OF TREES AND FOREST
Former Senate President
Build rather than burn bridges. This is one of the tenets I have adhered to in my life, professionally and personally. It is something that is difficult to do especially in our current times where social media has amplified divisions and where civility seems to be optional rather than required.
When I was still in politics, I have heard some people calling me “Mr. Congeniality” because I seem to be friendly with everyone, even those who may not be friendly to me. Some quarters take this negatively as a sign of compromising principles or attempting to coop someone. I respectfully disagree.
People are different. We come from different backgrounds and circumstances, be it religion, socio-economic status, politics, beliefs, etc. Even when we have similar problems we experience them differently. Poverty, for instance, is experienced differently from one poor family to another. Joy is a universal feeling but is experienced and expressed differently by different people. People are just different.
I was exposed to this early on in life. When I was young, I would help out my mother in selling shrimps and fish in the market. We would wake up early and head out to Divisoria for the auction of our “paninda” and to set up our stall. Aside from learning about the basics of entrepreneurship, I also learned about people. Everyone in the palengke knows Nanay Curing and she knows everyone. And my mother taught me how to appreciate the diversity in the people we encounter in that small stall in the wet market.
This was something that stuck with me as an entrepreneur, as a public servant, and as a person. This was especially useful when I became Speaker of the House of Representatives in 1998. The House, or the lower chamber of the Congress of the Philippines, is an exceptional place because not only does it house the elected representatives of the people, it also gathers, in one deliberative assembly more than 250 diverse individuals with different and differing circumstances. To be able to lead them is a complex and fascinating process. Leading a big group of people with their own ideas, alliances and ambitions requires a leader to establish a network of trust.
It is in the political world where the maxim “never burn a bridge” is most necessary. To begin with, burning bridges simply means you end a relationship — whatever type of relations — in a way that makes rebuilding that relationship virtually impossible. When you resign from a job and you badmouth everyone who works there is exactly the kind of burning bridges I am taking about.
The problem is that we live in a small world. There is always a possibility that you will meet the people you parted ways with again at some future time. So it just makes sense to build and strengthen networks rather than severing them permanently. This applies even in our personal life. The friend or the partner you are leaving is someone who you care about despite your spat. It is something worth keeping rather than allowing the temporary pain you are feeling to preclude any future friendships.
This principle also makes a lot of sense in business. It does not make sense to make permanent enemies in the small, interconnected world of business. You never know when you would need the camaraderie of someone.
It is this principle that allowed me to work with people who hold different beliefs than mine, who may have wronged me in the past, or whose politics I may not like. The idea is to find a common ground to work with and to allow you to move past your differences. It allows you to separate the deeply personal from what is required to make sure that you maintain a network of friends and allies.
It does not always work perfectly. Sometimes no matter how you build bridges, the person at the other side of the bridge is more interested in blowing it up rather that meeting you halfway. That is okay. At least you are not responsible for breaking the bond. You tried and you can sleep well at night.