WHAT DO you know about mission statements?
Last March I was a graduating senior of Ateneo de Manila University and one of the last requirements was to draft my personal mission statement. I thought it would be an easy task, given my lack of understanding of what mission statements really are. I would find out later that it requires more than just looking ahead and putting what you see into words, more than just looking at what you want to become, and also looking at who you were in the past and who you are now.
It was harder than it sounded. I decided then to keep a small notebook so that I could write my thoughts whenever they came to me. Here is a recollection of these musings.
I was supposed to be a businessman, a lawyer—a lot of things. I was driven by money and success. Everything was set for me to follow that path. My family, my friends, my peers—everyone expected great things from me. Many people pushed me toward that goal that I myself admit dreaming about. However, I asked myself: Is this what I really want? Would I be happy with this kind of life? I was so distracted by thoughts of money, grandeur and individual excellence that for a while I thought that every man is geared toward only one goal: self-advancement. Then something happened that changed my outlook on life.
Six years ago, my grandmother died. It was a painful and emotional moment for our family. Relatives and friends gathered to say their final goodbye. A day after the burial, one of my aunts whom I hadn’t seen in a long time asked me to walk with her.
“You know, you’re my favorite nephew,” she said, smiling.
Flattered, I asked her how she could say that.
“It’s because you remind me so much of your dad,” she said wistfully. “Your father is my hero… He has helped us so much.”
When I told my dad about this exchange, all he said was: “The moment you forget about others is the moment you forget yourself.”
Back then, I didn’t understand what he meant. It was vague, but something about it resonates up to now. How do you forget yourself when you forget about others? It wasn’t something you hear every day. Sometimes we get caught up in our own little lives that we fail to consider that the world does not revolve around us. We forget that we live in this world as one among others that we are unable to see that we share our lives with other people, whether we know them or not.
My aunt called my dad her hero. I thought then that it was because he was a successful businessman. Now I realize that a person becomes a hero, not because of his or her individual achievements, but because of the people this person has helped. For my dad, he believes that who he is as a person is someone who is able to give and help people in need, a man for others.
Three years after my lola’s death, we were having a vacation on the beach with our relatives on my mother’s side. It was our last night, so my cousins and I decided to make a bonfire and share stories. The night began with everyone laughing and enjoying themselves, but it didn’t take long for the conversations to become serious and emotional.
My relatives had been through tough times; I could see in their faces the hardship and poverty they constantly endured. It was tough for me: There was this guilt rising inside me, as if their poverty were my own doing. The stories they shared were heartfelt and full of pain. When it was my turn, I didn’t know what to say. The words my father said three years before then were etched in my mind the whole night. It was a moment of epiphany and overwhelming honesty on my part as I looked upon my own humanity. In my mind I saw a man driven by ambition. I saw a man so caught in the spin of his own world that he failed to realize that there were people around him who did not share his good fortune. This is who I am, I told myself then, and I didn’t like what I saw. I was repulsed by my own distorted view, by my very identity.
I examined my life so far and tried to compare it with how my dad had lived his. Up to now I cannot fathom how my aunt managed to say that I am very much like him. I often regard my father as the greatest man I know, and I find myself greatly lacking beside him. My aunt and many others consider him their hero. Here is a man who has become successful, not in terms of money, power or fame, and who thinks beyond his own personal interests and worries about the welfare of others. I find comparisons between my dad and me uncalled-for, given how highly others think of him. Then and there, I decided that I had to change, to move away from my self-absorption and begin thinking about giving to others. With my family as company, I finally understood what my father had said. To forget about others is to forget who I am, because to be with others is to be who I am. I promised myself that this is who I would become: a man like my father, a man for others.
I began writing this piece as a private reflection, but I feel that I am meant to share these words, simple they may be, with others. We live in a society where we find it hard to trust our own government. We live in a world of closed doors and full pockets. We live a life of greed and excess while the poor cannot even simply live. This is a world where every little good thing is welcome, and I hope that this becomes one of those little good things.
I am not trying to put myself above others. This is just a reminder that we haven’t yet lost our humanity, that it is still somewhere inside waiting to be discovered. It is time we began to form our own mission statements, to find success, not through our own eyes, but through the eyes of others. Success is no longer limited to becoming rich or powerful. True success can be achieved by becoming the person our country needs, and what it sorely needs now are men and women for others.
These are the words of a flawed man, a man caught in the spin of his own world. But in the end, I don’t want to be remembered by those things. I want to be remembered as a man just like his father: a man for others.
Abelardo T. Palad IV, 20, is from Tarlac City. He graduated from Ateneo de Manila University with a bachelor’s degree in social science, and plans to take up law.
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