Toastmasters Speech #5: Tree of Life

For 16 of the years i was living in Laguna, the mango tree planted in our front yard was my constant companion. It bore mute witness to my triumphs and trials. It witnessed my graduations, birthday parties, breakups, senti moments, etc. But not only did it witness, I learned quite a few valuable lessons in life from this tree. How could it do that while it was just a tree? Well it didn’t exactly pick itself up and walk like a Lord or the Rings ent! But mind you, it did move once! We’ll get to that later.  What I learned was: 1) Always keep your goal in mind, plan. 2) Know the cost of your goals 3) Be aware of your surroundings and adapt. 4) Nothing is permanent.

1) Our family loves mangoes. Breakfast, lunch and dinner, dessert and merienda. We made mango shakes, put mango cubes in our rice, you name it! We bought mangoes by the kaing. And so we were always so excited and expectant about the gold mine sitting right outside. We had the vision of a productive mango tree firmly fixed in our minds.  That kept us going through the years of working on the tree, waiting.

2) What we didn’t think of was that we were growing a full-sized mango tree in a 150sqm lot. It eventually outstripped all the other indian mango trees in our village. And soon it was raining dead leaves on our roof, clogging up the drains and causing leaks and rust. The cemented walk from the gate was cracked by the relentlessly growing roots.  You must know what your goal costs, or you will be sidetracked and your investment will be dead in the ground.

3) Yes, it was a maintenance nightmare. We also had to watch out for bugs and other parasites that may damage our tree. The first time our tree flowered we were so excited, we’d go out every morning to see how the fruits were doing, and at night we’d stare at the fruits through the window. A few weeks later, the fruits fell prematurely, growth stunted by lack of nutrition thanks to pests. So we spent a lot on insecticides and fertilizers. We trimmed it regularly and aerated the soil close to the roots. This taught me the value of being aware of my surroundings, and adapting to the situation.

4) Then in late 2006, tragedy struck. Typhoon Milenyo grasped our tree by the branches and mercilessly uprooted it. It turns out that our soil was only one meter loam, and who knows how much rock beneath. In the aftermath, we went out and found the tree leaning on our wall. And we were the lucky ones, a few neighbors had their trees fall forward into the street, smashing their fence. God guided the tree away from smashing into the adjacent garage, which could have caused much more damage. I joined in hacking the tree apart myself. In a way, the uprooting was symbolic. A few months later, we moved out of the house. And now I live in the savage, treeless jungle of Manila. Yes, nothing is permanent. And what may seem invincible will come to pass.

For most of my life, that tree stood as a reminder of the slow but steady passing of time. It conveyed the sense of permanence in its ever-present, ever-available shade. It was a reminder of change by virtue of its boundless growth. And though it lies in pieces, I carry the lessons I learned from it with me wherever I go.

Toastmasters speech #4: Man – God’s Software

This was my 4th Toastmasters speech. I’ll probably post a separate writeup on my Toastmasters experience itself, but that’s for another day… And now due to insistent public demand (what public???), tan-tara-ran!

I fell in love with computers way back when I was in high school. I and my dorm mates would stay up late into the night taking apart and putting back together 286 and 386s. None of them could run anything higher than DOS, and hard disks were a rarity. We booted up from floppy, or for those ancient IBM machines, we had BASICA loaded from ROM. Running the simplest program would give me the greatest pleasure. I’d spend hours poring over BASIC game “recipes” from the library and write up programs of my own after class. Those were my favorite times of the day.

I love software, I have ever since then. It is an extension of my will, bearing my stamp. The excellence (or crappyness) of my code reflects on my own abilities. And as time passed, my creations got more and more complex. I would divide it into modules, which were independent, but worked together as a whole. Now I see an analogy in nature. I see the same principles at work when it comes to God and His probably most cherished creation: man. All creation, while individually independent in motivation, works together to produce a stable ecology on our world.

Problems happen whenever we violate that stability. Wars, global warming, food shortages, all these have been attributed to man’s abuse of power. Ultimately, it can all be traced to inconsideration. Large problems are caused powerful men not considering the rights of the unfortunate, or a large group failing to decide what’s best for itself. Even smaller, everyday problems are caused by miscommunication between individuals. The moment we lose contact with others is the moment we make decisions selfishly and often cause harm to others. Aren’t there people who are so easy to get along with? With whom we feel as if we were connected by some intangible wifi network of the mind? Everything we do with these people is so easy! They are dynamic and fun to be with and work with. And for each one of these people there are ten who are so difficult to relate to. Sometimes you get tempted to take that Ethernet cord and stick it so far up their behinds just to connect!

Whatever our religion or creed, I’m sure we universally agree about the importance of our fellow man. And key to this is communication. This is how we learn about others and how we can best serve them while getting what we want. Isn’t all software about information, the processing, transmission, and storage of it; all for the betterment of man? If we really want our world to be bug-free, it is up to us to actively take part in building our world. We must communicate, debate, etc. Yes, even conflict is essential, for it weeds out what is undesirable. That is, as long as it is tempered with consideration for others, until we are all one in purpose.

Now I don’t pretend to understand the source code drives us. It doesn’t matter what language we speak, what protocol we follow. Belief, race, and religion don’t matter in the face of these challenges! Some might say Muhammad showed us the way. Others might say Jesus came down to this earth to debug us. Still others might say it was Buddha who did it, and now you can learn how to do it yourself in 21 days! But I know we are meant to live together and for each other. No matter what race, belief, or nationality, we must come together to make this work.

I think this is one of my better speeches yet… Alright, so it’s the best I’ve got so far. Expectedly, the earlier ones were pathetic, stuttering attempts at meaning and humor, hehe. This verson is as close as I could make it to what I actually said (Minus a ton of “uhms”, “aaaands”, “soooos”, and more than a few run-ins.) With a few additional connectors to make the ideas fit better into each other, if that were even possible, hahaha! I should be the poster boy for scatterbrainedness… Oh well, as they say practice makes perfect. Well it better, for your sakes and mine…