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We Filipinos are generally shy and negative which make us view life incessantly with dark-colored lenses, allowing us to just see our glass as half-empty. I vacationed very recently on the high seas and the ship I was on was staffed with a majority of Filipino migrant workers — from the bartenders and housekeepers to the spa attendants and engineering crew, they were always smiling and offering an assistive hand to the multitude of travelers who sought their help.

One particular Pinoy was always in the hallway near my stateroom busily folding towels and carrying bottles of detergent and cleaning solvents to and from his cart and the toilets. One time, I asked him how he was doing. He gave me a wry smile and said, “I’m tired, but I have to keep working hard! Otherwise, they’d send me home and I’d lose my job.” I told him, “So you go home! What’s wrong with that?” Then, he looked at me with fear, terror, and resignation. “I don’t want to go home! There is no hope back in our country! What will I do there? My family will just go hungry. It’s useless for me to live in the Philippines — I’d rather stay here (and suffer).”

It is incomprehensible why he would want to live in fear of losing his job, voluntarily imprison himself in a place where he doesn’t feel safe, and choose not to be with his family because going home to where they are would only make their life worse. Why do we create a life that we dread and later on, regret? Well, I’ve always believed in what famed financial adviser Suze Orman offered: “When it comes to questions about our PRESENT, the answers can be found in our PAST”. Our pervading sense of pessimism and fatalism can be attributed to our culture and heritage that is deeply rooted in oppression and victimization.

I’m in my early 40s and I can tell you from experience that in growing up in the Philippines, it’s been a challenge to NOT be negative. Difficulty, despair, and desperation were always prevalent in the minds and mouths of people. As children, we weren’t allowed so much to express ourselves openly to others. We often sat a different table, away from the grown-ups during meal times and we were often shushed when we tried to say something during adult conversations. During our youth, the people around us like our relatives, friends, and neighbors were not always very encouraging: we were often told that we weren’t good enough, we wouldn’t amount to anything, and we will fail at whatever it is we wanted to accomplish. Surely they cared for us and were concerned about our welfare, but their words were somehow always clouded with too much pessimism and judgment like a form of “tough love” which we were supposed to perceive as a kind of warning to not expect too much from life. Is it any wonder why so many of us grew up to become shy, awkward, and unable to assert our thoughts and feelings? Believe me, I built a successful career out of helping thousands of timid young people, professionals, and even entrepreneurs who have had a hard time getting what they truly want in life in spite of their good grades in school.

And then, there was (and is) the power of the media. Our negativity is so ingrained in our consciousness that we have heard it over and over again in the kind of music that we’ve listened to as far back as we, our parents, and our parents’ parents could remember like in our old-fashioned Kundiman songs that opened with hopeless, defeatist lyrics like “Kung ako’y iiwan mo; Kung mawawala ka ” (If you will leave me) or “Ako’y anak ng dalita” (I am the son of torment). We grew up watching soap operas where we cheered for the underdog – the heroine who was slapped and kicked, but later rose to the occasion and became everyone’s savior. We relished characters that were maligned and belittled because in them, we saw ourselves.

Our news, even to this day, is not news – it is a reality show of unrelenting and unabashed gore, sex, violence, depravity, and crime replete with explicit images and no-holds-barred language. Fear and loathing is used as a manipulation – it is the main recipe of enticement to lure audiences to watch real-life drama and tragedy and guarantee high ratings. Not so long ago, I had a student in her teens that just moved from Tokyo to Manila who told me how shocked she was when she first turned on the news. Her jaw dropped at the mind-numbing spectacle on local television that it actually made her cry. She said the kind of graphic images she saw were not allowed by the Japanese government and that it was the responsibility of its authorities to not dampen the morale and well-being of its citizens.

Enough. This vicious, downward cycle of hopelessness, misery, and negativity has to stop! We cannot change the world, but we can change ourselves. In other words, it’s so easy. We simply must make a CHOICE. We have to decide what is good and no longer good for us. Admitting to what needs to be changed is the first step. Therefore, we must not destroy ourselves and let go of all the negative words, images, and ideas we picked up when we were young and still continue to bring that make it difficult for us to survive. Then, we must shed the fear. The fear that debilitates and inhibits us from finding what we deserve – happiness, fulfillment, and the life of our dreams. No longer are we doomsayers if we become strong and determined to get rid of all the things that hold us back. It really is up to US.

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