Lessons in Humility Are Best Served with a Punch in the Face
French politician and philosopher, Charles de Montesquieu, said it best when he stated, “To become truly great, one has to stand with people, not above them.”
When I first came to Brunei in December 2009, my situation seemed very daunting. I was the only Filipino among my company’s and my client’s employees. Everyone was of a different background, race, education level, social status, and religion. I had ZERO friends and family to help cushion this culture shock and to help make sense of it all. I spent a lifetime building my relationships back home. Then, in a foreign land with no resources, I had to build new friendships from scratch or risk going mad from the unbearable loneliness, alienation, and paranoia.
Through a blessed act of serendipity, some Filipino employees from Jollibee Brunei were able to reach out to me during my first week in the country. Thus, I was able to spend my first Christmas abroad in the company of new friends instead of staring blankly at my bedroom ceiling. The welcoming warmth of people here in Brunei is really amazing, even when compared to a land known for hospitality such as the Philippines. In fact, after only a year since my arrival, I made friends close enough that they made me godfather of their first-born; for Filipinos, this is a great honor.
I have several close friends back in the Philippines, however, most of them have backgrounds that are very similar to mine. My high school friends are mostly intellectuals. My college friends are all engineering degree holders. My colleagues from work are high IQ individuals who graduated from top Philippine institutions.
Among my Philippine peers, finding a high paying job was never a problem; we were very anxious, though, to know whether or not we have chosen the best career path and negotiated the highest possible salary. Not having enough money to eat three square meals a day was unheard of; there was a big fuss, however, about not having an XBOX 360 and an HDTV. The world was our oyster, so to speak. Yet, it was as if we thought that our professional, financial, and personal problems were soap opera worthy.
Brunei is a wealthy country with citizens that are well provided for while the Philippines have a 39% poverty rate. It is ironic then that I became more concerned towards the conditions of the poor after I came to oil rich Brunei.
In Brunei, I began to create bonds with people who have situations far different from mine – far worse than mine. Some of these people come from very poor families and are working for measly salaries such as household helpers and laborers. Some have to work very long hours, 7 days a week, just to make ends meet. Even so, they still send most of their wages back to their families in the Philippines. They are content to starve, live uncomfortably and save nothing while working here in Brunei just to make sure that their families back home are living well.
These are the types of people that I was too busy, too self-absorbed, and too arrogant to even care about back in the Philippines. Yet here in Brunei, they welcomed me and treated me like family. The stories of these people crushed my heart but their friendship touched my soul. This humbling experience slapped me in the face and made me realize that I have been given a lot but have done nothing to make a real difference and to improve other people’s lives.
My wife and I, in our own little way, have since started to help these people achieve a better life. We have set aside a portion of our savings to support our new friends financially in times of need such as sending a family member for surgery. We also help them build their financial futures by funding debt repayment and business ventures. We offer our time, money and effort because want to help our friends reach for their dreams.
This micro-financing initiative that we have started is enabling but one-sided. To truly make a difference in other people’s lives, a broader approach is needed. We need to build mindsets, characters, and hopes to transform dreams into achievable realities. Therefore, a group of my professional friends and I are endeavoring to create a non-profit organization devoted to promoting the holistic development of the individual Filipino worker in Brunei. A legacy that we hope will help improve the condition of Filipinos as a whole.
It has been more than 1 and a half years since I started working overseas. If I can take out only one lesson from this experience, it is that of true friendship transcending age, race, faith, and socio-economic status. It is never too late to leave your mark in other people’s lives. Let’s make the world everyone’s oyster. Have a blessed day.
What was the most phenomenal personal transformation in your life? Have you made a difference? Share your thoughts in the comments section.
- “I am necessarily a man, and only accidentally am I French” or the best bits from Charles de Montesquieu (beinghuman.blogs.fi)