Sunday, October 09, 2005

Change Agents

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.
- Aristotle

One of the main tendencies of an expatriate professional’s life in Saudi Arabia is mediocrity. I’m not saying this to denigrate any of my colleagues who have dedicated themselves to living in Saudi Arabia --- it’s just that the prevailing culture in Saudi society has been one of paternalism and to some degree, relies more on SIR (smooth interpersonal relationships) than Filipinos ever do back in the Philippines.

This is evident in how people regard meeting deadlines, starting meetings on time, making small adjustments here and there instead of adhering to a strict discipline. The regard of many Saudi citizens to traffic rules is just one example among many. The continuing fiction that Saudis must be promoted even beyond their capability is also another. I have to admit that this country belongs to the Saudis and they should take over one day. All signs for that coming day are still relatively far away.

Many people remain critical of the Saudi royal family and sure enough, I’m certain that family is not perfect. But the culture permeates every one – and in some way, the practices of some expatriates help perpetuate, instead of blunting and reforming such mediocrity, which in the end, transform itself into mendicancy. While the royal family would have to do its share, the people would have to make their own changes.

This country has oil wealth – more than enough to pay for three lifetimes of its current population (perhaps even more) – but it has some ways to go in making it a more balanced society. Mind you – the balance does not have to mean it has to change its fundamental structure – but somewhere along that line, reforms would have to be carried out.

This is where Filipinos and other expatriates must play a crucial role – to be change agents instead of being changed ourselves. The pay is great, but I hope it disturbs people to think that WE ARE NOT MEANT TO BE HERE. We are just visitors, and before we get too comfortable that getting out is too difficult of an option, we have to plan accordingly – not only financially, but also professionally.

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