will believe that you can walk on water.5. I agree on the difficulty of detachment when you are in the wrong. Again, it has to do with identity. We are the idea we believe or think is right. Mein Gott, I am right and I will not shift come hell or high water!

  7. Nice dissection of the issue. Yes, I agree with all of that. I suppose one could develop a discipline, much like the Japanese way "Ask why 5 times" to get to the real reason for something. Only it would be "Kindly tell me why you are not stupid 5 times"), for those who denigrate your ideas. Then react.

  8. Cha says:

    I don't do resolutions either. For several years now, my annual year-end ritual has been to revisit, sometimes share with others this poem a friend introduced me to more than twenty years ago: originally written in Greek and inspired by Odysseus' return journey to his home in The Odyssey.(Funny that you also refer to Odysseus up there at the right hand column, by the way. Has that been there for a while or just today?)The poem best captures my own approach to this journey that is called life.Ithaca When you start on your journey to Ithaca, then pray that the road is long, full of adventure, full of knowledge. Do not fear the Lestrygonians and the Cyclopes and the angry Poseidon. You will never meet such as these on your path, if your thoughts remain lofty, if a fine emotion touches your body and your spirit. You will never meet the Lestrygonians, the Cyclopes and the fierce Poseidon, if you do not carry them within your soul, if your soul does not raise them up before you. Then pray that the road is long. That the summer mornings are many, that you will enter ports seen for the first time with such pleasure, with such joy! Stop at Phoenician markets, and purchase fine merchandise, mother-of-pearl and corals, amber and ebony, and pleasurable perfumes of all kinds, buy as many pleasurable perfumes as you can; visit hosts of Egyptian cities, to learn and learn from those who have knowledge. Always keep Ithaca fixed in your mind. To arrive there is your ultimate goal. But do not hurry the voyage at all. It is better to let it last for long years; and even to anchor at the isle when you are old, rich with all that you have gained on the way, not expecting that Ithaca will offer you riches. Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage. Without her you would never have taken the road. But she has nothing more to give you. And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not defrauded you. With the great wisdom you have gained, with so much experience, you must surely have understood by then what Ithacas mean. -K. P. Kavafis (C. P. Cavafy), translation by Rae Dalven

  9. That is a most profound poem, Cha. Very good at centering the spirit with the mind. Ithaca is still over there beyond the horizon, and the journey is rich, indeed. Still, I better not show the poem to my wife. I'm not sure she'd get past the paragraph about stopping at the Phoenician markets.I put that quote in the right column earlier today. Glad it caught your eye. It seemed pertinent to goings on hereabouts.

  10. JosephIvo says:

    Thanks, this is said so much nicer, it's the journey full of happiness and surprises. Tao. People are people, 3000 years ago or 6000 miles away, all different, all the same.

  11. Edgar Lores says:

    1. The first conceit that strikes me is that monsters will not rise up "if you do not carry them in your soul".1.1. My journey has been absolutely peppered with demons internal and external. But there has been pleasure and joy too. Same as Odysseus.2. The second conceit that strikes me is that it is the journey, and not the destination, that is important. Ithaca has "given you the beautiful voyage" and "has nothing more to give you". And "if you find her poor", you "must surely have understood by then what Ithacas mean".2.1 Are those last two words a typo? Should it be what "Ithaca means"?2.2 What am I to deduce? That "the end is a beautiful mirage – that leads us on through many adventures – but it is nevertheless a mirage"? Or that Ithaca is simply "home"? I think "home" is better from the viewpoint of exhausted Odysseus. 2.3 In our end is our beginning. This is a restatement of Eliot's, "…We shall not cease from exploration…". There is mystery in this poem's ending as to what it all means. The meaning is personal, whatever one has brought "home". I like the wonder and surprise in Eliot's revelation: "to see the place for the first time".Thanks, Cha.

  12. manilatop10 says:

    You practice what you preach and I commend you for that, not that you require any outside endorsements 😉 One chant that I recall NoT working for me was 'having' to say "Boy am I enthusiastic" 3times upon awakening yet the power of positivity can indeed provide an edge at times, something I should remember more frequently.

  13. manilatop10, good of you to visit. Thanks for the chuckle. I think about reciting your chant upon awakening, and I think I would get to the end of the first chant and start throwing in some swear words. Someimes good intentions get gimmicky.

  14. manilatop10 says:

    While I hope you have many of your own children to mentor and provide for their independent thinking, I am thankful that you reach out to all peoples with your insights, clarity, provocation and wisdom. Gimmicks, I agree. Learning by rote does have its practical advantages i.e. calculations when shopping yet to live as a humanoid robot would perhaps be akin to becoming a 'Google Android,' rather than embracing changes in world and indeed humanity and utilizing a popcorn kernel for food or an operating system for progressive awareness. I saw the moon 20 feet away, made of cheese with a cow hit by a golf ball in the year of the Miracle Mets, yet when I realized explorers are of a different cloth, it did not end the search within that is perhaps uniquely coupled to all, a paradox that serves to connect all living creatures both alive and dead. anon…

  15. Thanks, Top10. Yes, I see my son learning his bible verses by heart and understand he is developing a discipline that I never developed. But I also teach him to reach with his mind. He made me immensely proud the other day when he was observing the cars on the highway to Tacloban, and pointed out that some were mean and some were happy and some were sad, based on the shape of the headlights. He is four.Your final paragraph goes well in the discussion on today's blog about the burdens of women, and OFW families, who are split up.

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