Flourishing is…? The Good Life in Conflict: A Perspective from South-East Asia

The flourishing project. For over a year I asked people to tell stories of their best moments in life.  I asked people -young and old, female and male-  who would have a unique perspective.  Their perspective is unique because of their social disadvantage and the conflict that surrounds them.  Because of their ethnicity the people I asked face many hurtles.  However, -possibly as a result of the disadvantage- they are resilient, strong, friendly, and respectable people.  I asked people who are of Yakan decent and lived on Basilan Island, Mindanao, Philippines to tell me stories of their best moments in life.

After months of hearing stories I sat with a small group of people -who were of Yakan ethnicity- to facilitate making a list of a flourishing society.  The list came from the stories we had heard.  After making the list to understand what was vital we went to the larger community.  Through using a survey they ranked the list.  The rank showed what -if missing- affects people’s overall flourishing more.  It showed what people thought was vital to be secure.

This is what people said creates a flourishing society in their ranked order.  

In a flourishing society people have the freedom and ability to have fear and faith In Allah.

One male participant in the 15–29 age group described the importance of Islam using wording that suggests the stability and centrality of Islam: “Islam is the root.” A root anchors as well as produces life. He added,

“if the root is good, then the branches will also be good.”

He addressed how important Islam is to flourishing by pointing at the domains of a good life the study participants had developed:

“These are the leaves. That one [the ability to have fear and faith in Allah] is the root.”

The “leaves” he pointed to are the ability to have a permanent job, to get a good education, to have peace and order, to have a happy family, to have good governance, to have health, to travel, to have a permanent house, to have technological development, to have transportation, and to help people. Thus, Islam nourishes all other domains, that is, Islam guides all other parts of life.

In a flourishing society people have the freedom and ability to love and help one another.

One man (30-49 age group) discussed because his father was closed and lacked the ability to love and help others it affected his -the son’s- ability to get work and go to school negatively.  He stated,

“My father is not used to mingle with other people…. It affected me a lot. He can’t relate to other people like telling people that I have a son, so, because of that, I have no friend whom I can ask for help.”

For his children he chose a different path.  He stated,

“I had a different experience with my children. My daughter and sons were able to work because of our friendships.”

Another women reflected another side of the ability to love and help others.  She simply said her best moments in life came from the ability “to love and be loved”.

In a flourishing society people have the freedom and ability to respect one another.

When a leader shows respect and responsibly leads constituents, the people respect the leader in return.  One participant stated,

“There are a lot of people who are disobedient [who do not obey the law] because the leader is not managing his [sic] constituents very well.”

Responsible leadership creates responsible constituents. When a leader does not return respect, conflict follows or people break the law in response—to communicate to the leadership that they are obliged to show respect to the people, and a vicious begins. That respect can create a positive or negative cycle is evident in the following statement from a male study participant in the 30–49 age group:

“Respect your leader. At the same time, the leader must also respect you.”

It is critical for respect to be mutual for people to flourish.

In a flourishing society people have the freedom and ability to have peace in their community.  

A male respondent (in the 30–49 age group) stated,

“Though we have our stable job, if there’s no peace within the community, we will never have our peace of mind.”

Another male respondent (in the 30–49 age group) followed that,

“if there is no peace and order, we can’t sleep well, we can’t eat well, we can’t study, we can’t work, we can’t go anywhere, because we are afraid.”

In a flourishing society people have the freedom and ability to gain education.

Many of the study participants focused on the idea of becoming a professional. A female respondent (in the 15–29 age group) stated,

“Studying is not only for our own good. You will be able to help your parents and siblings once you have succeeded or become a professional.”

Others discussed that education was not only about work.  It was also about knowledge.  Further, many discussed how important it is to have a mix of “secular” and “Islamic” education.

In a flourishing society people have the freedom and ability to work.

When asked what a secure life means, a female respondent (in the 15–29 age group) stated,

“For me, security means being able to have education and a job. If you have a permanent job and you will not be terminated, that is security. You are secure as a whole. All aspects of you are secure.”

In a flourishing society people have the freedom and ability to have shelter.

One female respondent (in the 15–29 age group) said, after reflecting on the importance of shelter in her life,

“Having shelter is very important, because shelter does not only pertain to a mere house, but it means a family living together in one place.”

In a flourishing society people have the freedom and ability to be healthy.

A male respondent (in the 15–29 age group) provided examples of how health can positively and negatively affect a person. “If you are healthy,” he said, “you can go to work. You can go to somebody and meet somebody, because you are healthy. You can travel.” But, he then added,

“If you are not healthy, like my cousin—he is so poor in health, even though he has a very high position in the government, so he finds it very hard.”

In a flourishing society people have the freedom and ability to take part in the government.

A male respondent in the 50 and above age group commented that his most positive moment was when Muslims experienced involvement in governance.

“We experienced alhamdulillah [thanks be to God]. Muslims were already recognized here in Mindanao and were already given the positions like governor, mayor, barangay captain.”

For this man, a highlight of his life was recognizing Muslims in high-level positions.

In a flourishing society people have the freedom and ability to be mobile and travel. 

A female respondent (in the 50 and above age group) said the ability to be mobile and travel has improved her life:

“We experienced that. We are free to travel. Our ability to be able to go anywhere is part of having peace. Having peace doesn’t mean having money all the times. To travel gives also a peace of mind.”

As always I would love to hear your perspective.  What would you add to the list?  What is flourish?

Note: This above came from using THE MODEL FLOURISHING.  Grounded theory was used to develop rich qualitative and quantitative data.  The project was done in partnership with Sirat and the University of the Philippines. Dr. Matthew S. Will has over a decade of experience living and working in South East Asia and the Pacific.  He currently works from Timor-Leste.  You can contact him here.

Other articles on Mindanao include Mistaken Identity and the Discourse of TerrorA Tipping Point in Terror: “Those Who Tell the Stories Rule Society”The Respect Principle –Fertile or Corrosive- Key to Peace in Mindanao“If Peace is Missing we Can’t Do Anything but Hide.” Peace a Priority in Mindanao, and The Gendered Results of Conflict: “We live in Hell” vs. We were “Revolutionaries”.

4 responses to Flourishing is…? The Good Life in Conflict: A Perspective from South-East Asia

  1. Teresa says:

    Even if the respondents were primarily Muslims from the Sounthern Philippines, I can attest that this is a good representation of what good life is for Filipinos. Three core values that is evident in the Philippines society; faith (pananampalataya), relationship (kapwa-tao) and education (edukasyon). There are two interesting indicator of flourishing that was mentioned by some respondents; stable government (which governs peace and security in the land) and the ability to participate or get involved in the government. These two indicators seemed to be more of a hope and prayer for the Philippines. I would add in the list, which had been touched a bit in the area of education and participation in governance, is critical thinking. People will be able to engage and have control over their own lives of their eyes are open (Mulat) to the realities of politics and issues that affect ther lives.


    • drmswill says:

      Teresa, very interesting. I appreciate that you come from a perspective of sameness rather than difference. It would be interesting to do a similar project and create a comparison. The data pointed to the domains for governance being large for Yakan because of the long-term struggle to be represented. I appreciate the other two areas you add which seem to really related to awareness and action. I do have one question for you. As you state you think the values coming from this research are similar to your values and values of other Filipinos. From your perspective how damaging is the view of difference as compared to sameness in relation to Filipinos (of Islamic background) and Filipinos that are not Islamic of Islamic background?


      • Teresa says:

        Your question actually made me look back at my comment. I meant to say that, even though respondents are primarily Muslims from the Southern Philippines, this is a good representation of non-muslim Filipinos and those not living in the South. And yes, I do see so much more similarities than difference. Your article actually highlight those, from the lens of where I’m at. Difference can cause division, tension and to extent, violence. There is already a tension that is existing in the Philippines especially after the Mamasapano incident. This also greatly affects the fate of BBL.
        I like that the research highlight sameness. Sameness can be a unifying factor, a bridge that connects us in achieving the good life. Sometimes, the belief about being the same and being different creates a thin line between friend and foe.


  2. drmswill says:

    Yes… I have not been back to the Philippines since Mamasapano. I have been watching the discussion on how it relates to the BBL from afar. Really tragic. I do think having a common list of can be valuable for defining future aspirations.

    The issue of sameness vs difference is interesting. For some reason we seem quick to see difference whereas sameness seems to take a bit more time to find. I am not sure why that is? I resonated with many of the ideas of flourishing that people discussed. Will be interesting if some of the others you invited into this discussion comment on their thoughts about both the list and the topics we are discussing.


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