Focusing on the red herring

Whenever I make teaching rounds with my medical students, I always tell them to look out for a “red herring”.

Red herrings are clues that are intended to be distracting or misleading. Let’s take the case of a 4 year-old patient with 14 days fever and macular rashes is seen at your clinic. He tests negative in routine dengue test kits except for IgG dengue. A complete blood count with platelet shows a white count of 3,000 (90% lymphocytes) and a platelet of 25,000. Many will be tempted to make a diagnosis of dengue. The red herring is the neutropenia and thrombocytopenia.

Many diseases will present with a low white count and low platelet. This patient was seen by two different doctors in the 2 weeks interval. The final diagnosis in this case was acute leukemia.

I talk about red herrings today to emphasize that there will always be misleading clues that will make one make the wrong conclusion.

The idiom “red herring” was thought to have emanated from using this fish’s smell to train dogs to track scents. The modern meaning of “red herring” as a false trail, was thought to be popularized by English journalist William Cobbett. Whatever the origins are, red herring is something that misleads or distracts us from a relevant or important issue.

Red herrings, while taught in medical science, are seen in contemporary society. Politics is an example of how to use distractions in order to bring to fore an agenda. The real situation of an economy or justice or national security of any country can be fended off through fake news and bad policies and decisions by creating background noise and news. This makes the masses confused with the real current pressing and potential issues surrounding a nation.

Red herrings sow confusion. Confusion results in a lack of focus on what the real problem is. In medical science, this ends up with health care providers working up patients with more unnecessary tests, increasing hospitalization days, instituting unnecessary treatments, placing them at higher risks of complications, and shifting the burden of cost to an insurmountable amount.

It is a fallacy that an argument is correct but does not address the subject being discussed. It is an attempt to change the subject.

In this highly digital age of technology, social media is used to sow confusion and distract us from what is true. It is like medical science where instead on focusing what is the real evidence, we are distracted with the diagnosis because there were too much tests that gave ambiguous results.


In any situation, focusing on Red Herrings is a deadly distraction.

Even sad birds sing

Everyone’s life has a story.

It begins the day we’re born. More often than not, it’s the most joyous occasion to our parents.

Childhood are usually the best years of ones life. Carefree. Dependent. Wanting. Until we’re ready for school. And that’s when the first chapter begins.

School isn’t what it used to be. These days, you see the kids taking on so much assignments that you’d think your 4th grade son is taking a Master’s degree. You can hardly talk to them anymore. Maybe because we’re also too busy chasing our future or providing a roof over everyone’s head. Whatever the circumstances are, it’s not difficult to observe that a dysfunctional family has become a norm rather than an exception to the rule.

It’s because “life’s like that”.

But it isn’t.

Because there are pitstops in every journey of our life. Time to reflect o how we have lived, loved, laughed, cried. Being there for one another, not only during celebrations and victories, but during disappointments and sorrows will always be part of our stories.

Notice how quickly time has passed us by. How our children have quickly grown. How it’s impossible to turn back the hands of time. How many “what if’s” we’ve regretted.

Like autumn’s colors, our days take on a different hue. We wilt. We prepare for the cold of winter. Alone. Dreary.

For many of us, autumn is the second to our final pit stop in life. Nothing is too late. To live. To love. To laugh. To cry. To change. Because as long as we live, no dream is too late to change. No reconciliations too late to amend.

Only we can write the final chapter on how this story ends.

For even sad birds sing…

The opportunities

Change is always in our midst.

The choice on when to change our attitude is a personal one. When we’ve made that choice, there are five “opportunities” that Maxwell points out around us, that make this decision a success.

I will rewrite parts of it for easy recall.

1. The friend

We need one another.  Few people are successful unless a lot of people want them to be.  Change has a tendency to intimidate us.  Add to that intimidation the realisation that we have a long way to go before proper attitudes are established.

To help overcome this feeling of inadequacy, you need the help of a friend.

The real friend is the one who does not take advantage of that relationship.  Remember, we can never do anything for others that will not have some eventual benefits for ourselves.  There is a law of life that will, in time, return good for good.  Therefore, enlisting someone’s help will not only assist you, but it will also give a friend a blessing in return.

2. The associate

There are two keys to determine who we are: (1) who we perceive ourselves to be and (2) who we associate with.

Birds of a feather do flock together.  From friends, we acquire many of our thoughts, mannerisms, and characteristics.  Changing an attitude from negative to positive often requires changing friendships.  It is no accident that kids with good grades run around with other kids with good grades.

Many times people blame circumstances for their problems.  But usually it is the crowd we run with, not the circumstances we encounter, that makes the difference in our lives.  Good circumstances with bad friends result in defeat.  Bad circumstances with good friends result in victory.

When people who you “trust” pull you down because they have their own agenda or their own ghosts of the past to live with in order to survive, they are not good associates. They are bad people who will let you hang yourselves to dry when they don’t need you anymore.

3. The model

Communicators say that 90% of what we learn is visual, 9% is audio, and 1% comes through the other senses.  Our dependence on the eyes to learn, no doubt, is at least partially a result of television in our culture.  Visual messages last longer than those we just hear.  You could select someone to follow who would give you a constant visualisation of what you want to become.  Making a single decision to alter an attitude is not enough.  To achieve the kind of life you want, you must act, walk, talk, and conduct yourself as the ideal person that you visualise yourself to be.

Our children and the youth, more often than not, have parents as their role model.  We start them young – as the posters say it.  The apple, after all, does not fall far from the tree.  What we become, what our children become, what the nation becomes – is a reflection of who leads and how we influence our children as well.  The future started yesterday.

4. The mistake

The first instant an idea is conceived is a moment of decision.  When an opportunity of growth is opened to you, what do you tell yourself? In that moment, you choose between success and failure.

You cannot control all circumstances.  You cannot always make right decisions that bring right results.  But you can always learn from your mistakes.

We are all human and mistakes will always be the best teacher. Acknowledging that we are wrong is the lesson learned. And there is no shame in that. Pride, after all, can be swallowed without loss.

5. The experience

It takes five positive experiences to overcome one negative situation.  When faced with the possibility of failure, our tendency is to sit back and be anxious.  Fear is nature’s warning signal to get busy.  We overcome it by a successful action.

Nothing intimidates us more than constant exposure to failure.  Nothing motivates us more than constant exposure to success.  People change more quickly if they are continually given situations in which they can be successful.

We need to value other people’s worth. No one wants to work in a continuously negative environment. It is not only inhumane but tiring as well. No one wins a war. We are all losers.

The tease

My friend, Jason is a very happy person. He and his wonderful girlfriend had been dating for over three years before they decided to get married. There was only one problem that bothered Jason – the beautiful younger sister of his wife-to-be.

His would be sister-in-law was 22, wore tight short skirts, never wore a bra and would often tease and intimately entice Jason whenever he was around. Jason would always feel uneasy especially in those odd moments.

A few weeks before the wedding, the younger sister called Jason and asked him over their house to check the invitations. She was alone in the house and when Jason arrived, whispered to him that she had sexual urges for him and that those desires wouldn’t go away. She told Jason that she wanted to have sex with him before he got married to her sister.

Jason was in total shock and of course nursing a rising erection. He was stunned and stood frozen at the foot of the stairs as he watched her go up the stairs while slowly stripping off her clothes.

In that spur of the moment Jason turned around and rushed through the front door of the house.

After opening the front door, he was surprised to find the entire family of his future in-laws right in front of the lawn, clapping and cheering as he dashed out.

With tears in his eyes, his father-in-law hugged him and said, “we’re very happy that you passed our little test. We couldn’t ask for a better man for our daughter. Welcome to the family!”

I thought it was such a wonderful story from my friend. Then he asked me, do you know the moral of this story?

I replied, “Love conquers all?”

He said, “Nope! Always keep your condoms in your car…😜

Never forget

There are moments that are ingrained not only in our heart but in our mind as well.

…how far we’ve come

…everything we’ve gone through

…the times we’ve pushed on even when we felt we couldn’t

..,all the mornings we got out of bed even though we knew how difficult it was

…all the times we wanted to give up yet didn’t and survived another day

Never forget how much strength we’ve learned and built.

But don’t forget to pause. And smell life.

Life is about balance. Someone once said that

You don’t always need to be getting stuff done. Sometimes it’s perfectly okay, and absolutely necessary, to shut down, kick back, and do nothing.

In your face! #PetPeeveStories

It’s hurtful when wrong or harm is done in front of our eyes and no one does something about it. I’m sure many of us have been in that position before.

Ever since I was a human being, I’ve always wondered why jeepneys, taxis, buses and tricycles load and unload passengers anywhere they want. There’s a large sign that says NO LOADING AND UNLOADING or another sign that says LOADING AND UNLOADING ZONE, but none these public transport vehicles seem to pay attention to the rule. And you see there’s a traffic aide right beside the sign. It’s like – what are these signs? Are they mere suggestions?

Many decades later, this pet peeve has remained the same, if not worse. I’ve asked myself over and over again. Why can’t Filipinos fall in line? Why can’t they cross at pedestrian lanes? Why do they insist on being first when they are last to come? What is it with them that simple discipline and simple instructions cannot be followed?

But that’s not the only “in your face” situation that is irritating. When there is blatant disregard of authority (the traffic aide looks the other way and you see that he’s taking a bribe or simply anyone in cahoots with something illegal), our reaction of staying in the shadows is disappointing.

When you see a friend or colleague or child being bullied, and refuse to help or do anything, we are accomplices to the act. We can not deny that fact that the result of the bullying was part of our inaction.

It’s terrifying that as human beings in a supposedly decent society, there are those who have no regard for decency, integrity, discipline and honor.

When we let evil prevail, we do harm indirectly. During those in your face moments, who do you fight for?

Kick ass 2

It’s the first time I’m giving a second “kick” at random thoughts on this topic as I attempt to wind up my posts of Relative Joys on resilience and strength.

1. See failure as a beginning, not an end.

Some things are just not meant to be. Deal with it. No use crying over spilled milk. If at first it does not succeed then try, try again. We’ve heard these lines before and they remain relevant till today.

2. If you don’t go after it, you won’t have it.

Chase your dreams, no matter how tough it is. Having a goal (but let’s stick to being realistic) is better than none. You don’t want to be called a deadbeat or a leech, so stop acting like one.

3. Always do more than what is expected of you.

Sometimes we just give what we want. Well, hell yeah – that’s all we get paid for! We’ve always hated the class “show-off” or the kid that raised his hand after each teacher’s question or the guy at the office that the boss could rely on during crunch time. Guess what? That’s your fault. Stepping up to the plate means doing much more than what’s in your job description. The boss always prefers a team player.

4. Assume nothing and question everything.

Never believe in everything you hear. Yep! People always promise everything. They’d even tell you that they’re Moses and you’re off to the Promise Land. They just say that to F with your head. And I’ve been redundant saying “no greater fool than the fool that was fooled by a fool”.

5. Make peace with the past or you’ll pay for it.

It’s never good to cling on to what was and can never be again. Let it go for God’s sake. Dwelling on the past is detrimental to both physical and mental health. Forgiving and forgetting is not as easy as it seems but letting go of what was is forgiving yourself.

6. Stop thinking so much and start acting.

I know people who just keep thinking about the WHYs in life. Questioning on why their plans have been stone walled, why things aren’t working their way, why life is not fair. They’re called signs. There are signs that are written all over the wall! If you can’t see it, you’re still in a stage of denial. Slap yourself and move on. You cannot do if you do not move.

7. Never compare yourself to others

Envy is the harbinger of greed, graft, corruption and evil. You know why people get involved in shenanigans? It stems from envy. These low life appreciate only how green the grass on the other side is. The Americans call it “keeping up with the Joneses” syndrome. I call it pure envy. Appreciating what you have and living with what you have, is called contentment. Doing good should make us sleep better at night.

8. Teach others what you know

The greatest leader will always be the one that creates a greater leader. Teaching has always been my cup of tea. Sharing your time and knowledge is irreplaceable and unmatched. As they say, you reap what you sow.

Kicking ass

Mark Twain, one of my favorite authors, places it positively when he says “let us live so that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry.”

Sarcastic, witty, and point-blank right, here are some of his quotes on, yes, having an attitude of “kicking ass”!

1. Approve of yourself

A man cannot be comfortable without his own approval.

2. Let go of anger

Anger is an acid that can do more harm than to the vessel in which it is stored than anything in which it is poured.

3. Release yourself from entitlement

Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.

4. Never procrastinate the inevitable

Don’t wait. The time will never be just right.

5. Learn to appreciate life

The two most important days in your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why.

6. Stand your ground with the right attitude

Never argue with a fool, onlookers may not be able to tell the difference.

7. Always remember to appreciate what you have

Comparison is the death of joy.

8. Lighten up and have some fun

Humor is mankind’s greatest blessing.

9. Don’t let politics get into your life

Politicians and diapers must be changed often, and for the same reason.

10. Don’t put down others by forcing them to be who and what they’re not.

Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will believe its whole life believing that it is stupid.

Sad lunches

If there is one pet peeve I have at work, it’s having lunch at your work desk. It’s called sad lunches.

One study showed that almost 70% have lunches at their work table. It’s called the #saddest lunch bunch. If you’re reading this and feel being alluded to, then let me elaborate more.

Lunch breaks are the longest breaks we get at work. That break should be enjoyed away from work. Studies show that non-lunch desk people are less stressed and more productive. The practice of NO LUNCH breaks in government offices, while appealing to the public, is actually “insulting” to the working class.

The argument that in the Philippines, government employees are paid by taxpayers money, hence should have lunches at their desks, is a discrimination to the lower working class. Their bosses after all are paid by taxpayers money as well. So why are the latter having better lunches than the rest?

Also, it’s not just about saving money, that’s why we prefer to eat at our desks, bringing either left over food or cold packed lunches. Meal time should be an enjoyable one. Not something we just want to get over with to address the hunger pangs and go back to work immediately. After all, we work to create a life, not just to pay bills and buy stuff, rather, to enjoy the fruits of our labor.

I guarantee you, that when we learn to have less sad lunches, we will have better dispositions in our lives.


…is similar to jealousy…discontent to others traits, status, abilities or rewards. The difference is the envious also desire the entity and covet it.

Today’s social platform media has not only become a main source of information but sharing material possessions and desires as well.

It’s not wrong to “post” current status but the intent is sometimes misconstrued. Even when the internet was not yet around, envy was already part of human emotions.

You buy a new Toyota Vios and your neighbor suddenly pulls up with a Porsche Cayenne. Or when your classmate comes to school with a new iPhone X but you have an Oppo smartphone.

The most susceptible are the younger ones today. Gullible, frustrated, and despondent over what others have and what they desire over, serve as a trigger for envy. But this is true for a majority of us. We “follow” personalities and friends to get a peek into their lifestyles. And while there’s nothing wrong with that, it becomes a little weird when subconsciously, the “fan” turns into an envious state.

Many psychologists say that the power of envy has become stronger because of social media. Advertisement has become the fuel that ignites the promotion of “wants” rather than needs.

When you already have a laptop, why would you need another one? Is it because your best friend Susie has MacBooks and you WANT one, or is it because you NEED a new one because the specs of your old laptop is too low?

Envy takes up an empty personal space in our lives. It breeds a burning desire of wanting what the other has, but not in a good way. Often times it becomes a painful obsession that burns deep. The subconscious takes over and it feels like a thwarted sense of rationalisation that “if I can’t have it then so can’t you” attitude. Envy misplaces our priorities in life.

Being content with what we have is an attitude we can all learn.

Theodore Roosevelt once said that

Comparison is the thief of Joy.