Street smarts

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated October 28, 2012 12:00 AM

Education is important. Very few will dispute that. And I am glad that many parents who finished a certain level of education almost always encourage their children to go for a higher level than they have achieved. Education, as it should be, is associated not just with upward economic and social mobility, but also with achievement, refinement of character and wisdom.

And while it is generally correct to assume that this is so, education as introduced and offered formally in institutes of learning is often not enough to get us through. We need more than book learning. And I am not just talking about the saying that education never ends. Indeed, that is true. I am talking more about the kind of education that develops a practical mind that allows one to deal with situations not taught or imagined in school. It’s all about being street smart.

I have met many people who have finished college, and have gone on to studies for specializations. They have master’s degrees and PhDs. You would think that with all that knowledge, one could go to them for advice. Not always. Often, the wisdom you wish to tap and the advice you wish to get from the very learned is limited, actually wanting, since they can tend to be bookish and academic or purely theoretical. They lack a pragmatic, practical viewpoint, a realistic understanding of how things operate in this world.

I have also met quite a number of “unschooled” people who may lack formal education but have a lot more smarts. These people do not have PhDs and some of them hardly read or sit down and discuss issues in acceptably “learned” ways, but they impart wisdom that can serve anyone well. Here are some things I have learned from conversations with ordinary people, some of them drivers and household help, which I think are brilliant.

1) “Kung gusto mo ng steak, di kailangan bumili ng buong baka.” (If you want steak, you don’t have to buy the whole cow.)

I heard this from my former driver. We were talking about sex and relationships and it was his way of explaining the difference between lust and love. He was saying that if you just need sexual release, you don’t need an entire relationship. But this applies to many things as well, like knowing exactly what you want, paying the right price and not fooling yourself by overcommitting to extras you do not really want just to get one thing.

2) “Dapat alamin kung kelan magsalita at kung kelan tumahimik.” (One should know when and what to say or when to keep silent.)

Billy Joel wrote a song about this. It is brilliant. One should develop the sense to withhold comment when it is not needed, or one may be seen as crude, crass, banal or insensitive. It may make the situation worse.

Or do the opposite and say the proper things at the proper time. Know also when someone just needs a hug, or just a quiet, small but loving response, or none at all. This requires correct reading and discernment of the situation, self-control and self-knowledge, mindfulness and fellow-feeling.

3) “Huwag matulog nang galit.” (Don’t go to sleep holding a grudge.)

This is great advice even if it is hard to follow. And it applies to relating with people who live under the same roof. It takes a lot, but when people bring up issues that cause irritation or quarrels with the resolve to talk about them maturely and go past them, it is a big step in keeping relationships open, and will guarantee good sleep.

4) “Iba yung dati sa ngayon.” (That was then. This is now.)

I really like this. Many times, we get stuck in the idea that one must hold the same views, attitudes or preferences forever, and that to change them makes us inconsistent, dishonest or lacking in commitment. I like being reminded that we live in a world that is dynamic and that we must adapt to change. Often, it is pride more than anything else that makes us hold intractable views, mindsets and opinions. When one is sure of himself, he is more accepting of change, and does not feel guilty going with change, especially when a higher wisdom dictates it.

5) If you can trust a person on money matters, you can trust him in most things.

Many friendships or close relationships have been shattered due to mistrust about money matters. I firmly believe in paying debts on time. At the very least, one must say beforehand if there are difficulties about meeting such a commitment. Transparency about money is very important. One must not be shy about bringing up money matters upfront to avoid misunderstanding or generate suspicion. And yes, every cent must be accounted for.

6) “Pagtapos na, tapos na.” (When it’s over, it’s over.)

This is practical, useful and a real relationship saver. Do not bring up past arguments that have already been fought over and settled. It also refers to not looking back and dwelling on things that one can’t do anything about anymore. No more living in the past with its toxic inertia. To do so is to foolishly invest energy in things that cannot possibly give any emotional or psychological payback whatsoever. Sadly, very few people practice this great lesson.

Here’s two more things I picked up from random conversations with ordinary people that need no elaboration. One is, when men talk about relationships they’ve had, they tend to up the number of partners. But when women do, they tend to lower the figure. The other one is, when a man leaves a long-standing relationship, there is a chance that he will return. But when it is the woman who leaves, the chance she may return is practically zero. I’ve observed this to be true in almost all cases.

The education you get outside of the classroom is equally fascinating, and valuable.

* * *

On Nov. 3, I will hold a photography workshop at the Bee Farm resort in Tagbilaran, Bohol. This will be from 1 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. You must have a DSLR camera to join. To make a reservation or ask for more details, pls write me at This will be lots of fun and at the very least will dramatically improve the photos you post on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Adapting to change

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated October 21, 2012 12:00 AM

I have been lucky to see the world undergo major changes and upheavals before my very eyes. I was born in an analogue world that transformed into a digital one practically overnight.

I have also seen empires rise and collapse, among them the Marcos dictatorship, the Berlin Wall, Iran’s royal family, the fall of Mubarak in Egypt, Saddam in Iraq, Kadaffi in Libya.

I have witnessed fads come and go, come back and enjoy revivals. I have seen the music scene change drastically. I have seen old stars and a lot of new ones have their moment of fame and disappear into oblivion.

I have also personally experienced what it is like to have been born to modest means and move up to something more comfortable, materially.

I feel extra lucky that throughout all this, I have managed to adapt to the situation. I have adjusted to the quick pace of technological changes and, I dare say, I often thrive in it. I realize that the pace of changing politics, morals, religion, social mores, etc. does not intimidate me. Rather, it challenges me to engage the world in ever more complex ways.

I thought of making a list of practical advice culled from my experience in coping and even thriving in an ever-changing landscape. I thank the many people who have taught me these valuable lessons that I now take to heart.

1. Keep reading and learning.

By this, I mean keep reading about the new stuff because that is important, but also do catch up on the old stuff you should have read by now. I know a lot of young modern people who are not at all versed in the classics, and their ignorance shows. They do not seem to see the importance of knowing what transpired in the world before the arrival of their latest gadgets. They may understand technology and its techniques but they lack depth and substance. Faddish and trendy, they may think they are adept at riding the wave of change but have little gravitas when the subject matter needs knowledge of historical perspective or analysis.

By knowing the past, you will be able to situate the present more clearly, and understand the future more confidently.

2. Junk beliefs, paradigms, habits and practices that do not expand your knowledge or serve you in a positive way.

I look at traditions as structures and forms that either serve society or have become obsolete. There may have been reasons for their existence that helped and guided people during their time and I respect that. While we may recognize them, we do not have to be trapped in them if they are no longer relevant.

Early in the 11th century, the Catholic Church was society’s main power broker. It was all-powerful and it controlled almost every facet of man’s life. It even dictated who people should marry. While this may have made sense before the Age of Enlightenment when feudalism was the system, this all-encompassing power is clearly out of step in this secular age we live in. There is, no doubt, a role for the Church in modern times and one must discern what it is in one’s life.

And so it goes with the structure of government, educational institutions, social mores, intellectual and scientific knowledge, etc. We must constantly review and determine which of these to keep and upgrade and which to discard totally.

3. Know that everything is always in a state of flux.

Things are always changing. And I mean everything. When you think about it, you are not even the exact same person who went to bed last night and woke up this morning. Overnight, some of your body cells have died and new ones have come to be. You have aged incrementally and you continue to do so every moment.

And this is true for everything else. Impermanence is the rule. If you want some semblance of permanence, you will have to work at it. Civilization, with its rules, political and social structures, religions, calendars, worldview, etc. is man’s attempt at making things more predictable and permanent. But the irony is, even civilizations, societies and world orders must constantly adapt to change.

4. Know that you have a limited time on earth.

If there are things you want or have to do, don’t wait. This is a concept young people have a hard time understanding. When you are young, you feel invincible, strong, and death is something you do not think about since it only happens to older people. I always think of young people like the late actor, Rico Yan, who died unexpectedly and how much more they could have done if they had stayed a little longer in the world. No one knows when death will happen. So don’t waste time.

There are only so many seconds, hours, days, weeks, months and years one has to be able to create a life that contributes to the greater good. Don’t dilly-dally. Just do it. And learn along the way.

To be able to do what you want and need to do, you must have the energy and stamina to do them. So eat right, exercise and do everything in moderation to keep your health in good shape. Do not poison your body with smoking, drugs and other substances and practices that will undermine your physical and mental health.

5. Be happy.

This advice is easy to give but you may need to go through a learning curve to make it a state of mind that you will carry throughout your life. To be happy, you must create a world where this is possible and make it one that will sustain your happiness. And let me tell you, 98 percent of the time, this is a state of mind more than the physical surroundings you may find yourself in. Your thoughts make your reality. This is all about acquiring a state of mind where you can feel and see gratitude for all things. When one is grateful, everything is a gift. You can pretty much live under any conditions. People with happy dispositions adapt to change better. When one is not grateful, everything is wanting, and there is always something to complain about or resist.

6. Lastly, it is important to live your passion.

Know what it is that makes you tick, or come alive and pursue it. Whatever makes you feel that life is worth living is your passion. And indulging your passion makes you understand how to love something. Pour your whole being into it, and as you do, you will learn the ways of love and how to engage life more fully, and you will become contagious to everyone you meet.