A Man Named Ben

We learn something from every single person we meet. The encounter may turn out to be the most hateful or painful, or the most poignant, but it always leads to a certain realization.

On rare occasions, we don’t just learn from people, they change us. It’s like when we travel to another country. We come home a different person, and we somehow see the Philippines in a whole new light.

Such was my experience attending Mr. Ben Lozare‘s course on Social and Behavior Change Communication. Sir Ben, and I use the courtesy title with utmost sincerity, taught us how to come up with a health communication plan, but I walked away learning more. Here are a few lessons that I took with me and which are enriching the way I live:

We don’t do health programs because we made some international commitment, we do them because we want every person to live a full and healthy life. Here is a man who has worked for over 22 years in his field, who has dealt with countless people in more than 100 countries, and who has seen the best and the worst in them, yet he still has that “fire in his belly.” It is deeply inspiring to know that one can reach the age of 60 with one’s ideals intact, and one can still be fearless in trying to rouse the fire in others. Indeed, why aim to cure 85% of people with TB, when we should be wanting to cure them all? And why do so for the Millenium Development Goals, when we should act because we care for that one TB patient?

Our vision, be it in work or our dreams in life, should take us to the difficult and impossible. We can choose to do what is easy, or we can dream big and go beyond imagination. The possibilities are limitless, and they depend only on how much we care and are willing to change. How many dreams have I put on hold or watered down because I have been afraid? Next time I restrain myself, I will remember that someone told Henry Ford that the automobile was only a fad and that horses were here to stay. I will consider that I used to do my school paper on the typewriter, and couldn’t imagine the handy electronic device I’m typing on now. I will think about how IBM used to believe that only five customers would be interested to buy a computer and use it at home. I will be like Alice, thinking about six impossible things before breakfast.

It’s not the lack of resources, but the lack of resourcefulness. Singapore does not have as much resources as we do, yet the state is one of the richest in the world. How many times do we hear “lack of funds” as the reason behind government projects not getting done? Sir Ben comes back to the country, and he sees the same problems he saw 20 years ago. He was right when he said that we created many of our problems, and we cannot solve them with the same level of thinking that we created them–paraphrasing his “classmate”, Albert Einstein. We have always focused on the things that are easy to do; it’s business as usual as there is security of tenure. Unless we can commit to do the difficult and impossible and be resourceful, we will always be where we are now.

Be professional. Be myself. The cliche is true: Change starts in us. Two of my favorite quotes from Sir Ben were:

“The only strategy I need in life is to develop myself. Then I just be myself–show what is inside.”

“Everyday you must do your best. That is the mark of a true professional. Everyday you must autograph your work.”

Imagine if every single person in public service, every Pinoy, signs his work with excellence every day. Imagine where that could take our country. Imagine if every true professional lives with integrity and generously shares what he knows with another. Imagine where that could lead us.

Socs with Mr. Ben Lozare and Rhea Alba (Photo by: Nilo Yacat)

People will always remember how you treat them. I learned this a long time ago, when a distinguished UP professor screamed invectives at my mother and me as she threw me out of a boarding house which she owned. Sir Ben, who has achieved more than this professor, treated every person in the workshop with respect and paid attention to them. He asked people if they were comfortable, if they slept well. He opened doors for us and offered to help carry training materials. He was generous with what he knows, sitting down and fully answering a question I had with one of the worksheets. It’s true, people may not remember what we knew or accomplished, but they will always remember how we treated them and how we made them feel.

We learn something from every single person we meet. What will people learn from me, from you? How will we make them feel when they walk away?

I will always feel grateful to Sir Ben for what I learned from him and the way he has fanned the fire in my belly.

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