August 19, 2011

Greatness is among us

MANY of us will never become president of a country, a CEO of a multinational firm, or probably be even the most read novelist that ever lived. But all of us are called to greatness. This I believe with all my heart.

In my 46 years “on this planet” (and thank you, Manong Johnny, for another memorable line), I’ve met so many people who do great things in their own ways, in their own little worlds. Most of them aren’t even famous for what they do outside of their own communities. Or maybe they get a little attention in the newspapers, if ever their stories actually come to light, like that honest taxi driver who returns his passenger’s money and luggage.

Take our neighborhood postman Mang Rudy, for instance. It was pouring torrents one afternoon because there was a typhoon. Classes at all levels had already been called off and work at the government offices had already been suspended earlier. As I was leaving our subdivision to go to a meeting, I bumped into Mang Rudy, still making his rounds delivering the mail to my neighbors.

I called out to him, “Hoy, Mang Rudy! Ano ba, uwi ka na! Wala na kayong pasok. Bagyo-bagyo na!” And all he did was wave and smile at me. I was dumbfounded. I couldn’t help but admire the guy for still slogging at work despite the weather. I mean how many government employees still do that? No offense, my dear civil servants, pero you know what I mean, right?

So to me, that was greatness. You are called to do a job, and you do it well. Even through rain, sleet and they say.

I’ve written about Efren Peñaflorida before. Before he became CNN Hero of the year, he just did his thing in Cavite. He pushed a kariton with books, and taught street children to read. Who would’ve thought of that? Peñaflorida is not rich; he can hardly afford to buy books for these kids. But because of his strong commitment to education and a desire to reduce poverty in the country, he persevered. Somehow he managed to acquire books through donations, and through the help of a few good Samaritans, he was able to help more streetkids.

These days, Peñaflorida and his Dynamic Teen Co. are trying to raise funds for another project—a kariton school called Kalingain Batang Mahirap Learning Center in Cavite City. I had just attended a pa-bingo hosted by Discovery Suites to raise funds for said project. I hope they have been able to raise thousands of pesos for the worthy cause, so that more street kids will have a place to go to and just chill after school, play sports, learn some new stuff, read, research on computers...instead of making mayhem in the streets and flouting the law.

(By the way, if you wish to contribute, please send your donations to the Dynamic Teen Co. using BPI account no. 00-1273-1633-59 Cavite, Caridad Branch; account name: DYNAMIC TEEN COMPANY-MAKING A DIFFERENCE INC., SWIFT Code: BOPIPHMM; Routing Number: 010040018. Or you may send your checks to Discovery Suites c/o Gemma Batoon, Marketing Group.)

A few months ago, Diane, a sales lady at a major department store, also stunned me. She hovered in the background as I was looking through the goods. Then she gently approached me to offer her services, speaking to me in very good English as a matter of fact. She offered to check on the other colors of the utility kit I wanted, then after, offered possible alternatives when the colors I wanted were not available. She was respectful, pleasant, and not pushy about her suggestions. I couldn’t believe a sales lady like her still existed. Most of the time, the girls at this particular department store are just gossipping among themselves or calling out loudly to each other like they were in fishmongers in a wet market. So before I left, I commended Diane for her excellent customer service.

Just do what it right.

Then there’s businessman Archie Po. He was just someone minding his own business, working to expand his aviation firm, flying planes and deploying air ambulances, and just contributing to the tourism industry by building a couple of hotels.

He doesn’t like appearing on TV, or being interviewed. In fact when I met him for the launch of his resort in Boracay, he even asked me not to publish his photos. He’s just not that kind of guy who likes publicity for himself. For his projects, yes, but he isn’t about to go to town appearing on national TV just to market them.

But kapow! He suddenly finds himself right smack in the middle of a controversial transaction involving an undercapitalized government contractor and the Philippine National Police because of a few overpriced secondhand choppers. He is subpoenaed by our esteemed senators.

So what does he do? He just tells the truth. Asked during a Senate blue-ribbon hearing investigating the scandal, who owned those choppers, and he matter-of-factly said it was the former First Gentleman Mike Arroyo. He was called a liar by Arroyo four days later, and was then sued for perjury.

But think about it. Why would someone like Po risk his own life, his family’s welfare, and his business to make up a story like that? That just goes against all common sense and rationality! According to a report in ABS-CBN’s Bandila the other night, all his proposals to sell those two blasted choppers were always headlined “second-hand,” because those were the specifications asked by the guy Larry de Vera of Maptra, the small-time company that sold the choppers to the PNP.

Po could’ve just said he owned those choppers and ended the mess just like that. He could’ve just gone back to his old routine, running his firm and flying his clients. But as he told journalist Ces Drilon, how could he live with himself knowing that he lied? I know that Po still has young children and I guess, if there was to be any significant teaching moment in their lives, this was it. The message - just tell the truth. Period. If other people don’t like the truth that you speak, sorry na lang.


Perhaps you are a call-center operator just dealing with another irate client complaining about the product he had bought from the company you are servicing. By the mere fact that you are being courteous to the customer, trying to help address his problem, and going the extra mile to answer his needs already raises you above the rest.

Or you are perhaps a waiter in a restaurant, just taking orders and serving out dishes to the customers. You too can be great. Just pay attention to your guests, be unobtrusive but available immediately to answer their requests respectfully, help them out in choosing their food by being knowledgeable first and foremost about the menu, and you have fans for life.

It doesn’t take grand gestures to do great things in one’s life and community. All you really need is some heart, and the passion and commitment to do what is right.

(This piece was originally published on Aug. 12, 2011. My column, Something Like Life, is published every Friday in the Life section of the BusinessMirror. Photo courtesy BusinessMirror.)

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