2016 was a turbulent year for governance and development. With terrorism, racism, and bigotry threatening democracy in many parts of the world, it seems we have taken a collective step backwards—a thought that can be disheartening. However, despite all that has happened, the year has given us more than a few reminders moving forward:
1. “If you stand for nothing, what will you fall for?” (Lin Manuel Miranda)
Working at the Institute for Solidarity in Asia (ISA) forced me to shed a bad habit I developed in my younger years of agreeing to anything that seemed rational. Working in the field of governance in general taught me to know my own personal core values and to uphold them. You can defend your position when you know what you stand for, and this was most apparent for me during the May elections. Peer pressure is real during election season and in times of political debate, and I know that it is something many others struggle with. I remember that friends would try to persuade me to make different choices, but it was always easy for me to explain why I was considering voting for a particular candidate, and intimate knowledge of my core values helped me win a few debates along the way.
2. “Men build too many walls and not enough bridges.” (Joseph Newton)
This year, we saw a surge in Filipinos voicing out their opinions about governance on social media, which shows that more citizens are taking an active interest in issues of national importance. Still, I am continuously shocked about what I read online. I believe it is possible to uphold one’s beliefs without giving in to hate, and it seems we could do with a review of our lessons in empathy and basic human decency. Those who say “words don’t matter” don’t understand the power of words and how easily we can be influenced by them. Anything we say or do can have impact.
3. “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” (Leo Tolstoy)
The elections here and in the United States, have shown us that people have become hungry for change and that, mistakenly, most are looking to one person to bring it about without them having to do any heavy-lifting as citizens. Another important lesson from working in governance is that government cannot do it alone. After all, government was designed to work hand in hand with its citizens. One of the reasons I still work at a non-profit today, after five years of experience in both corporate life and civil society, is that it reminds me that each of us has a capacity to serve others. This makes it disheartening to hear those closest to me complain about the government institutions we are trying to help reform through our work. Of course, there is truth in their perspective, but perhaps we should also ask ourselves: are we part of the problem or the solution? There are many ways to serve, beginning with looking inward. Very often, the beginnings of a solution are found not in grand gestures but in small acts such as following the rules.
4. “The world was mine to shape in the image of my highest values and never to be given up to a lesser standard.” (Ayn Rand)
In our workplace, we always say that “excellence is in the details”—and true excellence teaches us never to compromise. I would certainly be much happier and more carefree if I only focused on my own social circle, but grappling with excellence on a daily basis has made me value quality not only of action but also of opinion. For example, I have never taken drugs and I do not personally know anybody who has been a victim of the recent drug-related killings, so does it matter if I speak out? Yes—it matters because excellence has taught me never to compromise my actions or my opinions. I value all human life and I do not believe any person has the right to take away the life of another.
5. “Have courage and be kind.” (Cinderella, 2015)
This was a personal resolution at the beginning of 2016, but I didn’t realize at the time how often I would have to remind myself of it. I have come across so many people whose opinions I disagree with, and it is a struggle not to be hateful, but my core values have helped me to stand my ground in an especially turbulent year. Empathy nudges me to be kind; selfless service leads me to common ground with others; and excellence pushes me to never compromise these very same values. The chaos that has been set in motion by the events of 2016 is far from over. There are still many unresolved issues for governance, development, and democracy, but I look to 2017 with hope, optimistic that we will continue to pursue what is right, just, and best for our developing nation.
Isabel Camus is a Social Science graduate of the Ateneo de Manila University and is currently a senior program coordinator for the Institute for Solidarity in Asia’s (ISA) communication team. To learn more about her work with the Institute, visit isacenter.org.