What We Need is Discipline


Henyrylito D. Tacio

Mr. Tacio, who hails from Davao, is a correspondent of the Asian edition of Reader’s Digest. He is the first and only Filipino journalist to have been elevated to the Hall of Fame in science reporting by the Philippine Press Institute. In 1999, the Rotary Club of Manila bestowed him the Journalist of the Year award. He is also East Asia’s contributing editor of the People & the Planet based in London.

For comments, henrytacio@gmail.com

During the so-called “new society” of the late President Ferdinand Marcos, one of the most often quoted lines is: “Sa ikauunlad ng bayan, disiplina ang kailangan.” Literally, it means that if we want this country to improve, we need to have discipline.

If only, at that time, Filipinos followed this mantra, the Philippines would have been up there already! Look at Singapore now! In a speech delivered during a graduation at Silliman University in Dumaguete, Menardo G. Jimenez Jr. said that during a leadership conference in Singapore, the late Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew shared how he built Singapore from nothing to where it was then.

Right now, Singapore is a showcase of Asia without poverty, without the overcrowding, or space. It is certainly Asia without dirt. “In many ways, Singapore is the perfect place for the newcomer to Asia,” wrote one travel author. “It is like an Asian showhouse.”

In his speech, Jimenez said: “He shared that Singapore, barely a generation ago, was far worse than many of its peers. But today, it is an economic superpower. When he first started to lead Singapore, he asked his think tank to visit neighboring (Asian) countries like the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, and figure out what they don’t have. He said they all came back with one conclusion: These countries lacked discipline. So, to differentiate Singapore from its neighbors, he decided to build his country on discipline.”

In his own words, Jimenez explained what discipline is: “This meant that if Singapore promised something to its people, to its foreign investors, and to other countries, it will be fulfilled. A disciplined country and a disciplined people-that’s what he built Singapore on.”

“He who lives without discipline dies without honor,” said an Icelandic proverb. George Washington, the first American president, noted: “Discipline is the soul of an army. It makes small numbers formidable, procures success to the weak, and esteem to all.” David Campbell pointed out: “Discipline is remembering what you want.”

“Nothing of importance is ever achieved without discipline,” comments Bertrand Russell. “I feel myself sometimes not wholly in sympathy with some modern educational theorists, because I think that they underestimate the part that discipline plays. But the discipline you have in your life should be one determined by your own desires and your own needs, not put upon you by society or authority.”

Film actor Clint Eastwood knows this too well. “It takes tremendous discipline to control the influence, the power you have over other people’s lives,” the Oscar winning actor and director said.

If we want to be successful in life, we need to practice discipline. “If you want to reach your goals and dreams, you cannot do it without discipline,” Jimenez said in his speech.

Jimenez cited the case of one of his good friends, Fred Uytengsu. “I used to see him on the baseball field when he used to coach his son’s team and I was an assistant for my son’s team. One day, I saw him wearing a shirt that said, ‘If you don’t have discipline, you don’t deserve to dream.’ No matter how harsh it may seem, the point is true.

“If you’re 350 pounds overweight and you’re dreaming to become the next big hunk, but you don’t have the discipline to watch what you eat, to exercise, and to make it happen, it isn’t going to happen. Don’t even bother dreaming, if you don’t have the discipline to make it a reality. You’ll just get frustrated. That’s how important discipline is in achieving success.”

Discipline is defined in the world of business as “work ethic.” To drive his point, Jimenez shared an anecdote from Thomas Alva Edison, a great man who epitomized what work ethic is all about. “At his (Edison’s) age of 82, the President of the United States said it was about time he was honored with an award for his lifetime work. So, they put together a huge event in honor of the inventor.

“Being 82, he felt a bit sick that night and fainted. Good thing they were able to revive him and he was still able to go up on stage. Edison upon accepting the award simply said, ‘I am tired of all this glory. I want to get back to work.’ Eighty-two years old, and all he can think of is going back to work. That is work ethic. That is discipline,’” Jimenez said.

But are Filipinos disciplined people? Let me give you an idea. In 2000, I went to the United States for the first time. At the Manila airport, I was surprised to see people forming a queue when the attendant told us that they were already boarding passengers from numbers 51 to 65. Sure enough, only those with seats being called were in the line. The same thing happened when other numbers were called. I observed that most of the passengers were foreigners – either Japanese or Americans. There were Filipinos but too few to mention.

It was completely a different story when I returned home. I was at the airport in Detroit and there were so many passengers bound for Manila. When one of the attendants announced that boarding will start, immediately passengers rushed toward the two assigned attendants.

“Sir, we are boarding only those from 51 to 65,” the attendant explained. “And yours is 24C.” The male passenger replied, “I am first here. So, allow me to board first!”

The scene looked like I was in Davao boarding a flight going to Manila. But we were still in the United States and those Filipinos who rushed thought they were already in the Philippines. How rude!

And the foreigners? Well, they were at the far back, waiting for their numbers to be called!

If we want to move as a country to greater heights, the discipline must be observed. “You lack discipline,” a foreigner told me, “and that’s what you need.”

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