Do we really want change?

Do we really want change?

February 9, 2010

View From Taft, Business World

The campaign season will be a great opportunity for Filipinos to begin envisioning change once again. If people expect change, then candidates will surely promise it. The “doing” part is another matter altogether, though a very important part of the promise .

But do Filipinos really want change? Not everyone does, it seems; or at least, not in the same ways. Recently, while studying the platforms of different candidates displayed on ten-foot tarpaulins, I spoke with a college batch mate who is strongly supporting Gibo Teodoro. I shared my disappointment about Teodoro’s non-committal stand on holding the President accountable on governance issues. He explained matter-of-factly, “Well, that’s the real world. What can you do?” “Well, I think we need to make it a better world,” I retorted gamely. A simple exchange between two friends, yet revealing two very different views on the changes we need for the country.

After a recent forum for presidentiables at DLSU, I overheard another friend of mine chanting “Luisita Massacre” near a group of supporters gathered around Noynoy Aquino. His chant was not loud enough to be heard amidst the supporters’ frenzied shrieks but it would have been interesting if the senator heard it and approached my friend to strike a dialogue over the issue he was protesting. When I asked my friend afterwards to clarify his position on the issue he was chanting about, he waxed eloquent and turned red in the face as he explained why he thinks Aquino doesn’t represent real change. A veteran of the protest movement during his younger years, his impassioned discourse gave me a lot to think about.

Still later, I interviewed my students on how they see the coming presidential elections. One of my more diligent students surprised me when she said she wasn’t even thinking of voting at all. “Why not?”, I quizzed her. “What’s the point?” she said. “Whoever wins, there’s going to be so much controversy that we’ll still be stuck where we are. We never accept the outcome of elections”. I couldn’t hide my sadness as I listened to her, realizing that some of the best and the brightest in our country have lost all hope of change.

Through many exchanges I’ve had with friends, colleagues and students, I’ve been fascinated by the range of views people can have about the changes we need for the country and whether these changes are even possible through elections. I’ve noticed that people roughly, though not exclusively, fall along the following positions with respect to their change mindsets. Defeatists reason that “We shouldn’t even try to pursue change because nothing we do can make a difference anyway.” Resigned individuals reason that “This is the way things are in our country so let’s accept it.” Cynics explain that “That’s the way things are because people are basically selfish and those who promise change cannot be trusted either.” Pragmatists say, “Try to do what works to achieve what you need given that the world is the way it is.” Idealists dream and claim that “The world can and should be made a better place but I’m not sure how to do it.” Activists argue for action and their belief that “It is our duty to make the world a better place by confronting and correcting what is wrong.” Pragmatic idealists take a combined approach and reason that “The world should be made a better place for people so let’s look for creative and collaborative ways to do what we can.”

I’m not aware whether any polling organization tracks the position on change that Filipinos take. But I suspect that the proportion of pragmatic idealists will predict whether we can have genuine change in our country. Defeatists, resigned individuals, cynics and pragmatists tend to support the status quo, whether they are aware of it or not. Idealists are too busy dreaming to make a difference. Activists certainly push change but can often trigger resistance that actually entrenches the status quo. Pragmatic idealists stick to their vision for change while engaging in practical ways with people and structures in the here and now to help change along.

As the campaign unfolds this week, I’m keeping an eye out for pragmatic idealists – candidates and their followers who really want change for the better and, equally important, have the methods to achieve it. I really want change and I take comfort from the words of the American cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead who reminded us: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has”.

Dr. Ben Teehankee is the Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr. associate professor of business and governance at the Ramon V. del Rosario Sr. Graduate School of Business of De La Salle University. He may be emailed at