The need for critical thinking to make change



I used to have quite long and very enjoyable discussions with my driver, Boyet. We talk about all sorts of matters to do with the Philippines and Filipinos; but whenever I expound on the ills of Philippines society and how difficult life is for the ordinary Filipino, Boyet’s invariable response is “but that’s the way it is Sir Mike.”

One of the reasons for some of the ills of Philippines society is exactly the acceptance reflected in “but that’s the way it is . . . ” Well that may be the way it is, but that doesn’t mean that efforts shouldn’t be made to change the way it is.

I’ve seen it written about before but there seems to be a sharp loss of the bayanihan spirit. This cultural mores which is typified visually by a group of people transporting a house from somewhere to somewhere else appears to be less evident, or perhaps it’s just because I see things from a Manila perspective. Working together for a shared objective, community cooperation, mutual help and support within a group.

Instead of carrying a house, if the group worked together with the objective, say, of improving the provision of electricity or mobile phone services to their community, then it is probably more likely, because of the power of the group, that they would succeed in the face of the usual stonewalling and lack of cooperation by big business. It is the fundamental rationale for democratic political structures. An individual that the majority has voted for to be the advocate of their cause, whatever it may be, represents the group’s interest. By delivering the results that the group want the representative gains their trust and support and brings about more cohesion within the group.

At least that is an ideal picture but alas it doesn’t really work that way. If it did, then there would be less quips of “but that’s the way it is.”

Tackling big business in order to satisfy their customer’s needs and moral rights doesn’t seem to be very effective via democratic representation, particularly in a Philippines context in which big business is so powerful. Frankly it is often better to pursue valid complaints as an individual. To hope that high-level political intervention will change the quality of service provision in anything like a reasonable length of time for the better and in the interests of consumers at large is usually wishful thinking. Look at the cost of electricity for example or the Internet and cellular services.

So if democratically elected representatives for all sorts of reasons often fail to deliver the goods or the needs for the people who elected them, what is to be done to bring about needed change?

Certainly saying “that’s the way it is” isn’t going to change anything. We need a bit of challenge. To mount an effective and, importantly, a civilized challenge requires some critical thinking in order to be able to convince people of the “error of their ways.” Critical thinking is the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment.

This needs to be accompanied by an ability to advocate the result of the critical thinking to other people.

Society in the Philippines has historically been of a dependant nature, the padrones have looked after their people. Whilst this system still persists, things have changed, society is bigger and government operated by politicians has taken over from the landowners as the protectors and representatives of the people’s interest. It’s more difficult for people to get their voices heard and central government is too big to look after the interests of small groups.

To depend on others to fix the problems will usually not bring the desired results, the interests of others are different and fraught with other problems and considerations. It really is time to develop individual critical thinking skills so that people can work things out for themselves and then bring about the change that is so necessary, in a rational manner understood by all.

Mike can be contacted at


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