"Ambition" Is Not a Bad Word, nor Is "Unity"

I recently wrote a blog as if I were making a speech for President Aquino. As I went through the reader comments, it struck me that the tenor of my speech was very different from what you would ordinarily hear from President Aquino or any other Philippine leader in a popular speech.

The typical Philippine presidential speech mainly extols achievements. The President may talk about plans, too, but in a practical way. He itemizes line items achieved and line item goals.
My own speech was instead centered on something more generalized and bigger. An ideal. A vision. Specifically, I wanted to rally the audience EMOTIONALLY around a nationwide commitment to independence, unity and good behavior.

My talk was also tailored to some important audiences. It spoke directly to them. It spoke frankly and firmly to China,  the U.S., businessmen, churches, dynasties and the Filipino people.

The central theme was the same for all those audiences: the importance of a nationwide commitment to independence, unity and good behavior.
As an expression of vision, the speech tried to raise a feeling of “emotional pride” that I think is largely missing from the Philippine Constitution as an adaptation of the US Constitution. It seems to me that Filipinos don’t “feel” their Constitution as representing the national character. It is just words on paper. So this “emotional pride” is largely missing from the cultural identity of the Philippines as a nation, and it fails to motivate the nation toward a greater union.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I think Filipinos have tremendous soul and character and pride. But the national glue is not Mighty Bond. It is some kind of pasty stuff made of rice starch that does not congeal and bind. It is made up of cheers for popular heroes or favorable ratings in polls rather than something more substantial. It easily becomes unglued and re-pasted into the smaller provincial interests that represent the uniqueness of the Philippines: the families, the clans, the islands, the cities, the religions, the classmates, the provinces.
The idea of “nationalism” in the Philippines is tied to a kind of “national regret”, the negative notion that the Philippines has spent its modern life under occupancy, and therefore has never had a fighting chance. So Filipinos bristle at American influence, rightfully. And they are starting to bristle at China and the Catholic Church and the overbearing self-interest of dynasties, rightfully. But these are a bad form of motivation. A bad sense of vision. They are like grouching and grousing along, blaming and making excuses, rather than a positive and uplifting declaration that says, “Hey, this is who we are. We’ve been through several centuries of oppression and trouble but we are now out of it and we like being out! Upward!”
Line item achievements are great. Essential. Gotta have them.But there needs to be more to the national spirit than that. I’d offer a suggestion: that the Philippines might be well-served by redefining the word “ambition” as a positive character quality, not the insult envious people throw at those who are achieving success”


America thrives on ambition. It is the energy that drives competition and the search for knowledge and solutions and, yes, more profit and wealth.

In the Philippines, it is an insult. And I am taken aback.

An insult?
To want to be better? To be more skilled, more prosperous? An insult?
No, no, it is not.
  • Ambition is the power that drives fulfillment.
  • Fulfillment is the satisfaction that leads to happiness.
Ambition is the power to be happy.
Well, sure, if you get too much of it, and fail, it can also lead to heartbreak and depression and unhappiness.  That only means you have to dig deeper. Try harder. And find the peculiar deep richness that can be found in overcoming setbacks or failure.
Life’s full of risks, you know? You either take them on with relish or live like a vegetable.
Well, I’ve gotten off track here.
All I wanted to say is that I think the ambition for a unified, uplifted Philippines that I expressed in that speech is a pretty good one. It seems to be missing from the speeches and documents and reasons for passing laws that I observe.
Let me restate it:  missing from the national attitude, and many presidential speeches, is a nationwide emotional commitment to independence, unity and good behavior. Missing is the call to a real, binding, positive patriotism.
Well, point of fact, President Aquino is doing a fine job working on on good behavior. And independence, too, given his skillful handling of China and U.S. affairs, firm and with good sense.But the unity that exists is negative, except when we cheer for entertainers. It is important to make it positive. Deeply positive. When it is negative, people look to other allegiances for the place where they belong. The famiy, the church, friends, the local town or city. Because the national union doesn’t grab them or inspire them.

It is up to Filipinos to decide what they want, for sure. It’s not up to some outside Joe. But it seems to me desirable to belong to a nation that is:
  • Above the family.
  • Above the Church, the province, the classmates.
  • Above the dynasties.
And — very important — a nation that has moved past its historical troubles.When this commitment becomes fact, the Philippines indeed stands tall, equal to the U.S. and to China.

History is fine. Achievements are wonderful. But they are not as important as giving of oneself to the building of a unified state where all Filipinos are joined at the heart, and in deed.
Imagine one nation, independent, acting earnestly and honestly and thoughtfully for the well-being of all.
As I say that, I recognize that a big problem is the Filipino penchant for being 100 percenters. Weak at compromise, weak at concession. Determined to win arguments by any means, even if means tearing down others. Even if it means tearing down the Philippines.
Well, here’s my take on that.
Get over it.
The fabric of the Philippines is a glorious pattern of interwoven differences. Stop dividing according to those differences and instead celebrate them.

Maybe that is the unity that is missing in the Philippines. The celebration of the many differences here, of language, of faith, of island, of family, of education, of money, of lot in life. Instead they are used to discriminate and divide.When every Filipino individual stands equal in stature and value to every other Filipino individual, the nation will finally stand equal in stature to every other nation on earth.

But until then, it seems to me, this is a nation that is not quite glued together right.

I would be relieved to be told I am wrong, and would welcome being told I have missed the mark regarding the importance I place on ambition and unity.

33 Responses to “"Ambition" Is Not a Bad Word, nor Is "Unity"”
  1. AMBISYON. AMBISHON. AMBITION. Is a BAAAAD WORD. Very Baaaad.OFWs flying wingless from Hong-Kong high rise condos; OFWs came home headless; OFWS presented to their next of kin in jigsaw puzzle. Others abused, raped, terrorized, blown up to smithereens. My jealous neighbor commented sarcastically, "Why go abroad? Now look at them. That is the price of AMBITION !!! ""AMBITION" the word is used by JEALOUS Filipino Crabs that failed to be outsourced abroad."ANG TAAS NG AMBISYON!!!" (high ambition) is derogatory and unflattering comment. Despite my long years abroad I still get piqued by this comment. —————–Neighbors of mine went to Ateneo. The mother would come to my mother to borrow money to pay tuition. Mother lend them. Once she was away, mother would say, "tingnan mo? Ang ambisyosa talaga. Walang pera pero doon pa pinag-aral sa Ateneo" (See? Look at them. She's so ambitious. They do not have money, yet, they send their children to Ateneo)—————–AMBITION is crab-talk. No matter how educated a Filipino is, THEY WILL USE THE "A-Word". The A-mbition word.—————–

  2. Ambitious is like Gay and Lesbian. Afraid to be outed. I HAVE AN AMBITION. I am not telling so FILIPINOS WILL NOT LAUGH AT ME.

  3. I think the fear is that if someone else is getting ahead, then I must not be as good as them. Not only that, but they are intentionally trying to humiliate me by being better than I am. They need to be put back into line.Shrinks would undoubtedly identify that as an inferiority complex. The inability to cheer someone else on. It's a small way to be, when you think about it. It's an outcome of poor education and poor home environment.

  4. Edgar Lores says:

    1. I think that should be “Ambisyoso!”2. Semantically, as noted, the word “ambition” has negative connotations. Mainly due to the rapacity of people who are consumed by it. In their overreaching of self, ambitious people not only step on people but use people as stepping stones.2.1 Semantically, I would prefer the word “aspiration” which has no negative connotations that I can think of. But that is neither here nor there.3. The ambition of most developing nations is couched in economic terms. The previous ideological reach of nations has been settled in favour of democracy over communism. Looming over us now is the ideological battle between democracy and theocracy, specifically the clash of civilizations between the Judeo-Christian and Islamic traditions. The ambition of the latter is to create a world-wide caliphate of Shariah.3.1. The Philippines is uniquely situated, like some other Asian nations, in that both ideologies are not necessarily indigenous but dominant in the country.4. As a person grows and individuates in the Jungian sense, so must a nation develop to create a national identity. The development is usually an outcome of crises. Or growing pains. We have undergone and continue to undergo such crises. Which makes life very interesting indeed.5. Here is where I am conflicted. I can see the need for a country to have common aspirations and to develop a national “character”, a national identity, but over and above that I also see the need for all of humanity to come together and recognize – beneath our apparent and surface diversity – our commonality as human beings.5.1 National identities – or identities of any kind – are labels that separate us. There is them and there is us.5.2 If we reflect on it, our commonality is really a singularity. That we are here – in this space and time – is a miracle.5.3 Why are we, in our ambition, at each other's throats and not wondering in amazement at this miracle of miracles?

  5. I've made the correction, thanks. Error due to faulty memory. Not enough gigs in the cranium for two languages.Aspiration is a good word, too. I like ambition because it is harder, a determined drive, almost greedy. When the world integrates toward common goals, then we can subjugate nationalism to a world citizenship. That is hard to do as long as nations operate like China, referring to other nationalities as "dogs". Or Iran, calling for Israel's extinction, or North Korea aiming nukes at the US.Question 5.3. This humane question is answered "because of the limitations of our humanity." Look at senators in both the US and Philippines and we can see that we are a sorely limited species.

  6. Cha says:

    The way I see it, the Philippines is divided not only in terms of geography but also by way of mentality.On the one hand, there is the Philippines where live those who frown upon the ambisyosos and ambisyosas who dare to venture beyond their station. Right next door live their relatives called Crab Mentality. These two families are the gatekeepers of You'll Never Make It alley. No one gets out of this place on their watch.Just across the road live a wealthy clan comprising of I, Me, Myself and I. While potentially detestable because they are better off than their neighbors; they are instead tolerated because, after all, they made their fortunes on the back of other people instead of relying on their own hard work. That, actually, is worthy of emulation in this part of town. And then just a little farther off the road live Mr. and Mrs. Holier than Thou and their kind. This is where the local church my be found.Now on the other side of the Philippines live the Visionaries and the Dreamers. Two of them are named Tony Meloto and Ramon Jimenez Jr. One dared think that it was possible to build hundreds of thousands of houses for his poor countrymen while the other had the audacity to proclaim to the world that things can be more fun in the Philippines. Close by are the Believers, who not only have faith in themselves but also are convinced of the possibility of change. They have been inspired by the new kids on the block (one of whom is called Noynoy), who have been seen to have brought the very upright Principles with them when they moved to the area. Also moving in in droves are those who left the pretentious hanger-on Form in the old neighborhood and instead brought the more reliable Substance.Villa Want'a Change is a growing community.

  7. Villa Want'a Change must deal with I, myself and Binay. hah. Thanks for this classic picture of the Philippines, Cha. We should store it, bookmark it, and return in ten years to see how it looks.

  8. Cha says:

    Lol, I like that I, me, myself and Binay. :)The inhabitants of Villa Want'a Change need to draw roadmaps and build bridges so that those on the other side can join them. Shared accomplishments are a must to induce people to stay. The biggest threat would be disillusionment lest people start leaving and their haven turns into a ghost town 10 years from now.

  9. JosephIvo says:

    What you wrote could have been written without changing a iota for my country too. The word ambition having a bad taste, no emotions for the country, good behaviour not as important as being “clever” (= ability to cheat without being caught).A lot can be explained by similar historical events. We have been occupied since Cesar’s time; no strong geographical borders; no common language; on the cross roads of different cultures, partly Latin and partly Germanic; the people from the capital region looked at (and behaving) as haughty; cheating the occupier a virtue, hiding your wealth a necessity. So there must be other things too to explain the difference between one of the richest countries in Europe and the Philippines. Let me try to list a few.1- Education. Charlemagne born in our country invented schools for all 1200 years ago, teacher always very respected, teachers being late impossible, selling grades impossible, being unqualified impossible…2- Role models. We always had a much larger middle-class, more stratified, more close by, more visible and realistic role models, a history of wealthy farmers and craftsman. Here the distance between the wealthy and the middle class are millions and millions, the distance to the poor only a few thousand pesos, 10 million middle classers live invisible abroad. No middle classers between a sari-sari owner and mr. Si’s Mega SM's, between a poor farmer and a Arroyo land owner.3- The occupier. Our occupiers were Kano’s too, respecting our elite, craftsman, traders, artists… Here the occupiers were of different races, Arabs, Chinese, Kano’s treating the Filippinos as little brown savages. Ambition is inherent to mankind. The way it is manifested is different, the venues to realise it are different. Nationalism is emotional and romantic, not really driving progress. Education and the development of a real middle class are key.

  10. Ah, my, yes. Very excellent counterpoint to the simplistic "ambition" argument. I agree that education, role models, and style of government (or who occupies it) are prominent influences. I think the ambition in the Philippines is more self-directed, though, rather than nation-directed. I'll be writing more on that for Wednesday (how the Philippines enacts the "whine").Education in the Philippines seems to focus on rote memory of practical things. It appears not to address matters of motivation or self-esteem or taking good care of the community. Rather, memorize this and spew out that. If it teaches strong interpersonal values, they get lost in the malaise at home.I think Dep Ed is a rather huge failure, too occupied with building buildings to think about character, or mis-interpreting "obedience" as character.

  11. In my grade school days our english teacher ask us "What would you want to be when you grow up?" nothing like "What is your ambition in life?"In high school, one of my classmate, I still vividly remember his first and last name because they own chain of movie theaters, answered, "I WANT TO BE AN ACTOR". We had a ball. We laughed throughout. We teased him till we graduated. To this day we still call me The Actor. He never became an actor. Another classmate who is now a manager of one of drug company longingly wanted to emulate Mark Lester of British teen love story movie "Melody". I never thought he'd become a manager because he stutter and stammer.

  12. Hah. I suppose the question "what would you like to be" at least sets in mind the idea that a kid should aspire toward something. I remember in the second grade my answer was "be a radio announcer". Well, 20 years later I discovered the choice was to work in LA for 65 cents an hour when plumbers were making $8 an hour, or work in Wickenburg Arizona with the rattlesnakes for $1.65 an hour. That's why I became a banker. Flexibility is sometimes more important than ambition.

  13. Attila says:

    My wife says that you can not reason with Filipinos you can only control them.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Are AMBITION and DREAM similar.Put Martin Luther King's statement in context:" I have a dream" – could be anything?"I have an ambition" – could be self serving or personally subjectiveHowever, looking at generalities, the ambition or dream could be anything, specifically:"I dream of becoming a president""My ambition is to become a president"Putting it succintly, in another way:"My dream is for Filipinos to come clean and honest before talking about unity""My ambition is to get rid of Filipino culture of lying, be honest truthfully"So are dream and ambition synonymous words?Johnny Lin

  15. Anonymous says:

    @Attila what your wife means is that by reasoning you will never win, even the Filipino admits he/she is wrong you might end up dead anywayBy saying "you can only control them", it means the only way to be shut up permanently is ending dead too. What she means, the ending is the same.Ask JoeAm, how many times he has been lamenting about this tendency of Filipinos or better ask the relatives of Dr Gerry Ortega, Jonas Burgos, journalists from Maguindanao massacre or the Quezon ambushHe he heJohnny Lin

  16. That's interesting. My wife is sometimes very harsh on her countrymates, mainly for being two-faced. Saying one thing to your face and quite another thing to the neighbor or a "friend". My wife went Pinatubo on one of her (ex) friends the other day.Does your wife write blogs? She seems candid.

  17. Dream to me is more passive, and the goal. Ambition is the energy that provides direction to acts. According to dictionary.comnoun1. an earnest desire for some type of achievement or distinction, as power, honor, fame, or wealth, and the willingness to strive for its attainment: Too much ambition caused him to be disliked by his colleagues.2. the object, state, or result desired or sought after: The crown was his ambition.3. desire for work or activity; energy: I awoke feeling tired and utterly lacking in ambition.Synonyms for ambition: 1. aspiration, yearning, longing. 2. goal, aim. 3. drive, force. So, yes, it is close to dream. My use was aiming for the more forceful definition 3.

  18. JosephIvo says:

    Ambition is visible, explicit, as a large part of my home country is extremely flat and sticking out your neck is visible for everybody, so it should be avoided. A dream is more secretive, it happens inside one’s head, so it’s safe. Ambition is an order, a dream more an invitation. My dream is parents getting more involved in school education, rewarding good teachers in all possible ways, exposing boldly the corrupt or incompetent ones. My dream is better visiblity of OFW's and not only by their shadow, Western Union, but by their energy, risk taking, hard work, respect for laws and regulations, coming on time, disposing trash properly…

  19. @Josephivo, you have a very sharp, elegant sense of words. The OFW dream requires that the homebounds see the values you have characterized, non-monetary, and there is an ability to bring a great many home whilst they are still active enough to have the influence you suggest. That is, by living it here rather than talking about it. I have no sense of whether that is a dream or a hallucination.

  20. Anonymous says:

    latest NewsPope Benedict is going to step down.Put this prediction from same source obtained during the first month of Corona impeachment I posted in Raissa blog that his lawyer Justice Cuevas was thinking of resigning. Nobody believed it and denied by media until after the impeachment, Cuevas confirmed his intention to resign early on.Now this, First in any Philippine News medium and blogJoeThe next Pope is either the Archbishop of Milan Cardinal Angelo Scola or the Archbishop of Quebec, Cardinal Marc Ouellet.Johnny Lin

  21. So recorded, with date stamp as above, Manila time. Pope Benedict to step down.I wonder if he is falling on his scepter or what.

  22. Anonymous says:

    the only section i needed to read was the part from "national regret" to "ambition is the power to be happy". that , to me, is the main reason why this country is almost nothing more than untapped potential(dont get me wrong, i'm still bullish on this place). plant this seed at the grassroots level, and we might just have a brand-spanking-new country on our hands next generation, laws and ideals tailor-fit to the culture and people. most of the time ,i'd just like to shout: "we can't keep being bitter, move the [bleep] on!". but that's for another comment.. when "ambisyoso" starts becoming positive, then we'll be cooking.Andy(yb-anderson)

  23. Anonymous says:

    i was talking with a friend this morning about the crocodile that died. i said to him "what could a country mourning the loss of a crocodile possibly mean?" he said "that cant be good..". i was tempted to think he'd say "we'd better find a bigger crocodile, then" haha. Andy

  24. Yes, that big ol' ugly crock is not exactly cuddly and loving. It has supposedly eaten a fisherman and a boy in its old days. I guess the Philippines really is into forgiveness. Killer crocs, old dictator's wives, coup leaders. Maybe they will eventually forgive that poor American sailor who plowed into one of the reefs that had not yet been dynamited. You think? He didn't kill anyone.

  25. Anonymous says:

    i don't think so. not unless he has some kind of philippine connection. keep lookin' out for number 1! or maybe have him present a list of 20 reasons why he loves the philippines… (more of that funny national pride. you gotta love it)andy

  26. I'm not sure that would work. He might list the names of 20 girls he likes in Subic Town.

  27. Thank you, Johnny L. Papa sa Roma got ambition to unify the splintered Roman Catholic. He lobbied to become a Pope. He became a Pope. After the his personal butler spilled Vatican's dirty Chardonnay on their 2nd bank scandal … thousands of gay priests molesting defenseless helpless children … nunnery slavery … declining membership … Acts-of-God calamities … Roman Catholic countries wading in corruption and pools of blood … Truth from Internet onslaught … Papa sa Roma has had enough. Cannot cover up the Real Roman Catholic. Time to call it quits.COUP-DE-T'AT SA VATICAN. POPE IS OUSTED.MY CRYSTAL BALL SAYS THERE WILL BE CHANGE.There will be jockeying in the Vatican. Prostitutes around Rome will become expensive again, as always the case, when bishops around the world descend in Italy. While the voting is going on for the new Pope, mothers, parents will herd their children in their house until these sexually-confused Celibate Bishops will have gonoe to their home country.

  28. Attila, you said it right, "YOU CANNOT REASON WITH FILIPINOS BUT YOU CAN CONTROL THEM" !!!T-U-M-P-A-K (Right on the nail!)Why is that? Why is it that it is difficult to argue and reason with Filipinos?Have them graduate from Ivy-Schools and they thougt that they are right all the time. Homeless skid row denizens know more about laws and press-idential ethics more than U.P. Graduates.These American Homeless Skid Row were laughing hoarse when I told them that they imposed a news blackout when their "famouse" "popular" news anchor Ces Drilon was kidnapped by terrorists because terrorists might get angry with the publicity. THEY WERE JUST LAUGHING.These skid rows homeless people scowled and frowned when I told them the Philippine Media U.P-ran Media outed Nicole picture, affidavit, address and all.These skid row homeless people were bewildered why the Ateneo-ran Pghilippine Media prints the perpetrators names, weapons of crime, etcetera in the newspaper jeopardiing investigation.HOMELESS PEOPLE IN AMERICA ARE MORE INTELLIGENT THAN ATENEO-LA-SALLE-U.P. GRADUATES …If these Ateneo-la Salle-U.P. Graduates are looked at the most intelligent Filipinos in the Philippines I JUST WONDER WHAT THE REST OF THE FILIPINOS ARE THINKING?

  29. The death of Lolong, the biggest crocodile on earth, is a goot sign. TWO-LEGGED-ENGLISCHTZES-SPEAKING-POT-BELLIED CROCS are out !!!!! DEAD !!!!Who do we think can carry on the dream and ambition of benign0 Aquino's honest government? What are the chances Filipinos will backslide to the days of Aling Gloria?

  30. @Josephivo, chaotic PTA meeting at school is a microcosmic show of Philippine democracy at work. Everytime I go to PTA meetings, there are always raised voices. I admit, I also raise my voice. As simple as classroom christmas party boils down to intrigue.

  31. Attila says:

    Yes my wife is candid and analytical. She likes talking about the Filipino ways. She asked me not to tell other Filipinos about her "insight information" to other fellow Filipinos to avoid to be criticized. She thinks there is a "code of silence".

  32. Anonymous says:

    @Johny Lin: I would change my name in a hurry to Sicola if I were the Archbishop of Milan. Imagine the joy it would bring to Catholics worldwide if the new pontiff is called Pope Sicola! Joe from Bellevue WA

  33. Anonymous says:

    @joe from BellevueScola does not have to. Current txting and FB , Twitter tech fad does not have to spell property. Sounding words have greater effect on trends.Pope Scola will become the most famous name after St Peter. If he does get elected hope he does not get a new name and sticks with Pope Scola IAccording to a latest news interview from a leading authority in Boston, Fr Bierkes, on papacy election, he is laying his big bet on Scola when pressed to reveal the odds on the next Pope. He also mentioned Cardinal Tagle but his odds are slim he said. This news was either in USA today or Fox News. Well you read the first prediction on Scola on Joe Am blog.Johnny Lin

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