Educating for Character, Life’s Purpose, and Happiness

A Boholano’s View by Jose “Pepe” Abueva

The Bohol Chronicle

July 21, 2013

Building Character. Reflecting on the sad state of our nation, society, economy, and governance—marked by poverty, injustice, corruption, waste, violence, inadequate public services, and poor governance—I realize that schooling should also be concerned with helping build the students’ personal character.

Why do I say this? In school I observe that some students are not serious about learning, which is their principal task. They do not appreciate their parents’ sacrifices and investment in their education. They do not value their time and the opportunity to prepare for their future.

Some of them would even cheat. They while away their time, and not care at all to read in the library. Quite a few skip classes and eventually drop out. Others attend their classes but do poorly in their tests and term papers simply for lack of study. They are not developing their talents and inclinations as they ought to. Some seem indifferent to our people’s many problems, lacking a sense of nationhood and patriotism.

We teachers and educators may be partly to blame for not dealing effectively with some of these behaviors and tendencies in our students. But from the students themselves we come to know of serious family problems that may contribute to their psychology and behavior. Political culture and the misbehavior of our leaders in government, business, the media, and civil society may also contribute to the malaise in and outside the classrooms.

Mostly Christian, Catholic but most corrupt and backward in Asia? In April 2012, Dr. Ernesto M. Pernia was our graduation speaker in Kalayaan College. He is a U.P. Professor of  Economics and former chief economist of the Asian Development Bank. To our graduates he asked this question: “Why is it that our country, the Philippines, which is reputed to be the only Christian – nay, predominantly Catholic – nation in Asia, is among the most corrupt and backward in the region?” 

He noted the wide gap or disconnect between our faith or religion as Catholics, or Muslims, and our secular morality or behavior as citizens and leaders. “I wanted to challenge you”, he said, “on the critical need for our society to translate faith into practice, that is to say, religion as secular morality – whatever your individual faith or religion might be. If you are already living and practicing your faith, then the challenge is to extend that to others. That would be a real contribution to our society toward reducing corruption and helping our country progress and improve the lives of our poor kababayans.”

The Purpose of Life? This reminds me of the fundamental question we might ask ourselves as human beings: What is the purpose of Life?  From my parents and catechism I learned that the most important thing in life is “to know God, to love God, and to serve Him.” In the Gospel, Jesus Christ said the most important commandment is: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul, with all your mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.”

In his bestseller book, The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren describes our transient life on earth, even if we lived to be over a 100 years, as a preparation for eternity in heaven, with God. He would later say: “We can be reasonably happy here on earth, but that’s not the goal of life. The goal is to grow in character, in Christ likeness.” (Interview by Paul Brackshaw). Our faith certainly puts everything in a total perspective for as children of God we are made in His image.

Seeking excellence in our various roles in life. As human beings we all assume different statuses, and therefore play certain roles at different stages in our lives, or through all our lives: as children and as adolescents; as young and then middle age, and then seniors; as citizens, friends, professionals and leaders, as public servants; as kin, parents and grand-parents, or whatever.

In each of these roles we play in life—the aim is to be the best we can, or to achieve a degree of excellence not only for ourselves and kin but also for others. For country and humankind and God above all.

Fr. Tito Caluag who has worked with many caring, loving educators who build what he calls communities of respect and care/love in their schools, writes about teachers whose dream was to help young people to heal and discover their own mission in life. “The basic philosophy,” he writes, “is to love them to excellence.”  To care for and love our students to excellence. What a challenge and opportunity for us teachers and educators!

More from Fr. Kaluag. “Our story and the song of our soul will always lead us back to the cycle, to the journey of a life well-lived—lived with meaning and dedication to a dream, a mission with great love and a great soul.” In his inspiring article he uses the soulful song: “Fill the World with Love,” with its refrain: “To be brave and strong and true. And to fill the world with love my whole life through.”   (“Remembering and reconnecting—living our life mission, ‘singing from our soul.’” Philippine Daily Inquirer, 5 June 2011.)

Happiness. Conventional wisdom says we are entitled to a degree of happiness on earth. Not in the materialistic and hedonistic sense, but in the sense of being “fulfilled by living a meaningful and satisfying life.”

But what really makes people happy? What causes “happiness”? “It is ‘wellbeing,’ the feeling of accomplishment,” according to Dr. Martin Seligman, the founder of the positive psychology movement and president of the American Psychological Association in the late 1990s.

 “Well-being cannot exist just in your own head,” Dr. Seligman writes. “Well-being is a combination of feeling good as well as actually having meaning, good relationships and accomplishment.” He recommends looking at the basic elements of well-being, identifying which ones matter most to you, setting goals and monitoring progress.

In his book, Gross National Happiness, Dr. Brooks “argues that “…what’s crucial to well-being is not how cheerful you feel, not how much money you make, but rather the meaning you find in life and your sense of ‘earned success’ — the belief that you have created value in your life or others’ lives.”  [Quotations about Dr. Seligman and Dr. Brooks are taken from John Tierney’s article in the New York Times, 4 June 2011.]

In conclusion, I’d say that based on this profound concept of “happiness” founded on “wellbeing” we can gauge our very own “happiness” more thoughtfully and relate it to our own personal, spiritual and social values. I would just add “a nationalist dimension to happiness” in these words: “United under God, we shall develop citizens and leaders who love our country, and trust and challenge one another in building a just, humane and democratic society. Upholding truth, honesty and excellence, we shall work together for the common good of all

Filipinos at home and around the globe.”

To conclude, as teachers and learners we have an hierarchy of life’s meaning and purpose defined by our faith and illumined by our secular meanings and understanding. This should make life not only very meaningful and challenging but also happy and worthwhile as we journey to eternity to be with our Creator who is Love Himself. 

Do we really have to wait so indefinitely? No, for He also reminds us: “Whenever two or three of you are gathered in my Name, I am with you.” With our classes of youngsters and older and with Him we are truly blessed.

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