The Filipino mind is Philippine society’s greatest enemy. If you read Philippine publications, watch local talk shows on TV or even just peruse other popular collective Filipino blogsites, you can pretty much tell what the national preoccupation is about. The national preoccupation is centered on the Filipino ego. To be specific, it’s all about who has offended who and who needs to apologise to whom. This preoccupation pretty much prevents our country from moving forward.
The late master of psychology, Sigmund Freud would have had a field day studying the complexities of the Filipino mind if he were still alive today. The Filipino mind is full of convolution and contradiction, which is the reason why we remain who we are today, a nation of braggarts and show-offs. A simple misunderstanding can turn a non-issue into a nasty national spectacle. If you don’t believe me, just google the name “Ampatuan” or look up that fight at the Valley Golf Club in Manila that turned really violent when two prominent families just couldn’t stand each other’s presence. Even the funeral of the late President Corazon Aquino was all about bruised egoes for it was said that the family wanted to heed her wishes not to have a state funeral just to spite President Gloria Arroyo. The Aquino siblings couldn’t seem to emphasize this enough to the Media during their mother’s wake.
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Even in Philippine forums or the Philippine blogosphere, there are so many participants who can’t seem to discuss things in a more civilised way. Who cares what these people are bickering about? Apparently, almost everyone in the Philippines does. Indeed, the behaviour of some people reflect what truly is in the minds of every Filipino: The bruised ego and how to get back at someone.
Rather than focus on ideas or the concept of what a person is saying, most Filipinos focus more on whether or not the person was disrespectful or polite. They can’t seem to shrug things off and take things with a grain of salt. It is a characteristic that seems to defy our Catholic upbringing. Jesus Christ needs to come back down to earth to reiterate a lesson or two in humility to Filipinos.
There seems to be something wrong with a psyche that makes us so vulnerable to getting upset or offended so easily. Most Filipinos get offended so easily from a perceived indiscretion and are often unable to move on to something bigger or higher than such trivial pursuits. We tend to be consumed with words that should mean nothing to us if they were untrue. This demonstrates a real sign of having an unhealthy ego and insecurity. As someone aptly put it, Filipinos can be onion skinned cry-babies.
I am therefore inclined to believe that we have not evolved well as a people. The Filipino intellect is still at a lower level in the hierarchy of development. We can attribute it to the simple fact that most Filipinos are not properly educated yet. Due to poverty, most people are more concerned with just satisfying basic human needs like food, shelter and clothing. There are also those Filipinos who have received excellent formal education yet are incapable of harbouring the occasional existential musing or thought that extends beyond their inner primate inclinations. It is not surprising then that only a few are not resistant to change. Indeed, traditional Filipino thinking styles are to blame for our lack of ability to change and to accept the truth. One would think that we somehow prefer to stay the way we are than risk being offended by the truth.
Our tradition plays a major role in what we value: our own sense of self-importance. We place too much value on how other people see us and how our actions are perceived. Filipino culture is averse to being direct to the point. We hate it when someone is totally frank. We tend to contradict ourselves when we project our coyness and at the same time, try so hard to read between the lines and end up failing at this miserably. This is evident in the way most Filipinos offer food to someone as a show of graciousness. Accepting the offer or rejecting the offer of food can mean two things to most Filipinos. If a person rejects the food being offered, a Filipino will tend to think that he or she was snubbed. Often times, the recipient is actually forced to accept the food even if she doesn’t want it. If the food was accepted, the person who offered the food might then actually think that the recipient was greedy.
Whatever course of action was taken can sometimes lead to feelings of anger and hate between the two parties because most Filipinos tend to not really mean what they say and they just do things out of “politeness”. There is no concept of being totally honest for fear of being rude or being offensive. Why can’t we just eat our food in front of others even without offering to give some of it away? Why can’t we just take the answer “no” for what it is and move on to eating our food? This solution, for the small minded, is not simple, really.
An ego is invisible. No one has actually seen it. We are sometimes not aware that our egos are taking us over or consuming us. Filipinos tend to be subsumed by their egos. We can’t seem to make mistakes without blaming others. We pride ourselves in being happy-go-lucky or a people always wearing a smile. But truly, it is what lurks behind those smiles that is scary. Do we really smile because we are happy or because we just want people to see that we are happy? This is another contradiction in itself because we like our soap operas so much and we relate well to the fictional characters that are victims of greed and misfortune but do very little to uplift our circumstances.
A lot of Filipinos tend to put themselves forward too eagerly or bring every conversation back into the context of their own experience. They are always looking for sympathy. They can’t seem to live without other people’s attention. They always want to play the victim even though they actually act like an aggressor. They don’t have any other achievement or purpose in the world other than to consume peoples’ times. The whole nation is not short of people like this.
A person with a healthy ego is someone who is aware that he or she is not the centre of the universe. A person with a healthy ego is someone who can step back and take stock and reflect on whether all of his or her anxieties are really just that person’s own mind messing with him or her. A person with a healthy ego doesn’t have to dominate every situation or doesn’t require constant applause. A person with a healthy ego can easily shrug off criticism and move forward to something more constructive and meaningful. The Philippines is so short of people with healthy egos.
[This is a reprise of an article previously published by the author on the 10th March 2010.]
In life, things are not always what they seem.