Friday, November 30, 2012

The Purpose of Violent Fraternity Wars and Initiations

Lifted word for word from Social Psychology by David G. Myers, 2010, which is the required textbook in U.P. Diliman.

The near consensus among social psychologists is that – contrary to what Freud, Lorenz, and their followers supposed – viewing or participating in violence fails to produce catharsis (Geen & Quanty, 1977). Actually, notes researcher Brad Bushman (2002), “Venting to reduce anger is like using gasoline to put out a fire.” For example, Robert Arms and his associates report that Canadian and American spectators of football, wrestling, and hockey games exhibit more hostility after viewing the event than before (Arms & others, 1979; Goldman & Arms, 1971; Russell, 1983). Not even war seems to purge aggressive feelings. After a war, a nation’s murder rate has tended to jump (Archer & Gartner, 1976).

In laboratory tests of catharsis, Brad Bushman (2002) invited angered participants to hit a punching bag while either rumination about the person who angered them or thinking about becoming physically fit. A third group did not hit the punching bag. When given the a chance to administer loud blasts of noise to a person who angered them, people in the punching bag plus rumination condition felt angrier and were more aggressive. Moreover, doing nothing at all more effectively reduced aggression than did “blowing off steam” by hitting the bag.

In some real-life experiments, too, aggressing has led to heightened aggression. Ebbe Ebbessen and his co-researchers (1975) interviewed 100 engineers and technicians shortly after they were angered by layoff notices. Some were asked the questions that gave them an opportunity to express hostility against their employer or supervisors – for example, “What instances can you think of where the company has not been fair with you?” Afterward they answered a questionnaire assessing attitudes toward the company and the supervisors. Did the previous opportunity to “vent” and “drain off” their hostility reduce it? To the contrary, their hostility increased. Expressing hostility bred more hostility.

Retaliation may, in the short run, reduce tension and even provide pleasure (Ramirez & others, 2005). But in the long run it fuels more negative feelings. When people who have been provoked hit a punching bag, even when they believe it will be cathartic, the effect is the opposite – leading them to exhibit more cruelty, report Bushman and his colleagues (1999, 2000, 2001). It’s like the old joke,” reflected Bushman (1999). “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice. How do you become a very angry person? The answer is the same. Practice, practice, practice.”

For the last few days I have been turning this problem over and over again in my head. I’ve also spoken to frat men friends and my personal council of elders, or the people around me who I look up to as mentors, tossing ideas related to this around.

The question in my mind is, “What can one do to attempt to take down this violent beast?” This process led me to the thought of perhaps taking the fight off the streets into an organized venue, where combatants can engage using the rules of some sport with clear boundaries. The thought was that by elevating the fight to the ring you are guaranteeing that while fights will still occur, deaths will not. Here, pugilists can fight against each other with a referee in charge - weaponless and bound by internationally accepted rules. From there though I started to do research to see if this idea was backed up by science, and in the process I found the textbook I used in the Social Psychology class which was required reading for me last semester.

A few sentences into my reading these lines jumped out at me, giving me the answer to the complex questions which have left me sleepless for the last two days:

Expressing hostility breeds more hostility. Retaliation may, in the short run,  reduce tension and even provide pleasure. But in the long run it fuels more negative feelings. Venting to reduce anger is like using gasoline to put out a fire.

As I read these I knew in my inner cathedral that the divine was telling me that no amount of organized and supposedly “fair” competition between two groups that hate each other, will make that hate dissipate. In fact, that would only make things worse. I think that thought in itself was a trick, a deception, telling me to encourage the “lesser evil” when in fact there is no such thing, as evil is evil, no matter what docile costume it has on. Martial artists in the UFC and boxers in matches worldwide normally smile, hug and sometimes even kiss their opponents right after the final bell has been sounded. I do not see this love for the sport, and the honing of one’s fighting prowess in a disciplined manner in the frat wars of today. Thus, in my opinion, sanctioned fighting between frats will still not result in any kind of peace.

As the textbook clearly points out, the frat war and arguably even the initiation, seems to fulfill a need though - a need that most human beings would like to believe doesn’t even exist in us. This is the sick pleasure that comes from hurting another human being. This is also what the Marquis de Sade has become an expert in, finding the pain inflicted on another pleasurable.

Now can we - civilized, educated, elite and powerful men accept that the true reason we paddle and punch and hit our neighbors (regardless of whether they are brods or rivals) is not for tradition or honor but actually for blood. I would imagine that this thought would be repulsing to a frat man or a military guy who would swear on a stack of bibles and say, “No, that certainly is not me. I am an Atenista or an Isko ng Bayan or a Lasalista, or a PMAer. Mayaman ako, hindi ako taga-Bilibid gang lang. Ako ay may pinag-aralan. I would never hurt another human, especially a future brod, unless I am absolutely certain there is some much higher purpose being served, like honor and tradition and developing a common bond. And I am positive beyond a shadow of a doubt this blood brotherhood can only be developed in this specific way. There is no other way to get people to connect with each other as brods except through repeating the process that has been passed down to us through many generations.” And in response I would say, “You know what bro, think about it really, really, really hard. And don’t ask your brods because they will surely be able to give you some logical rationalization to justify your collective actions. Think about it when you are alone at home before you sleep. And before you think about it pray earnestly for guidance, asking the good spirit to allow you to hear the slightest whisper of your soul. Now ask yourselves quietly, “When I paddled that guy, or spat insults in his face, or pounced on that rival frat man, or kicked that neophyte or plebe, masarap ba ang pakiramdam ko? When I hurt another human being did I feel that evil demon inside me growing and snickering, or is this really all about justice, honor and tradition? Did I derive some secret, primal pleasure from this experience? Kaya ko ba hinanahap-hanap ang ganito, kaya ko ba siya binabalik-balikan?”

The more you hurt another, you will get to the point that you will eventually hate them, and then maybe transfer that hate to either that person or some other target. If you hit and hit and hit someone you get more and more enraged till the beast inside all of us is released. Logically, you also get the same effect with any positive emotion such as empathy, forgiveness, kindness and love. The more you love people around you, the more this emotion grows and grows, till cheesy as it sounds, all you see is love. That is why couples who adopt can shower their kids with a lifetime of unconditional love even if they aren't the biological parents.

Hazing, violence, frat wars and the like are obviously complex problems which need deep thought and answers that go beyond the simplistic. These issues are as complicated as overpopulation, corruption, the wide gap between the rich and the poor, and other similar social ills. Some people see these huge problems of the world and think that since they are as big as Everest, we should just leave them be. I totally disagree. If they are in your sight everyday, looming over you like a giant mountain, attempting to climb this becomes not only a quest, but a responsibility. This is all our problem - frat men, military men and normal citizens alike.

 Every single problem, regardless of its size, has a solution. I am convinced of that. Otherwise, why were we even given hearts and brains? But the solution needs to be well thought out, and I certainly cannot do it alone. And this isn’t a frat man versus non frat man war either. Many of the most wonderful, decent human beings I know belong to these organizations. My best man at my wedding was the head of his very illustrious frat, one the oldest in Asia I am told. These men are not bad people and so many of these brods, especially the older ones that have outgrown the primitive cycle of demanding tit for tat, want the violence to end too but are also stumped as to how.

I think that before effective solutions can be reached the right questions first have to be asked. So what are these questions anyway?

Monday, November 26, 2012

Violence at Whistlestop Jupiter

Below is an open letter for all fraternity members and military personnel:

November 26, 2012

Dear Frat Men,

You don’t know me and I wonder if you would even really care what I have to say given I am not a frat man nor do I have any links to anyone within your organization. My only relation to you is that last Saturday around ten of you decided to pounce on someone from your rival fraternity in my restaurant at around three am.

To be honest, my first reaction was to file a case against you given that you may have noticed the many CCTV cameras that are at every corner of our dining area. I also thought about going to your school and trying to have you all expelled for conduct unbecoming of your University’s esteemed reputation. I was also considering giving the CCTV footage to ABS-CBN to air on the news, where they show similar footage daily. I was appalled by what happened because you left the store in shambles - broken bottles, smashed plates, glass everywhere, in fact you even managed to somehow break a wood post at the center of the store. On top of that, all the people working there and eating there peacefully were traumatized by watching you maul this single defenseless opponent.

The reason I decided against the above courses of action was because of the following reasons: Somehow, news of my last Facebook post regarding this got to some of you and you offered through a very good friend of mine to pay for the damages; to my dismay we share an alma mater; and after all the sensational news from people dying in fraternity wars and initiations over the years, nothing seems to have changed, so those directions will most probably not work anyway.

Given I have never joined a frat, nor will I ever, there are some things about this culture that I cannot seem to accept or understand. Among these are:

-As a man I get the need to sometimes prove your manhood. Ancient cultures would have their teenage men fight wild animals or live alone in the forest or desert and only upon the successful completion of this would they be considered men. What I don’t agree with though is that part of frat war methodology where a whole bunch of guys beat up one other person who is literally defenseless against the barrage. I find this to be completely dishonorable. I mean, how can you live with yourselves knowing you beat up someone who couldn’t fight back, with your brods waiting in the wings? How can you look at yourself alone in the mirror after doing this and proudly say, “I am a frat man - a real man.” I was always taught that a man may defend his honor against another man anytime so long as this is one-on-one and weapons of any kind are not allowed. I’m sorry to have to say that in my honest opinion anything less than that is really characteristic of cowardice.

-Also what are the reasons that frats fight? To an outsider, a “barbarian” like me, this seems just like nothing more than a juvenile pissing contest to see who is tougher. Meanwhile, human lives are in the middle as collateral damage. I have heard that the two biggest reasons frats fight are over a girl or when one feels offended via the dreaded “masamang tingin”. I mean really, is your honor really being desecrated when someone looks at you badly. In fact, maybe you just imagined it. If I had a brother, a real brother I mean, I would surely fight for him anytime he needed me IF and only IF I believed he was doing the right thing. If he asked me to fight for some petty reason, I would gladly stand back and have my blood brother have his ass kicked. I would never fight for a friend or a brother if I thought his reasons for doing so were not sound. Thus, what are the reasons you fight? Is there any weight to the cause you are fighting for or is it really just out of misplaced pride?

-If you do choose to fight you should make sure that other people, especially innocent bystanders and legitimate business owners are not caught in the crossfire. You beat this guy up in my restaurant at 3am on a Saturday night. Our restaurant was packed. Obviously, self-control was not being used, nor common decency or a respect for the rights of others.

-My fraternity member friends have always argued that the hazing process teaches self-discipline, the love for the group, a shared experience despite the differences in background, a respect for tradition, and a true understanding of what the fraternity stands for. While I cannot argue that this process instills some positive virtues it is also clear to me that this right of passage also instills many negative ones. The initiation teaches that you should treat your members like brothers but everyone else outside your group can fend for themselves; breaking the law by doing something illegal (like paddling a neophyte) is okay so long as there is some greater purpose being served; and when we do something wrong (like oops…killing someone) we are supposed to cover things up. This logic would make Machiavelli very proud. When one begins down the road of compromise and justification the deception (be it the deception of others or self-deception) never stops. If you are being taught to be a law breaker at the onset, do you honestly think that later down the line, when you are already a professional, a politician, a military officer, a lawyer, or a doctor, you will at any crossroad start doing the right thing? Or will you find a good enough reason instead, some higher justification, to tell yourself that what you are doing isn’t so bad after all? Can we be dishonest and make many personal compromises during initiations, and after it become suddenly honest and upright? Or is the slippery slope to hell actually embarked upon as soon as the paddle first hits our legs? This isn’t just in our regular universities either as PMA, our oldest fraternity, has had hazing deaths regularly since even before World War II. And we wonder why nothing in our country seems to change?

Bottomline, I would truly appreciate it if you would put some thought into what I am saying. Hopefully more young people, especially future lawyers like yourselves, would find more productive ways to spend your time.

Every weekend I spend half a day inside the National Bilibid Prison where many frat members are incarcerated for life for crimes that they committed during these so called rumbles. Having been behind bars for decades now I would guess they have most probably forgotten the cause of the initial fight that landed them behind bars. I am sure that whatever it was it had a lot to do with someone’s pride and the defense of that. Somehow, spending a life in prison to defend the pride of a brother doesn’t seem like a fair trade off to me.

If it wouldn’t be too much to ask I would also like to respectfully request that you and your group no longer frequent my restaurants. I am working as hard as I can to support myself and my family by running these establishments. I would prefer it if you find some other place to hang out as I’m sure you would understand.

Lastly, I really pray that the spirit of peace enters your lives now and always. Honestly, this is my deepest desire. I am sure you believe in some kind of faith and regardless of your specific belief system these teachings surely promotes love for your neighbors, even if they happen to be from a rival frat. Also, you are children, grandchildren and maybe even parents, or at the very least future parents, so if you can act respectfully and lovingly to those within your family and frat, shouldn’t this mentality be evident in every other part of your life.

I really hope and pray that you don’t throw your lives away because maybe sooner than you think you will be part of my Saturday sessions, experiencing the view from inside prison walls. Trust me, whatever you are fighting about, this fate isn’t worth it no matter what.

Allow me to share an old Cherokee quote I found on Facebook:

One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, "My son, the battle is between the two wolves inside us all.

One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.

The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith."

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: "Which wolf wins?"

The old Cherokee simply replied, "The one you feed."

Lex Ledesma

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Intestinal Fortitude

Smiling through hard times

Cracking up in class while eating a donut

Bilbid Entrepreneurs 

Obligatory Class Photo

Having the opportunity to go to National Bilibid Prison through Rock Ed once a week is the greatest gift. This has now become the highlight of my week and the two times it got cancelled (because our permits didn't clear) I felt super bummed out.

Many business writers have documented that success really relies on EQ (Emotional Quotient) and AQ (Adversity Quotient) a lot more than it relies on the commonly accepted standard of IQ (Intelligence Quotient). How one is able to persevere through difficult times and how we control our emotions and work with others often spells the difference between a venture's success or failure. For any enterprise the problems will always come. It is just a matter of when and how big the waves will be when they arrive. Sometimes giant tsunamis attack totally unannounced.

When I see my inmate friends maintain a positive outlook after twenty years (for some) of incarceration it is absolutely and completely inspiring. Imagine being in the same place for so long and not going crazy. This level  of strength is inconceivable to me. We, in the outside world, are so comfortable. I go to Bilibid not really to help them but because I get so much out of it. Inside those walls lies armies of wisdom and tons of new ideas. I love Bilibid and hope to have the honor of continuing my trips there. The human spirit and its capacity to survive is really miraculous. I just would like to share the blessing of meeting these people with everyone.

Mastering one's self is really dependent on taking what life has to offer and making the most of it. Obviously this is much easier said than done. I like the words "Intestinal Fortitude". These words sound so serious - like our lives depends on it, as it sometimes does. In hard times may we find the Lemonade Maker in all of us.

Gaspar singing a happy tune (in Spanish!)

Monday, October 11, 2010

Student Rocking the Fashion World

Preview, September 2010, featuring Stacy Rodriguez as One of the Ten Young Designers To Watch

Of all the things I do for work the thing which gives me the most pleasure is teaching. I love being able to help a young student reach his or her full potential. I am lucky that at The One School I have many extraordinary young people enrolled that have no choice but to listen to me, haha!

What I find so interesting is that when a student makes a commitment to become the best version of themselves possible, the change often happens very fast. Sometimes adults can be so stubborn and change very, very sloooooooooowly. We should all learn a thing or two from our younger counterparts.

One such student is Stacy Rodriguez. I am so proud because she was just named by the prestigious Preview Magazine as one of the Ten Designers to Watch in 2010. What is more amazing is that she wasn't even enrolled in our fashion school but in entrepreneurship.

The great thing about Stacy is that she is a true individual. Instead of following others and copying the styles of designers elsewhere she created something truly her own. In the beginning she began by tie-dyeing fabric and selling leggings using this material. When her brand Glasnost by Stacy Rodriguez came across its tagline - “Wear your freedom on your sleeve” - everything came together.

Stacy is now rocking the world and getting the recognition she deserves. From day one I knew she had it and it makes me so happy that I was somehow part of her journey. Keep creating Stace and as I've told you many, many times anything you dream is possible!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Dealing with Adversity

Even in the darkest of times there is always a source of light

I've been going to National Bilibid Prison once a week and have learned so much while there. My friends inside have taught me a lot about true strength, faith in a higher power and intestinal fortitude. One of my buddies on the inside told me last Wednesday that they survive by “borrowing strength from each other”. He actually said it in Tagalog which is always more poignant - “Kapag hindi ko na kaya, humihiram lang ako ng lakas ng loob”. When one is down another brother pulls him up, even just a bit. 

Yesterday was difficult day for me at work. Without getting into too many details, a project I have been working on for about three years didn't yield the expected results. This, despite my giving it all of me - heart, body, time, money and soul. Strangely though I feel an inner peace, even if the road ahead will surely be more difficult. I think this partly comes from knowing in my heart of hearts that I gave it my 110% and left no stone unturned trying to make things work. More than that though what lifts me up is knowing that so many lives have been positively changed through the process.

So now I seek to actualize the wisdom of my brothers in Bilibid, who rely on those who love them to keep them strong.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Picking a Team Leader

Nami's amazing manager, Joseph Nerios

Nami is one of the businesses I run. It's a 12-room boutique resort in Diniwid Beach, Boracay. We are super happy that we've been recognized in a lot of international publications like Wallpaper, the Wall Street Journal, Fortune and many others. Our restaurant in on its third year of being on the Philippine Tatler's Best Restaurants list. Woohoo!

Photo taken from Nami, where every room has this view

One of my favorite business books is called Built to Last by Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras. This book details the habits of the number one company in different market segments. One of the premises that this book espouses it that visionary companies always promote from within. In the over five-hundred combined years that twelve visionary companies suveyed have been operating, only three times was a CEO hired from outside. Every other time someone a CEO was needed one was promoted from within the organization and this system has resulted in exponential growth.

As a believer in this theory, our current manager at Nami is Joseph Nerios. He is truly amazing! At thirty years old he has been with the company for five years. He was initially hired as a butler. Joseph came from humble beginnings in Ilo-ilo. Like many of his peers he finished a two-year HRM diploma at St. Therese in Ilo-ilo. After that, he studied six more months in Stewardship at the Ilo-ilo State College of Fisheries, which was aligned with his initial plan to work on a cruise ship. While studying he was a working student working as a busboy in an Ilo-ilo hotel called Sarabia Manor, in the process of taking this this job he pretty much derailed his plans of entering the maritime world. His service at Sarabia was so outstanding that a regular customer (who happened to own White House resort in Boracay) saw him and asked him to join their team as a waiter/bartender in 2002.

From busboy to waiter to butler to Resort Manager is an unlikely path, given that a resort that charges as much as we do would normally hire a foreigner (or at the very least a Manila-trained HRM graduate) to do the job. What we have found though is that Joseph never pulls ranks and inspires others to follow him by simply working the hardest. He is of the “lead by example” mold which works perfectly in an industry such as ours. Instead of bossing people around, he just works hard and hopes that the others will be too embarassed not to follow. Watching him every month I can say that this system really works.

Joseph's current dream is to finish a small house he is building in the province. His first dream was to have all his siblings finish school, something he has already achieved. I am so proud of Joseph, More than being happy for him and what he has accomplished, I am happier for me and the Nami team because our enterprise is growing as a direct result of his many talents. What he lacks in formal training he makes up for with street smarts and tenacity.

I think everyone should promote from within because it brings out the best in those who want to build a career within the organization. It makes people dream big because they know that they can move up if they are really worth promoting.

Thanks Joseph! You rock!  

Our happy butlers

View of Nami from the beach

Jomar, who never stops smiling

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Non-traditional School for Alternative Learners Like Me

Photo from

Anyone who knew me from high school or college will attest to the fact that I was always at the bottom ten percent of my class. In high school I was required to do summer class for math three out of four years. In college I think I graduated with around twenty-four units of failure. One teacher in college actually told me straight that I should just quit because early since I would never graduate in Civil Engineering. What they couldn't see though was how much heart I had. I absolutely hate being told what I can or cannot accomplish. Even I was shocked though when I not only graduated but passed by Board Exams. I think that was the most difficult thing I have ever done. Despite my lackluster grades I always was a hard-working kid. I remember that ever single time I had a big test I wouldn't sleep at all studying all night many times a year.

What is weird though was when I got into Stanford for my Masters (and come to think of it even when I was in International School for grade school) I always did well in class. In I.S. I was even in the GATE (Gifted and Talented Education Program) for the overachiever children. In Grade School I was Student Council Vice-President of my batch so I couldn't have been that "slow" otherwise my peers wouldn't have voted for me. At Stanford I got only A's and B's working only half as hard as I did at Ateneo and La Salle.

Bottomline, the Philippine education system and I never really got along. I felt that many of my teachers entered this profession purposely to make me feel worse about myself, which consequently made them feel better about their own lives. Sure, there were a few excellent teachers. In high school I remember my English teacher Norman Agatep. In college I was extremely impressed by our Dean, Dr. Romeo Estanero. But by and large they were (at least by my standard) boring and more interested in having people fit in a box than having them find their own voice.

While in school I felt so small, so utterly insignificant. I thank God I had a Mom who always was my champion, otherwise I would have believed all those put-downs and I would have LSE (low self esteem). My Mom would always have me focus on what I was good at which was public speaking and debate. She encouraged me to compete and win competitions both here and abroad and it was in this world that I excelled.

More than the personalities of the teachers though my bigger problem was with the system itself. Till today I think that memorizing is a totally useless skill, especially as you can find unlimited amounts of information online. I memorized around fifty formulas to take my Civil Engineering Board Exams but if I took the identical exam abroad the formulas are given along with the test paper. I believe that what is more important is application and learning to love learning. Stimulating a mind starts from stimulating one's heart, getting students excited to come to school and grow the possibilites that their lives have in store for them.

Being the type of person who cannot just sit by the sidelines and allow myself to be marginalized I decided that I would “fight back” by building the school of my dreams. That was really how The One School started. Here students are given the chance to speak and find their inner greatness. I think that young people have an infinite capacity to accomplish anything, but only if they have discovered that spark within them. We teach Entrepreneurship, Fashion, Intermedia and Filmmaking, but really these are just tools to an end. What we do is help students to help themselves.

Some people think that non-traditional or alternative education is a euphemism for diploma mill but honestly that can't be farther from the truth. In my last class I failed 25% of the students, yet the person I got closest too was actually one of the ones who failed. I believe that students should be pushed, a lot needs to be expected of them, mediocre should not be tolerated, and all of this can still be done in a method that is firm but fair.

My students are my inspirations because they are extraordinary. I think that because everyone on my team expects this from them they have no choice but to live up to this positive image. People will always become what you expect from them so if you keep saying your kids are lousy don't be surprised if they turn out that way.

The One School = College Personalized