Wrong Message Sent

The author is the Coordinator of Action for Economic Reforms, a research and policy advocacy NGO focusing on macroeconomic policy and governance issues.

The world can be truly confusing to a preschooler. He sees a movie on TV
where the villain is good-looking, lives in big and expensive houses, is surrounded by beautiful and sexy women, and drives a new luxury car. For most of the movie, he gets the upper hand. The hero is poor and suffers a lot. It is only in the end that he beats the villain and sends him to kingdom come.

What is the message of the movie? The movie is supposed to be saying that good triumphs in the end. But many adults would get a different message. The message that they get is that it’s okay to be a villain so long as they avoid being beaten by the hero. After all, the movie hero does not exist in real life.

But what about the preschooler who does not know yet right
from wrong? What message does he get from the movie? I think
this is the reason there is a Parental Guidance warning on
the screen. The parent should guide the child by distinguishing
right from wrong and explaining the context of the story,
etc.

How many parents do this? What if the child does not get
to see the end of the story and only sees the villain lording
it over everyone, including the hero? Do the kids really
follow
the story of an entire movie or are they more influenced
by the attractive scenes and images? So, what message will
our
preschooler get from the movie?

The movie should not be confusing to adults because they
are expected to know right from wrong. They are supposed
to understand
the context in which the events in the movie happen and most
of all, adults presumably appreciate art and all that. But
what about the reality that unfolds before them day in and
day out?

Reality seems to run parallel to the movie: the very good-looking
villains ride in luxurious sedans, live in mansions way beyond
their declared means and are surrounded by glamorous people.
But where is the hero? And does the hero actually finish
off the villain? Does Act III (where the hero finishes off
the
villain) ever come? Reality seems like a long Act I and II
where the villain always has the upper hand and the hero
is nowhere in sight.

So what message do people get? In school, we are taught that
if one is honest, competent, hardworking, patient, etc.,
he or she will be successful. Do the lessons in school correspond
to the lessons in life? (Are the summa cum laudes and magna
cum laudes the most successful?)

High intelligence quotient (IQ) does not often guarantee
success. In fact, many people with very high IQs fail miserably;
and
there are many with average IQs who are quite successful
– financially, emotionally or both. The more recent concept
of
emotional quotient (EQ) is said to be a better gauge of success.
There is, however, no reliable and valid instrument to measure
EQ as of now. So, what are the models of success that people
see in our society?

In practically any town or city in the Philippines, what
does a perceptive student observe as he goes to school every
day?
He sees the street scene transformed as he goes from elementary
to high school. The public school teacher’s house is old
and rundown. What was once a nipa hut owned by a seaman’s
parents
is replaced by a concrete house courtesy of the seaman’s
monthly remittances. The fortunes of the politician seem
to double
every term while the public works office doesn’t seem to
be working at all. Road repairs are never completed while
more
and more schoolbuildings fall apart. In a decade or two,
the mayor’s wife, brother, children have also become mayors,
congressmen
or governors. Their family has also become the prominent
businessmen in the locality. What message does this send
to this student?
Would he want to become a public school teacher, too?

What is the message sent when a policeman says we must obey
traffic rules but uses the wrong lane and goes through a
red light even when there is no emergency?

What is the message sent when a government official rallies
the people to support the local industries but does so clothed
in foreign signature apparel from head to toe?

What is the message sent when a mayor asks his constituents
to pay their taxes but puts his name in big bold letters
in all the billboards of impact projects in the city (including
police cars)? Does this mean that what the mayor is doing
is
public service or is he using his position and the people’s
money and resources for his own interests?

To be sure, having the right leaders-cum-models is not the
only way to come up with better organizations. But certainly,
having leaders who have double standards is a big obstacle
to the growth and development of any organization.

And this is really one of the biggest challenges for a parent
or leader. As they say, actions speak louder than words.
Kids will follow what their parents say if these are consistent
with their parents’ actions. In fact, the parents don’t have
to say much if the kids see a lot of these things being done
by them.

Hindi magbubunga ng santol ang manga. (The mango tree cannot
possibly bear santol fruit).

Leadership by example is certainly a very powerful means
to influence a group – be it a family, a corporation or an
entire
nation. But too much reliance on leaders to get things going
puts such a heavy burden on these leaders who may not be
able to rise to the occasion every time.

What happens to the children in a family where the parents
do not “walk the talk”? Or, as in many families
nowadays, where the parents are usually not around? What
happens to a
police department when its chief is on the jueteng payroll?

Many children will grow up bad, delinquent, even criminal.
But then, not all of them do so. Many SPO1s and SPO2s will
be corrupt, but there will be many, too, who are not. There
will even be a child or two who would excel in school,
become a leader and be very successful. The same is true
with the
police force.

But in many places where leaders have been charged and
jailed for various crimes, you will also find individual
heroes
and decent, disciplined people.

Kids need not always look up to their parents as role
models. Many people who know right from wrong will
consciously and bravely insist on what is right, despite
the consequences.
This is precisely what makes people different from
other organisms on Earth. But that is another story.

Leaders will certainly continue to lead and models
will continue to be emulated. It would really help
a lot if
they lead well
and thus be great models.

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