My daddy always told me to avoid discussing religion and politics and in general I hold to that principle pretty tightly. But I am going to dance around the edges a little bit right now and mention a verse from the King James Bible that seems to shape the lives of a lot of people, especially here in the Philippines. Please bear with me, even if you aren’t Christian, because I’m not really trying to open a can of worms … but instead trying to get a “handle” on what it is that continues to make certain people prosper, year after year and century after century while others, who have every single advantage that the prosperous folks do, languish and flounder, dedicating themselves to the principle of “if only” … if only my ship will come in, if only I had been born rich, if only …. (fill in your own banks).
I’m talking of course about 1 Timothy 6:10
For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrow.
A majority of Americans I have talked to shorten this phrase to “Money is the root of all evil”, and certainly it seems to me as I start my third year here living in the Philippines that a number of Filipinos also seem to have taken it as the whole core of their being. If you read the actual words, it doesn’t say money is the root of evil at all, it says that coveting of money over and above the principles of your faith is wrong, but certainly not that money itself has any inherit good or evil.
By far one of the most common questions or complaints I get from fellow expats … or wanna-be expats is, “there’s no way to make money in the Philippines”, or “If only I had money, I’d move to the Philippines tomorrow.” I can never figure this out. Money is to be made wherever you are, and today there have never been better opportunities. Virtually none of those opportunities have anything to do with where you live in today’s world, only with your mindset. yet many of my fellow Americans seem to hold a belief that it’s ok to have a job and make as much money as you can from it, (while making three times as much for your employer) but to go into business for one’s self and make money for yourself is inherently wrong.
Among my Filipino brethren this seems to be even more the normal way of thinking rather than an exception. Unless it’s something like a misinterpretation of the Biblical passage above, I am at a loss to figure this out. A few examples:
- A dentist that I know does not practice here in the Philippines. I showed here, perhaps thinking to spark a little interests, a web site Bob created for a dentist friend of his. You can see it here. My dentist friend’s reaction? “Oh the prices she charges are terrible, how can she live with that.” Well the prices in question are way, way under what equal work would cost in the US, and there are a real dearth of dentists and other professionals here who seem to even want business from foreigners. Why? I‘m at a loss to know, unless it is a fear of being a success.
- I was chatting one evening with a number of my neighbors. Several are men retired from responsible jobs (one used to be on President Arroyo’s Palace staff). Several others are degreed engineers who aren’t working and doing little to find work. As part of the conversation I mentioned Henry Sy (the founder and CEO of the huge SM business conglomerate), a man with stores from one end of the Philippines to the other, who provides honest jobs for hundreds of thousands of Filipinos here, so they don’t have to leave home, and a man who started it all as a poor, near-illiterate immigrant. No family money, no connections, no ‘silver spoon’, and yet he’s one of the most successful retailers in the world. One would think he would at least be tolerated by most Filipinos, if not revered as an example of “Filipino ingenuity”. Instead, the senior man in the group, the one who used to work on the president’s staff, literally spat out his evaluation. “He’s no good, no good at all, Those stores weren’t built with his own money, he borrowed money to build. Flabbergasted me. A business that hasn’t borrowed money … via bank loans, by selling stock, issuing bonds, etc. is essentially no business at all. Henry Sy and others who borrow money to seize an opportunity are “no good”?
- Some months ago I published an article to illustrate how one local Filipino was making money and investing in real property to leave a legacy for his family, while at the same time providing decent homes at a fair price to working-class Filipinos. This gentleman is now building another apartment project literally around the corner from me, and I have on my “to do” list to meet the man and maybe blog about his new project periodically as it gets built. I asked an older, well respected man in the neighborhood … an educated man, retired from a responsible government job, if he new the apartment entrepreneur, with the thought of perhaps getting introduced. The answer blew me away. “Him? He’s no good, no good at all. He’s a terrible person.” When I asked why, expecting to hear this guy was some sort of drug lord, white slaver or another form of “scalawag” the answer was a complete surprise. “If he was a decent person he wouldn’t be building apartment buildings left and right”!
In my last article I used the term “lack of hope” about the Filipino mentality and several readers disagreed. I concur that was a poor choice of words … but I am at a loss to figure out a better term. I’ve never lived some place where there was more opportunity to fill needs (feed a starving crowd) and at the same time more people unwilling and even contemptuous of taking advantage of the opportunity.
Goodness knows what people think of folks like me who earn money online while living here in the Philippines … we must be a step or two down the food chain from drug dealers and whore meisters. I dunno.
Again, it was never my intention to insult or inflame anyone by starting this out with a Bible quote, but if the aversion and even abhorrence of success I see so often is not scriptural in origin, can someone set me straight? I do know this. It’s an ingrained attitude of many I’ve met that you need to factor in any time you have thoughts about helping family members or others who you think just need a little “boost’ to help them succeed. Better make sure that those you are thinking of helping actually want to succeed before you jump in with an offer.
I’d like to steer those who have read along this far to an excellent post Bob made on his Virtual Earner blog: Deciding to be wealthy is the first step toward becoming wealthy. You absolutely can plant your seed corn and watch it grow here in the Philippines, no matter what you nationality, religion or current bank account balance … but you won’t do it if you feel making money is somehow a sin.