|January 26, 2015|
From a cultural perspective, eight majors factors seem to contribute to our lack of national unity and to Philippine under-development in general. These are, in increasing order of seriousness and importance:
All models of development are essentially cultural. They reflect a culture’s perception of the problems faced by the society, and they incorporate solutions to those problems based on that perception, and developed from the cultural resources of the society itself, in order to address the specific situation in the particular society. Although culture and development are inextricably linked, it is culture that plays the crucial role because it “is the sum total of original solutions that a group of human beings invent to adapt to their natural and social environment.” (Mervyn Claxton, “Culture and Development Revisited”) Culture is a society’s life support system.
That is why external models and techniques cannot be successfully transferred without adaptation. Throughout history, and across all cultures, a people’s culture has always been linked to its development. That link was broken in recent times, especially in African and other developing countries, because of the near universal application of the Western model of development, and because of the internalization of Western technology.
The general developmental effect of the failure to identify and isolate the non-assimilable cultural aspects of the Western development model is evident throughout most of the developing world, especially in Africa. African agriculture, for example, which is the most important economic activity in the region, engaging as it does 70 per cent of the population, is in crisis. FAO estimates that some 40 million people in the region are vulnerable to hunger.
One main cause of this crisis is the inappropriate application of Western agricultural techniques resulting in considerable environmental degradation. The introduction of monoculture, which is suitable for temperate conditions but highly damaging in tropical conditions, leaves the soil without cover for long periods, allowing the heavy tropical rains to cause splash erosion and the soils to harden under the tropical sun, thus causing laterization. African traditional, mixed cropping systems, which kept the soil under constant crop cover, have now been recognized as being more effective and more environmentally safe than temperate monocultural practices. But irreparable damage has already been done to the agricultural potential of Africa.
We need not look far for examples of inappropriate development. Fr. Brendan Lovett discovered that prior to their being subjected to the market system, the indigenous peoples of Southern Philippines and Mindanao had access to about 109 different food stuffs. Their food throughout the year had a richness associated with life in the tropical forest and a subsistence economy. But the moment they became part of the modern market system, their diet deteriorated to a mere 30 to 35 varieties of food stuffs.(Brendan Lovett, A Dragon Not for the Killing). The richness of their way of life suffered when they were forced to participate in a market system which made them market dependent, which they never were. They are no longer masters over their own destiny.
Without an astute grasp of Filipino psychology and character, any manager, administrator or government official will have a difficult time answering the following questions.
What brings out the good, the best in the Filipino? How do you inspire or what inspires Filipinos towards positive, productive or constructive behavior/social action?
How do you get Filipinos to cooperate and work together harmoniously, happily, efficiently and effectively?
What are we most productive/creative at/in? What is the nature of the Filipino cultural genius (both local and nationally shared)?
How do you bring out honesty, sincerity, and loyalty?
How do you resolve conflicts?
How do you criticize one’s work or raise standards of excellence without arousing ill will and resentment?
How do you inculcate or promote discipline and dedication to one’s task? (The feeling of being taken advantage of; being exploited, abused; being treated unfairly, unjustly, or being demeaned, insulted -- pinagsasamantalahan, minamaltrato, ginugulangan, nilalamangan, iniinsulto o binabastos - is especially abhorrent to the Filipino, it being a serious affront to one’s dignity as an ultimately sacred being.)
institutions, which are mainly imported from the West
Cultural identity is a sine qua non for becoming active in the world. Cultural identity is the fundamental source of social empowerment. Rob a people of their identity and they become passive, lost, indolent, uncreative and unproductive, prone to depression and substance abuse, and plagued by a pervasive feeling of malaise and powerlessness.
“In order to involve people as active participants, development
A culture-sensitive process of development will be able to draw on the large reserves of creativity and traditional knowledge and skills that are to be found throughout the developing world. Such enrichment will give development firmer roots in the society and make it easier to sustain development.
Take the case of democracy. Based on American individualist ethos, it fragments society into separate individuals and regards as sacred every person’s right to vote as a separate individual. But in our culture where togetherness or communal consensus is highly valued, groups tend to vote as one. How then can we expect the American system of democracy to work in the Philippines?
The mismatch of our core culture and the many alien social institutions in our midst effectively suppresses and weakens our cultural roots and successfully imposes an alien culture on the Filipinos, tending to reduce us into a passive, docile mass subservient to the power wielders of the alien culture. We lose our originality, native intelligence and skills, treasure troves of knowledge, accumulated wisdom, and creativity. We lose our collective will and vision of life. We become disunited, self-serving, indulgent and short-sighted.
This is why the first objective of a colonizing power is to erase the cultural memory of the conquered people, to induce a collective amnesia about their past and supplant it with the culture of the colonizers. In this lie the roots of Filipino derivativeness and inferiority complex vis-a-vis the West.
Furthermore, since our educational system is highly Westernized, it follows that as one ascends the academic ladder, the more Westernized and alienated from his cultural roots the Filipino becomes. That is why the more specialized A Filipino’s education is, the more likely he or she will find his means of livelihood away from his community, perhaps in Manila or some other country. An Ifugao child who receives only a high school education is more likely to remain in his community than another who finishes college. And the reason for this is not just because the latter has greater work opportunities, but because his education is not culturally rooted in his community, especially if it is a rural, indigenous village.
Our educational system remains colonial rather than culturally appro-priate. Many of our schools do not produce people who are highly resourceful, creative and adaptable to a fast changing and extremely complex contemporary world. They encourage dependency, a job-seeking, employability mentality rather than originality of thought, entrepreneural qualities and self-reliance on native skills, knowledge and strengths.
Our colonial experience seems to have conditioned us to seek rather than create work opportunities, to adapt rather than to innovate, and to conform rather than to lead. The captive Filipino mind, having been alienated from its creative roots, cannot generate economic opportunities within its native setting because of this alienation. The needs and values it serves are external to itself. We borrow alien thought and value systems and forms of expression and produce mainly derivatives and clones, superficiality and mediocrity? We forget that we can only be truly productive using our own thought processes.
The Power of Indigenous Thought
Harnessing our own minds, understandings, definitions, categories and concepts is certainly to have confidence, power and control over our own lives. Economic power naturally follows from this. For instance, if we worship alien ideas of beauty, whose art works, music, fashion models and beauty products do we glorify and spend for?
If we do not see the virtues of our systems of traditional healing and medicine, how much do we spend for imported drugs, medical technology and expertise? (Dr. Juan Flavier once reported during a Senate hearing that within the first five years of a serious health care program harnessing the resources of Philippine traditional healing and medicine, we could save as much as fifteen billion pesos in medical expenses). In the Philippines, the expertise of a psychiatrist schooled in Freudian thought has often been found to be ineffective for treating culture-specific mental distrubances that a local babaylan could cure in a matter of minutes. But we do not bother to investigate and document the basis for the babaylan’s effectiveness, so that the tradition she represents languishes and is often forgotten. The erosion of the vernacular medical knowledge means depriving people of cheap and well-tested methods of medical treatment and the implementation of new ones that most people cannot afford.
This reliance on our own traditions does not mean, however, that we become blind to new and perhaps better ideas from other cultures, but our traditions should remain as the foundation because they are in consonance with our psyche and our needs, containing wisdom tested through time. Likewise, ancient Chinese acupuncture, successfully blended with Western medicine, has been receiving a lot of worldwide recognition and scientific validation in recent times, earning for the Chinese not only prestige but a lot of income.
The colonial powers inevitably encouraged and supported the emergence of an elite class with whom it could easily collaborate. A serious consequence of this is cultural fragmentation. In the Philippines, this created the Monstrous Cultural Divide (Ang Dambuhalang Hati) between the Western-educated ruling elite and the more or less culturally indigenous majority. Without a shared sense of identity there is no common action. A culturally fragmented and atomized mass is the worst conceivable source material for the development process. We have a soft state because of self-serving elite intervention and manipulation. As a result, the culture of the bureaucracy is more attuned to the needs and values of the elite than to that of the vast majority of Filipinos.
We have so much to learn from other countries when it comes to unity, especially setting aside our differences in times of crisis,. “If there’s anything I envy abt. the Chinese, it’s their focus and ability to pull together as a people” (Belinda Cunanan, from “Political Tidbits”, PDI Nov. 10, 2001)
Shared Identity as the Basis of Development
Development is a cooperative venture requiring communication and deep understanding between people. All participants must have access to a common code of meaning or else the whole project will simply repeat the biblical story of the Tower of Babel. (Friberg and Hettne, The Greening of the World: Towards a Non-Determionistic Model of Global Process).
If development is envisaged as the result of voluntary cooperation and autonomous choices by ordinary men and women there is no way of escaping a cultural definition of the social unit of development. It is difficult for people to cooperate with each other politically when they are divided socially and culturally. Communities with a shared culture are much more basic units of development, because they allow for the forging of a genuine consensus among their members. Social cohesion can only be obtained where people share a framework of social reasoning. It requires a common universe of discourse.
The need to strengthen national consciousness and unity, however, should not be used as an excuse to weaken local cultures. The state should rather allow local communities to define and govern themselves and to develop separately while at the same time to see themselves as part of a larger developing entity.
Seventh: Low self-esteem bordering on self-contempt: This is what I call the “Dona Victorina” Syndrome, based on the name of a pathetic caricature of the colonized psyche in the 19th century novel “Noli Me Tangere” of Dr. Jose Rizal. Dona Victorina despises her race so much that she has to marry a white man, a Spaniard who is a scoundrel, just to raise her social stature. Instead of proudly wearing her brown skin and assert its rich dignity and beauty, she tries to hide it under a thick paste of white powder – just like what many Filipinos essentially still do today. This persisting Filipino social malady may be defined as:
The underdevelopment of Philippine society is fundamentally rooted in this chronic loss of Filipino self-esteem due to centuries of colonization and miseducation:
A perverse delight among Filipinos to constantly belittle themselves not only among each other (“Ang mga Pinoy talaga....”) but worse, even in the presence of foreigners or through the media, damages Filipino and international expectations of Filipino ability. Particularly unfortunate is the tendency of media to insult our leaders instead of offering constructive criticism. The loss of economic, political and social opportunities that this negativism brings about is incalculable.
A serious lack of respect or contempt for each other that almost bordering on hostility causes Filipinos to pull each other down, to get ahead at the expense of the other (especially in our driving behavior or tendency to put down a fellow Filipino just to ingratiate oneself to somebody, especially a foreigner), and makes Filipinos highly abusive and exploitative of each other.This makes many Filipinos bad managers of Filipinos, with notable exceptions. The Filipino elites, especially, usually in connivance with foreign interests, simply take advantage of their own people (e.g. paying foreign consultants inordinately higher than would be paid to a local consultant, non-remittance of SSS or GSIS collections by agency heads).
We can never erect a viable nation upon the notoriously self-deprecating and false concepts of ourselves that we habitually entertain in our minds. For there is a definite correlation between pride in one’s cultural identity and level of achievement.
There have been many instances when Filipinos would even deny their nationality, passing themselves of as Hawaiian, Malay or Indonesian because of a feeling of shame or embarrassment about being Filipino. How could we ever unify as a people with such a negative attitude, a strong repelling force that cannot but fragment the nation?
In contrast, Koreans are very proud of themselves. They always prefer their own products. Despite the Korean war, which flooded the countryside with American goods, the Koreans bought Korean goods whenever these were available because it seemed so natural for them to do so.
Social Self-Images As Self-Fulfilling: The Need to Develop a Strong Shared Vision
Instead of harnessing our culture as vast resource of knowledge and wisdom for sustainable development, we squander it by wallowing instead in a negative self-image that is tantamount to a self-fulfilling prophecy.
“A people’s image of themselves tends to become a reality”(Kenneth Boulding, The Image). If in our minds we think we will be defeated, we have already lost. If people fear the imminent collapse of a bank, they all run to the bank to withdraw their deposits and really cause the bank to collapse. If wealthy Filipinos or public officials lose faith in their own economy and stash away their savings in foreign banks or put all their investments in other countries, their loss of faith is likely to be validated. Widespread expectation of an impending rise in the prices of goods drives people into panic buying and actually cause a drastic increase in prices or an artificial shortage of goods.
We have to begin celebrating our genius as a people and not continue to wallow neurotically in our defeats. According to astute social commentators, Filipinos tend to celebrate their defeats - like the Fall of Bataan and the Death of Rizal - whereas other peoples celebrate only their triumphs. Abraham Lincoln was also assasinated but nowhere do we find his body being depicted as he was falling down. Instead, we find him at the Lincoln Memorial seated with dignity, majestically presiding over the destiny of his nation!
A foundation of this transformation is education through cultural awareness: a workable, effective program of education that can make Filipinos more responsive and sensitive to Filipino dignity, needs, values, and cultural potentials and assets.
If social self-images are self-fulfilling, we have nothing to lose by discovering and constructing the most exalted and inspiring images of ourselves.
The key to Filipino social transformation is rooted in Filipino social psychology, in discovering, understanding and harnessing the strengths of our most profound values as a people. What is the deepest source of the well-known positive qualities of the Filipinos? All over the world, we are recognized and appreciated by those whose lives we have touched as a highly relational, participatory and creative people. We are especially admired for our strong nurturing and caring orientation. Can we construct a most noble and inspiring Filipino social self-image derived from the ultimate psychological source of these Filipino qualities?
The possibility is great and the psychological axiom that seems to have the richest potential as the ultimate basis of this construct is the concept of kapwa.
Tapping the Filipino genius
In Philippine culture, there is an underlying belief in the psychic unity of humanity. Individual existence is only apparent and relative. For we all exist within a cosmic matrix of being at the deepest center of which is a creative living principle or energic process. All human beings – and to a lesser degree even animals, plants and minerals -- share this innermost sacred core. This is the kalooban from whence all individual human psyches emanate. Every one of us is ultimately grounded in this common core of being. The other person is also yourself. Ang kapwa ay sarili din.
A paradox arises. In every person is a divine essence that seeks fulfillment in imaginative, creative endeavors. At the same time, the interdependence implied by a shared matrix of being seeks affirmation in a celebration of togetherness.
A synthesis of these twin motivations produces a culture that is highly creative not in the generation of mechano-technological inventions, objective, scientific concepts or commercial products but in interpersonal relations and communication. In this culture, there exists a “symphonic” wealth of techniques for connecting to people, so that loneliness, alienation, ennui, depression, and emotional repression hardly exist. Togetherness is happiness. A sharing, nurturing orientation ensures emotional and mental well-being.
If there is no concept of the “other” in the other person, if the “other”(kapwa) is also yourself, then Filipinos will necessarily tend towards trust and harmony. This makes Filipinos a highly relational and essentially non-confrontational people, as monumentally demonstrated in the peaceful, original “EDSA Revolution” (“If there is no ‘other’ there is no war” – Milojevic).
But the primordial restlessness of the creative living principle in each individual also craves for tangible expression, resulting in a highly participatory tendency in Philippine society. In this society, there is essentially no notion of audience or spectator. Everybody is a participant with an irresistible passion for creative spontaneity in everything one does, including, of all things, governance and social planning. The apparent chaos that emerges becomes a paramount challenge to the leadership - who needs to be strong, brilliant and decisive and yet, caring, trusting and compassionate - to be able to steer society towards an ordered and disciplined but creative and productive existence as well.
The Filipino ‘scientific’ genius, in other words, is in the fullest and deepest exploration of the social possibility, the myriad ways of connecting with and achieving harmony with others. Philippine culture is highly inventive of new social structures, experimenting with all kinds of social roles, identities, interactions and relationships with others. Interpersonal intelligence and the capacity for personal services is most highly developed. At its most profound, it is a celebration of the mystical unity of humanity through an intimate union with the one creative living principle at the innermost core of our shared being.
This is an affirmation of the essential joy and meaningful-ness of existence.
Certain propositions may be derived from the above assumptions:
I. The world is a non-finite, multi-leveled and multi-dimensional whole where everything interconnects with everything else and exists in a timeless present. Thus, Filipinos are highly relational. They feel connected to the world, God and nature, but most of all to people.
communication and a nurturing, caring attitude, excel in the
II. The world is a bipolar yet unitary, energic, creative living process. Hence, Filipinos have a holistic, creative and participatory nature.
III. The world is permeated by a sentient, conscious, psychic, spiritual intelligence that underlies all of manifestation and emanates from an innermost sacred core (implicit in the concept of kapwa, which suggests a divine inner core, ubod ng kalooban, from which all individual human psyches emanate). Together with the Filipinos’ highly relational, holistic and participatory creativity, this image of the world promotes among us deep sensitivity, expressiveness, intuition, strong psychic abilities, and a great capacity for the celebration of life.
To sum up, we shall cull from the above discussion a few of the gems of the Filipinos genius that can be easily harnessed for social well -being, productivity and development of the Filipino nation. These are the following:
This extensive recital of Filipino potentials will remain just that, possibilites, if not translated into practical guidelines or precepts for the conduct of our social lives, especially for sustainable development and nation-building. Hardly any government official in our vast bureaucracy, for instance, governs or manages his constituency with wisdom and foresight simply because of cultural ignorance.
But knowing intimately the way our people think, feel and perceive the world will always make for effective governance. The best kind of governance is culturally-rooted governance. Filipinos are a highly trusting people. Trust, cooperation, goodwill and harmony, which are all manifestations of kapwa, always bring out the best in us. The opposite, distrust and any system built upon it, such as bureaucracy; the American form of democracy that thrive in competition, argumentation and debate; anything legalistic, impersonal, official, formal, and highly technical in impact and structure are all anathema to the majority of Filipinos, and can only bring out the worst in us. In our cultural context, resort to legalities is taken to mean concealing lies, dishonesty and bad faith. Is it any wonder that oftentimes, with so many lawyers in the government, our society seems to be in a rut? This is not to denigrate the law profession but to simply point out the ineffectiveness of a legal approach to governance in our culture.
We may remember that the peaceful, original EDSA “revolution” baffled observers everywhere because it occurred outside of the known parameters of any formal political and legal framework but capitalized on the outpouring of faith, trust and goodwill made possible by the tulay principle or tradition of mediation in our culture.
Most, if not all, of our Western-derived social institutions based on the idea of the “other” person, and who, therefore in principle, cannot be trusted, are dysfunctional in Philippine society. The sooner they are replaced with kapwa-based institutions, those that can inspire the Filipinos to become active participants in the development process, the faster we can get out of the conditions of underdevelopment and social stagnation.
But for this to happen, we must first have leaders who understand deeply the Filipino psyche, and can thus inspire us towards excellence. For is this not what leadership is all about?
Copyright 2011 © National Commission for Culture and the Arts.