Competence: A Crucial Quality of a Young Adult

 

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People get stressed when they are faced with a problem that is quite beyond their competency to solve, but which they are expected to solve. They know that they have to solve it, but they are unsure on how to go about it. As unsolved problems mount, the greater is the stress and unhappiness of the person.

Stress levels rise proportionately to the magnitude of the gap between expected competence and actual competence. A graduate of a good university is expected to perform well in a job that they applied for, while an employee who did not even finish college will not be expected to meet such standards. Farmers can live a happy life even if they did not go to school. No one expects them to know more than farming. But if even in farming, they don’t seem to do the job well, then they will feel the pressure of their wives and the criticism of their neighbors. Stress and distress begin.

There are two kinds of competency: technical competency and personal competency. It is the second one that is more important.

Technical competency means that an electrical engineer knows the job of an electrical engineer and possesses the requisite knowledge of the profession. An accountant knows how to complete financial statements and do all the ledgers, accrual basis, bank reconciliation and other things an accountant should know. When one is an accountant and has inadequate knowledge and skills about accounting, the person will feel stressed because he or she knows that the expectation is valid, but he or she is unable to deliver that which he implicitly promised to deliver.

Young people therefore must realize at a young age what it means to be professionally competent and to have the initiative to attain this regardless of the educational standard of the school they find themselves in. With Youtube, Khan Academy, Wikipedia, and a host of free resources in the internet, anyone can learn practically anything on a sufficiently high level.

But it is the second competency that is truly important — personal competency. This covers a host of qualities that are truly valuable in a person: self-confidence, self-esteem, initiative, curiosity, willingness to learn, stick-to-it-iveness, resourcefulness, perseverance, result-orientedness, emotional intelligence, leadership, unselfishness, trustworthiness, volunteerism and similar qualities. If it is overlaid with cheerfulness, optimism, and compassion, then you have someone who is destined for success in any field that they get into. A person who has these qualities can learn almost any skill or technical competency.

Personal competency is a quality that is nurtured from early childhood. When children are not put down (“idiot,” “dumb,” “useless”), frequently criticized or humiliated, then they do not develop low self-esteem, a factor that drags personal competency down to a very low level even if they are actually intelligent. On the other hand, when they feel accepted as they are, receive sincere praises when deserving, and feel that they are loved, then they are developing a personality foundation that will be solid and stable, and which can sustain them even during times of trial, adversity and setback. They will grow up not fearing failure or making mistakes. They are willing to take measured risks. They are ready to apologize when it is due. The world to them will not be a hellish or oppressive place, and life will be a positive adventure and a happy experience.

It is unfortunate that many schools do not teach this second kind of competency as systematically as they teach mathematics and grammar. Unfortunate too is the fact that many parents are the primary demolisher of such personal competency.

These then are what parents and schools should look at: the development of technical competency and personal competency, and to remember that the second one is more important than the first.

Never Lie to Children

Children, starting from the moment that they begin to understand words, have no concept about lying or untruthfulness. Whatever is told to them is taken as fact. The parents or elders are the absolute authorities about understanding the world. When this authoritativeness is not destroyed by lying, then parents will have no problem about making their children follow what they are told. But the moment the children discover that their parents lie to them, then this image of credibility is shattered. The parents’ authority is eroded. Every time that the parents say anything to the children, the kids will wonder whether it is true or not. In effect, respect for one’s parents is lost, and the consequences can be tragic, both to the family and to the child. During times that the parents truthfully and wisely tell their child not to do something, the child may no longer believe them and thus may fall into disastrous circumstances.

Some parents think that it is not possible to be always truthful to their children. So in seminars that I conduct, I ask people to give me examples where they find it difficult to be truthful to their children.

For example, when six or seven-year-old kids ask where they came from or how they were born, many parents would give them fantastic but untruthful explanations. One mother told her child, “Anak, hulog ka ng langit” (You fell from heaven or the sky.) How would a child take this? That he or she actually fell from the sky and caught by the mother? Why can’t parents say the simple biological facts about reproduction even if the child does not understand half of it? They find it difficult to explain truthfully because many parents think that it is taboo to talk about these things. But children will not be scandalized by any such truth. They would not think that there is anything wrong with facts. It’s the adults’ minds that have this problem.

How about stories about Santa Claus?

My strong suggestion is that parents should not lie to children about Santa Claus. One teacher told me about her experience. When she was a child, her father told her that if she wrote a letter to Santa Claus before Christmas, Santa would bring what she asked for on Christmas Eve. She believed this unquestioningly. Then one Christmas Eve, she wanted to see Santa Claus so she hid herself in the living room and waited for Santa to bring the gift. Indeed, the gifts arrived, but who brought them? It was her father.

The next day, she deliberately told a big lie to her father expecting that it would be discovered. When the father found about the lie, he scolded her and asked her why she lied to him. Then she looked at his father and said angrily, “Why did you lie to me about Santa Claus?” The reason why she was so angry was because, a few days before, she was told by her classmate that Santa Claus did not exist and that it was her parents who brought the gifts. But since her father told her that Santa Claus really brought the gifts, she quarreled with her classmate and defended her father. It was a costly lie by the father, and the daughter never forgot about it.

How about children who were adopted? Should parents tell them about it?

It is very difficult to hide from a child the fact that he or she was adopted. Many people usually know about it — uncles, aunties, neighbors and family friends — and they cannot be prevented from talking about it. So my view is that the parents should tell the child at some point, but on one condition: that the child should feel that he or she is loved by their adoptive parents before saying it. If the child feels loved, then the child would not mind very much if he or she adopted. If such children don’t feel loved, then telling them will be like a double rejection: that the reason why they are not loved is because they are adopted, and that they were also rejected by their biological parents. In addition, they would feel that they were deceived by their adoptive parents.

Parents usually find it difficult to tell the truth because they did not learn how to make truthful but assertive communication. Suppose a child is asking money from the mother to buy something unimportant, and the mother does not think that they should buy it. Some parents will just say, “I don’t have money” hoping that it will quickly end the discussion. But when the child discovers that the mother actually has money, then the child will feel deceived. Instead of lying, let the mother discuss about priorities in expenses and why it is not advisable to spend money on things unimportant. When the child has a high level of trust towards the parent, the child will accept it. The child may feel disappointed, but will not be resentful. It is alright for children to be disappointed, but it is dangerous when they begin to resent the parents.

When someone calls by phone looking for a parent, and the parent does not want to talk with that person, the parent may whisper: “Tell her that I am not around.” When children witness this, then they may think that deception is acceptable, and later will do such lying towards their parents and other people. In such cases, trust at home will gradually disintegrate. Instead of lying, tell the child, “I will just call later”; or answer the phone and assertively turn down what is being requested; or if there had been hurt feelings on a previous day, the parent may tell the child, “Please tell her that, sorry, I am not yet ready to talk; perhaps later.”

Never lie to children, under any circumstance. The consequences are not worth the convenience gained from lying. On the other hand, there is so much advantage when children retain high trust on the parents.

The Art of Effective Parenting

The citizens of the next generations will be molded by three factors: parenting, education and media. When these three fail to develop the values and character of children and youth, then we cannot expect our world to improve in terms of peace and harmony.

Parenting potentially is the most powerful influence in the life of an individual. When it fails, however, then the other two will become the dominant influences in their growing up process, whether for good or for ill.

How can parents be effective in molding children to become well-adjusted, responsible, ethical and happy?

1. Express your love to your children. This is the most powerful factor in influencing our children. Please note that it is not just to love your children but to let the children feel your love. Learn about the five languages of love: words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service, touching, and gift-giving. Among these, quality time is the most important. Spend time together where you both enjoy, whether it is a chat, doing homework, shopping, or other activities. Love needs to be expressed otherwise it cannot be felt by the other person. Whenever you encounter your children, try to be positive most of the time. Do not criticize, scold or reprimand more than five percent of the time. If you are positive and criticize rarely, then your reprimand will be more effective.

2. Be firm and consistent in your house rules. Love should be accompanied by firmness. If there is no firmness, a loving parent will spoil the child. Be prepared to say “no” when a request or a behavior is unwholesome. They will not be resentful if they feel your love. But if they don’t feel your love, they will resent your “no” and begin to be rebellious.

3. Do not do what you do not like to see in your children. Children and youth copy the elders. When parents shout, curse, smoke, drink or are violent, they tend to do the same things, unless they receive contrary examples from other elders. When parents are fearful, insecure or vindictive, the children tend to adopt these same qualities.

4. Never lie to your children. Whenever children discover that their parents lie to them, the parent’s credibility goes down. Then their authority diminishes. This is true even of “white lies.” This is the reason why I do not encourage parents to tell children about Santa Claus as if they are real, with reindeers and gifts. Children will eventually discover the truth about this and the disappointment and doubt may sink deep into their subconscious. Children tend to obey parents whom they trust.

5. Be your child’s first teacher. The future intelligence and competency of your children depend upon their growth process before they go to school. Even while the mother is pregnant, it is very helpful that the parents talk to the baby in the womb and read to him or her. Children who were given such stimuli have been known to be precocious. After they are born, talk to them often. It does not matter if they do not understand yet what you say. What is happening is that you are stimulating the brain of the child and the neural network of the brain becomes more and more complex. This is the basis of intelligence. Answer their questions by being knowledgeable yourself.

6. Do not be too busy that you don’t have time for your children. This is a tragedy of modern life. Money will bring security but not love and happiness. And it is love and happiness that is more important in our lives. Be willing to give up financial advantages or higher pay if it will mean that you will have a happier family.

A happy and loving family is one of the greatest sources of happiness. It can be cultivated through understanding the art and science of marriage and parenting, and taking the effort to prepare oneself to become a worthy and happy father or mother.

The Kite, the Sailboat and the Salmon

In the journey of life, there will always be opposition, adversities and obstacles. These can be from people, from circumstances or from events. If we are to live a successful, fulfilled, meaningful and happy life, we must know how to face these obstructions in our journey.

How do we stay strong and remain advancing forward despite powerful opposing forces? We can learn awesome lessons from three things: the kite, the sailboat and the salmon.

1. The kite – There are really two lessons here. First, despite the strong wind, the kite stays quite steady in the sky because it is connected by the string to the ground. Once the string snaps, then it will be thrown off by the winds, and will crash somewhere in an unknown place. The string must be sturdy, otherwise a strong wind will cause it to snap. In the same manner in our life, we need to be grounded or linked to a meaningful purpose, a philosophy or a principle. It can be a family, a life goal, a life mission, a wholesome philosophy, or a spiritual life. Despite the opposing wind, we stay on course because the link to that philosophy or goal is strong and clear.

A person with a strong moral fiber will not easily be carried away by temptation, by pleasure or by gainful advantage to do an unethical or unjust act.

The second lesson is that the stronger the wind, the higher the kite flies. Try flying a kite on a weak wind, and the kite falls to the ground. Hence opposition and adversities can strengthen us and make us capable to rising higher in our life, provided the string is strong and tough. Annie Besant, one of the greatest English reformers of the 19th century, wrote that if she were to live her life again, she would forego her pleasures and joys, but not her difficulties and adversities because these were the factors that built her strength of character.

2. The sailboat – the second lesson comes from sailboat, which moves only when the wind blows and pushes its sail. If the wind is going towards south, but the sailboat wants to go to the north, can the sailboat reach such an opposite destination?

Yes, it is possible. And there is something we can learn from sailboat in facing life’s opposing forces.

The travel opposite of the wind direction, the sailboat must face the wind in a diagonal northeast direction. When the wind blows from the front, the wind pushes the boat to the side. But because the boat with its rudder is at a diagonal angle, the sideward push actually pushes the boat forward to the northeast even if the wind blow south. After traveling northeast for some distance, the sailboat changes its angle and then faces northwest, moving forward again in that direction. The sailboat then advances against the wind in a zigzag manner.

(Illustration courtesy of rebrn. com/re/eli-if-ships-with-sails-are-heading-the-opposite-direction-as-th-1092918/)

So when we are facing opposing forces that seem stronger than us, we don’t face it frontally but diagonally. We resist but we continue to move forward even if at a slower pace. It’s low-key progress. It’s analogous to judo, where one makes use of the opposing force to one’s advantage.

Suppose a powerful and moneyed political opponent is oppressing you in order to silence you. To fight him frontally may mean being crushed and annihilated. Then do not do so. Stay firm and work in a non-threatening but right direction. Strengthen the work on the flanks that will eventually support your central work when the time is ripe to do so.

3. The salmon — this is a most powerful and sublime lesson from nature.

Salmons are born in high altitudes up to about 2,000 meters high from sea level (more than the height of Mt. Wilson in California). Then they swim towards the ocean and stay there for one to four years. When the time comes for them to lay eggs, they swim back to where they came from, which means that they have to swim upstream against raging waterfalls that may be five feet high or more. It seems impossible because the torrent of the falls is so strong that the salmons are pushed downwards no matter how powerfully they swim. But they never give up. So what do they do?

They leap up the falls and go to the next level. They don’t fight against the falling water. They jump above it.

(Photo courtesy of Earthjustice. org)

This is an example that teaches us that we need make leaps whenever we face apparently insurmountable odds. It is transcending the situation. This is what happens when we discover an insight or attain enlightenment. We transcend the ordinary level of struggle. An enmity can be dissolved by transcending hatred. Then one ceases to have an enemy. In Zen meditation, one transcends rational thinking. It is a leap of intuition.

Nelson Mandela of South Africa, Aurobindo of India and Benigno Aquino of the Philippines are examples political oppositionists and activists who were imprisoned by the reigning government. From the standpoint of their political struggle, they were defeated and quashed. But they leapt beyond the political arena and rose to a higher level of struggle. Like the salmon, they no longer attempted to swim against the water falls. They jumped above and beyond, and attained a high goal than the political struggle. Mandela became an icon of peace, earning him a Nobel Prize; Aurobindo became one of the great spiritual teachers of India who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Aquino lost his life and became a national hero of the Philippines, not just a President or a another powerful politician. It was his wife and son who became Presidents after he died.

The Benefits of Meditation

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Many large companies today in the United States, Japan and other countries, are encouraging their employees to learn meditation or mindfulness. One example is Google. Why? Because they found that their employees become more productive, focused and less stressed. According to the website SOS, “a 1993 study conducted in four companies in the United States and Japan showed that regular practice of meditation among employees resulted in significant improvements in job satisfaction, efficiency and productivity, as well as in work and personal relationships. Who can argue with a technique that offers such excellent benefits to both the individual and the corporation?” Steve Jobs of Apple had been practicing meditation for many years and had influenced many other CEOs among US corporations. An article in the Harvard Business Review states that “research has shown that meditation can decrease anxiety, which allows practitioners to be more resilient and handle stress better.”

More than being productive in work, meditation has important effects in one’s life. It makes us aware of our true life directions and we notice thoughts, reactions and behaviors that are not aligned to such basic directions. We do not get carried away by the patterns of our past habits and the pressure of our environment. We thus are able to live a more meaningful life. The deeper purpose of meditation is to be able to attain the highest potentials of our growth. It is what is called self-actualization or self-transcendence by the psychologist Abraham Maslow. It enables a person to enter into the mystical stages of human growth to our highest level of maturity.

How do we practice meditation? There are a number of well-known classic meditational approaches. Their  basic principles are essentially similar. Below is one standard method:

1. Start with twenty minutes of self-awareness each day, preferably in the morning upon waking up. Sit cross-legged on your bed or sit on a chair at a location of your choice where you will not be disturbed by people coming and going.

2. Keep your spine straight; breathing normal; with eyes closed or half-open.

3. Be aware of your body and check whether there is any discomfort or tension. If there is, then feel it and allow it to relax when you breathe out. When the body gets relaxed, you will notice that your emotions also calm down naturally.

4. Then be aware of your breathing. As you breathe in, mentally count “one.” When you breathe out, mentally count “two.” Breathe in, count “three,” breathe out, count “four.” Continue counting up to “ten,” after which start again from “one.”

5. When your mind gets distracted by other thoughts, just return to the counting. If the mind goes away a hundred times, then be aware of it and just gently return to the counting a hundred times. Later you will notice that it will get less and less distracted. While you are meditating you will notice that there is an inner space in our consciousness that has no boundary. This space is awareness itself, something that we usually don’t notice.

6. When you end the meditation session, try to sustain this inward awareness for a minute or so while you are back to normal activity.

After you have practiced meditation for a week or two, you will notice a difference in the way that you interact with the world and with people. You are no longer as reactive to things as before, and you will tend to respond in a more calm and balanced way. You will be less prone to anger and less impatient. You will be more capable of spontaneous joy.

How to Handle Worry

Worry is something so common that we assume that it is a natural part of our lives. This is because human life is always faced with circumstances that can cause anxiety in most people. But the problem is that worry causes tension, restlessness, sleeplessness and unhappiness. It has the element of fear in it, and the fear in worry is the one that causes unhappiness. When there is no fear, then it is a concern, not a worry.

There are people who have very heavy responsibilities on their shoulders and yet they may be quite relaxed in life while solving problems that come along the way. On the other hand, there are people who easily get upset and bothered by small things, or get worried about things that they could do nothing about.

How can we minimize worry while being effective in one’s work or duties?

Through the centuries, many wise men have found effective approaches to dealing with problems without being burdened by the feeling of worry. Below is a suggested approach:

1. Be clear about what you are worried about. Sometimes people have unclear anxieties which they avoid thinking about because of the unpleasantness that arise from the thought. What is it that really bothers you? Is it because you fear you will not pass an exam? Or will lose a sale? Or that someone is sick and may die?

2. Once you are clear about what you are worried about, devote a certain period of time, like one hour, to consider the options you have in facing the problem. You may consult other people about it and ask for their opinions. Then list down the different specific options that can help solve the problem. Do you need to talk to a certain person? Do you need to write a letter? Or travel to a place? Or pay a certain amount? Or have a medical checkup?

3. When you have drawn up the possible options (even far fetched options), then identify which options are the best ones. If you have one or two options that look to be the best, then list down the things that you should do to pursue that option, and it is very important to set a timetable on when you will do those things. Such a timetable is essential, because a plan without a timetable is not a plan, but just a wish.

4. Be aware of your own inner fears and hesitations in carrying out your top options. When you are sure that they are the best options, then carry them out despite your fears and hesitations.

5. Do your best in carrying out your options. Make sure that you are really doing your best and not just justifying your inaction.

6. After you have done your best, and still fail, then accept the consequences. Annie Besant, the famous theosophist, once wrote that “What is beyond my best is no longer my duty.” This is a truth. Even if the world is going to be annihilated and you cannot do anything about it, then simply accept it. But note that you should not give up easily. Persevere if the goal is important.

There is another habit that you can adopt in order to remove daily worries in your mind: it is to write down a daily list of things-to-do.

Everyday, write down the things that you need to do the next day, whether they are big things or small things. Use a notebook or your smart phone to list them. Then on the next day, check your list first thing in the morning and do the tasks one by one until they are completed. If for some reason something in your list could not be done (such as not being able to meet a person) then reschedule it to another day.

You will notice that once you have finished doing your things-to-do list, your mind becomes free from worry on that day and you can do a lot of other new and creative things.

Effects of Words and Thoughts

A Japanese scientist, Dr. Masao Emoto, found that words and thoughts can affect the molecular structure of water. His findings led to other experiments on organic matters which have important implications in the way we should live our lives.

Dr. Emoto put water in test tubes and put different labels on them, such as “I love you,” or “I’ll kill you.” Then he froze the water in minus 25 degrees centigrade freezers. The results were startling. The test tubes with positive labels such as “I love you” formed into ice crystals which had hexagonal shapes like beautiful snow flakes. On the other hand, the test tubes with negative words looked like mud. This experiment was repeated thousands of times with similar results.

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Many people then experimented not with water but with living things, such as fruits or cooked rice. I did it myself. I put two bunches of cooked rice into two clean and dry bottles and sealed them tight. On the first one I put the label “Beautiful” while on the other one I wrote “Ugly.” I kept it on our bedroom shelf and I forgot about it for an entire week. Then I when I was looking for a book, I accidentally saw the bottles. I took them down, and saw that in the “Beautiful” bottle, the rice was still the same white clump of rice, but in the “Ugly” bottle, the rice was already half black with mold. After another week, the rice in “Ugly” bottle was almost all black, but the one in the “Beautiful” bottle was still entirely white although it had become pasty. I kept these bottles for a year, and the rice in the “Beautiful” bottle remained white, while the one in the “Ugly” became entirely black.

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I asked students in our school, Golden Link College, to do the same experiment, and they got the same results.

Many years ago, I showed the photo of these bottles during a lecture in Davao, and a young man from Leyte saw it and repeated the experiment but with a twist. He put the label called “Gwapo” or handsome/beautiful, but he sent negative, angry and violent thoughts to it. The other bottle he labeled “Pangit” or ugly, but sent loving, kind and peaceful thoughts. What was the result?

After six months, he happened to be the speaker in a conference in Leyte where I attended. He spoke about his experiment and brought the bottles. The rice in the bottle with “ugly” label was still white. But the one with “beautiful” label was entirely black.

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What does this tell us?

Words and thoughts have powerful effects not only on water but on organic matter, such as rice and fruits. It means that when we constantly think positive thoughts within ourselves, we are affecting not just our feelings but our entire body and our health. A baby’s body is 78% water, while adults have 60%. When we are angry or hateful we are harming ourselves and perhaps people around us.

An American woman was breastfeeding her baby at home when her husband came and talked with her. After a while they started to argue. They became angry and started to shout at each other. They quarreled intensely and the husband walked out and banged the door. The wife felt very furious and bitter. All the while, she was breastfeeding her baby. That evening, the baby turned blue and died.

The mother, while in a state of intense anger, probably produced toxins within her body that went into the milk that the baby was drinking. The baby could not take it.

So we ask ourselves: In our home, do we give negative labels to our children, like “you are lazy,” “irresponsible,” “liar,” etc.? We should realize that those negative words are affecting our children more than we realize. On the other hand, whenever we constantly use positive words towards them, then something is happening to them that nurtures wholesome growth and health.

Whenever we get angry, then, let us remember the experiments of Dr. Emoto. Let us change the way we treat ourselves and people around us. Make the world a better place by thinking and saying positive and affirming words.