Re-dreaming the Filipino Dream

By Mark Ruiz

Dreams inspire us to move towards something; It promises possibilities that we can work towards, aspirations that become palpable if we take the right steps and decisions.

My personal dreams exist on several levels – for myself, my loved ones, my ideas, my causes, my enterprises, and of course, for my country (and if imagined at the highest levels, perhaps the world-at-large :p)

For the Philippines, specifically, I’ve always dreamt that I can have the biggest impact from my chosen field of business and entrepreneurship. I never aspired to be a politician, a social worker (in the purest sense), or an artist. I took up a business degree, worked in the corporate sector, and eventually transitioned into my current life’s work in social enterprise and innovation/design thinking.

The perspective I’ve been carrying for the longest time is that business and entrepreneurship can help eradicate poverty, create jobs and opportunities, and move our country along a positive economic trajectory. The Philippines will be globally competitive, world-class, “developed”, and recover our ‘lost glory’. Using economists’ jargon, my dream was that the Philippines will hurtle from the Third World into the First.

But for these past few months (probably even years), I’ve begun to challenge this long-held belief.

Picking up on the First World-Third World economic dichotomy, things don’t look so rosy on the other side of the fence, if you ask me. The developed world’s financial markets reached near-critical meltdown while the emerging markets held their ground; Unemployment and unrest in America is reaching fever highs, while Europe’s social safety nets are being challenged – the discomforting examples of Greece and Ireland coming to mind immediately. The question we ‘Third-World’ Citizens have to ask is this – is this what we want to aspire for? What our dreams will ultimately add up to?

I’ve got an even simpler example to illustrate my point.

I have a European friend who lived in a country where everything just works – the trains come and go on time, one can make a very decent living, government is reliable, personal security is not a day-to-day battle, and so on and so forth. He was living it up in a “developed” environment.

But this is what’s peculiar – he turned his back on all of that, and of his own free will, decided to move here to Manila – here, with all our flaws, our poverty, our corruption, our chaotic public transit systems, our social problems.

Why?

Why did he seemingly “regress” from the First World into the Third?

My friend will answer you with a straight face : Because he wasn’t happy there. And it seems that he is “happier” here.

Of course one could probably argue that he has money and that’s why he doesn’t contend with being poor the way a majority of Filipinos are. Yes, I agree – and I will revisit that point later. But let me tell you as well that he is certainly not living a lavish lifestyle. He’s got some level of financial security, he put up a small business, and yet he is certainly not living like an expat. In fact, he is renting a small house, commutes using our jeepneys, MRTs, and taxis, and quite enjoys going to un-airconditioned public markets to buy fresh meat and vegetables. It’s a simple lifestyle – and certainly a far cry from what he was used to.

My point is this : our concepts of progress or regression between First World and Third World, Developed and Developing – these concepts shape the direction of our aspirations and our dreams. The current mindset, the current dream – is that we want to go from Third to First, from Developing to Developed, From Emerging to Emerged. But if we look at all the latter examples of First, Developed, and Emerged – again – is the grass really so much greener?

I’m not trying to create divisiveness nor incite misplaced arrogant comparisons – it’s certainly true that Third World, Developing, and Emerging countries have their own massive issues to contend with, and are in certain cases ‘worse off’. We’re not model citizens nor countries of the world as well, if you ask me. And as such, I’m not suggesting that the direction – the aspiration – should be from First to Third, Developed to Developing, or Emerged to Emerging.

What I am saying is this : whichever side of the First World-Third World dichotomy you’re on – your aspirations, your dream – should be oriented towards the ‘right’ things;

It’s not all about the economy, the GDP, the productivity nor the consumption statistics –  all of which are the variables of how most most of the world measures progress now. (I do recognize that the Millenium Development Goals have elevated the conversations beyond GDP, and this is a great example of the direction we are moving towards.)

Hit me on the head for probably being way too late to the party, but I’ve now begun to realize that economic development is a must, but it is certainly not a panacea. And for somebody who’s held that lens for the longest time, it’s quite the personal lightbulb moment, to be brutally honest about it.

Yes, the Philippines must no-holds-barred tackle poverty head-on. Yes, our GDP must indeed grow to create jobs and opportunities – we most certainly need progress in that sense. And yes, economic solutions could certainly be one of the magic bullets. But yes, all this movement, all this “development” – should lead to a situation not just of wealthy unsatisfied people living lives of unbridled consumption but – pardon my being philosophical about it – a state of happiness.

Happiness.

It might sound too simplistic, too dumbed-down, too abstract, even. How in the world do you intend to measure that?! But at the end of the day, as human beings – isn’t that what we should all be aspiring for, dreaming for? Not just for ourselves, our families, our friends, our communities … heck, yeah … our Countries? Our World?

I’ve met a lot of rich people in my life, and my current work keeps me in touch with a lot of poor people. And I tell you, the latter – despite their lack of material wealth – seem sincerely, genuinely happier. I don’t want to romanticize this. The poor certainly have aspirations to get out of poverty : decent human standards will just have to be met – food, shelter, clothing, education, livelihood, dignity of work. And yes, wealth is always something that people naturally aspire for. But it’s certainly not a trajectory of unbridled greed, excessiveness, and consumption (which is what has happened in ‘developed’ economies and is the scary direction of the rapidly-’developing’ ones).

So to this piece on wealth I say, maybe it’s not just about material possessions and riches per se, butprosperity. Having what you want in life, without going overboard.

Happiness, and Prosperity.

I think it’s what we should all be aspiring for – regardless if you’re First World or Third World, Developed or Developing, Emerged or Emerging.

The American Dream has been a light for countless of people and generations : that a nobody – regardless of race, religion, or social class – with nothing but the shirt on his/her back can go to America and realize wealth if s/he works hard enough.  It is an idea of a country wherein opportunities are abundant, and a comfortable life is realizable. Just think of all those Filipinos migrating to the US in order to chase that dream (and for quite a number, indeed achieving that). The American Dream, for most people, has become the poster child for finding, realizing, and achieving material wealth and prosperity. (let’s take current situation aside – I really believe that the US will bounce back).

But a lot of people often forget that the United States Declaration of Independence proclaims that “all men are created equal” and that they are “endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights” including “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Again – it’s not just about material wealth, it’s about prosperity. And this prosperity is just a means to an end – the end of which is the pursuit of Happiness. It’s what people seem to have forgotten, drowned out by the glitz and glamor of excessive wealth, debt, and consumerism.

If you ask me, that’s what my dream is now – Happiness, and Prosperity. (side note : how to measure all of this – I leave all the economists and social scientists to figure it out. But as in the Little Prince, “what is essential is invisible to the eye”.)

Happiness, and Prosperity.

Yes, I still want my gadgets, a nice house, a comfortable life, the occasional vacation. But i want just enough, just enough. I would never trade excessive material wealth for my peace of mind and the genuine happiness of being alive where I am now, and where I’m headed in the future.

Happiness, and Prosperity.

It’s my dream for myself, my loved ones, my ideas, my causes, my enterprises, and of course, for my country, my world.

Let’s Re-Dream.

Let’s re-dream our country into an idea – an idea that we say ‘No’ to the current dominant logic of First World and Third World dichotomies, of being beholden to measures of “global competitiveness”, of being measured by standards not our own.

We can become an idea – an idea that we stake and fashion our dream on our own terms, and this dream at the very end of the day is rather simple, so simple and yet possibly so beautifully powerful – the idea that our country is a place where Happiness and Prosperity are ultimately realizable.

Mark Ruiz is one of the country’s pioneering and award-winning social entrepreneurs, “inoventors”, and “Reimagineers.” In this piece, he challenges ideas on the First World/Third World, developed/developing dichotomies, and shows us a simple way to begin re-dreaming the Philippines. We thank him for giving permission to repost this article in full.

Guest Writer

  • jun salipsip

    Most Pilipinos are happy if you measure it by the smile on their faces. And maybe we are happy because we are content with what we have and are grateful for having what we have.