Addressing the Filipino nature: we shouldn’t stop at merely coping

It is on rare occasions that I suddenly recall, out of nowhere, a random scene from a movie I’ve watched in the distant past. As I sat in front of my computer, lamenting the loss of my butter cookies (which I’ve eaten up a few days ago), a scene from one of Keanu Reeves’ so-so films, The Day The Earth Stood Still, came to mind. This particular scene was about Professor Barnhardt’s discussion with the alien Klaatu (played by Reeves) regarding the capacity of sentient beings for change.

Professor Barnhardt: There must be alternatives. You must have some technology that could solve our problem.

Klaatu: Your problem is not technology. The problem is you. You lack the will to change.

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Professor Barnhardt: Then help us change.

Klaatu: I cannot change your nature. You treat the world as you treat each other.

Professor Barnhardt: But every civilization reaches a crisis point eventually.

Klaatu: Most of them don’t make it.

Professor Barnhardt: Yours did. How?

Klaatu: Our sun was dying. We had to evolve in order to survive.

Professor Barnhardt: So it was only when your world was threatened with destruction that you became what you are now.

Klaatu: Yes.

Professor Barnhardt: Well that’s where we are. You say we’re on the brink of destruction and you’re right. But it’s only on the brink that people find the will to change. Only at the precipice do we evolve. This is our moment. Don’t take it from us, we are close to an answer.

It is a truth that reverberates throughout history, even today. Most of us usually act on something only when danger has already and visibly presented itself in our midst. Throughout our past, destruction and chaos had to take place before people man up and work towards change. The Black Death had to occur for mankind to pursue intense medical and hygienic research. Extreme political oppression and tyranny in ancient kingdoms had to take place for people to stand up and set things right with their own hands. Still, while we humans have a knack for looking for wipes while taking a dump (figuratively speaking), the fact that we as sentient creatures have the capability to change for the better is an unarguably good trait.

And so is the ability to cope with present hardships, being a crucial part of change. Filipinos, apparently, are always known to smile no matter how bad it gets. Filipinos are known to cope with any problems they face and still survive for another day. This is one trait most Filipinos brag all the time to the rest of the world, always quick to point out the average Juan’s capability to withstand anything nature throws at him. “Adaptable,” “flexible,” “strong” and “happy” are some of the words usually attached to the Filipino identity. And, not surprisingly, they’re actually good traits. However, the problem starts when we stop at the “coping” part.

The problem starts when we remain adaptable, flexible, strong and happy for a looooooong time without any real plan ahead to actually ease the burden we currently experience. The problem starts when optimism is tantamount to acceptance of mediocrity and intellectual stagnation.

Nowadays, “mediocrity” is written all over our country. Mediocre governance, mediocre business and job conditions, mediocre economics, mediocre entertainment, mediocre values, you name it. And we as a people have coped up with all of this. Some foreigners visiting the Philippines for the first time might frown in disgust as the malodorous stench of the streets of Manila meets their noses, but we don’t mind it one bit. We have gotten used to it. We have coped up with the smell, no matter how bad it is.

We may have been under one mediocre administration after another, which left us severely lagging behind rapidly-growing countries economy-wise, but that’s alright. We might have been shamed, but we’ve finally coped up with it. We can make do with how things are going in our country. We can cope with anything.

Not that there’s anything wrong with “coping.” After all, psychology tells us that an unpleasant condition when repeated can become commonplace in an individual’s perspective, helping it adapt and survive. It’s a healthy biological instinct that kept our species breathing for a long time. However, we are also said to be the most intellectually advanced creatures in the planet. Why not utilize this reputation of ours?

“Coping” is good as long as it’s within rational bounds. “Coping” is good as long as we have a plan up in our sleeves to make our lives much bearable to live. “Coping” is good as long as change is on the way. But as it turns out, Filipinos seem to have confused “change” with “complacency.”

When faced with a worse situation, what we Filipinos have done is to merely change our lifestyles to fit the uglier scenario we are in. Things just got worse? Then we knock off a star in our lifestyle rating and deal with it. Looking at recent events, it seems that the Filipino view of “change” is merely taking the shape of our crappy container. Instead of a civilization that upholds the human value of “change,” we have become nothing more than chameleons.

Furthermore, it would seem that Filipinos are also becoming uncomfortable with things that can bring forth actual change. Dismissing senator-judge Miriam Santiago as a crackpot while not knowing how much we would lose once she leaves the Senate for good, refusing to let go of PNoy’s illusory reputation as a benevolent and competent president, apathy of the music industry towards the talented in obscurity in favor of the mediocre in the spotlight, such things attest to how “anti-change” we have become in the years that have passed.

The Yellow culture has pervaded the Filipino society for more than two decades. Political dynasties have thrived in our society virtually unchallenged. Metro Manila Film Festival films are consistently dreadful. It turns out that the trait we Filipinos are most famous for… is also the one that perpetuates our culture of crappiness. The trait that Filipinos are most proud of… has become a double-edged sword that cuts our collective skin every single time.

Perhaps this belief that we are a strong people has contributed to our steady ruin. We can withstand any strong wind that befalls us! And then we wait for it, and then we wait it out, while our country slowly withers around us. We brag that we are strong, yet our conviction is weak. We boast that we are adaptable, yet we have become spineless. We claim that we can cope, yet we cannot bring change.

Our story must not end with a dismal trend of coping while things become increasingly worse. We Filipinos must stop holding onto the idea that we are strong and can cope with anything, even just for a little while, and realize that not all bad things deserve to be cradled. Some bad things just get worse when unaddressed. Some bad things must be destroyed actively.

“Coping” is a step towards change, but “coping” is not change in itself. We Filipinos must realize that only when we shake off our nationalist hubris and recognize that there are things that we can’t and shouldn’t accept. There are things that we can’t and shouldn’t live with.

Criticize what needs to be criticized. Address every bad thing, even the ones we don’t really want to address. Dare to question that life we live, the politics we adhere to, the economics that drive our markets, the culture ingrained in our personalities. Dare to cast doubt on the ones who claim to be clean and just without the necessary evidence. Dare to ridicule the ones who try to dumb down the masses through monotonous TV shows and misleading news. Dare to dent, even break, the status quo of mediocrity that has solidified in our sorry country.

It is good. It is healthy. It’s not just some kind of a cheap anger management therapy. It is also a way for us to affirm that we’re not limited to “coping.” It is a way for us to affirm that we are also capable, even in teeny-tiny steps, of “change.”

14 Replies to “Addressing the Filipino nature: we shouldn’t stop at merely coping”

    1. Yes, resilience is a vice. So much here could change if Filipinos actually took action. Look at the majority of mayors. With the exception of the Dutertes, almost every other mayor is a thief and is part of a family of thieves. What do Filipinos do? They keep voting the scum back into office. What is the point of democracy if Filipinos keep voting for people like Imelda Marcos? A thief, plunderer and murderer and yet she was elected to Congress after returning from exile. When will Filipinos ever wake up?

    2. Great, great stuff — but this has been said again and again. We may be convinced that our resilience is a vice as Jon Limjap said, but what of it if no one bothers to inform the masa of their predicament in ways that they could understand and offer to help their way out of it in such a way that that help is not merely focused on individual but societal gain?

  1. Anyone recall the tale of Prometheus versus Epimetheus?

    I think Filipinos are too lazy to be like Prometheus – thinking before they act. They’re more like Epimetheus – thinking after they act.

  2. If you review World History; changes in any nation came, when the population is subjected to economic difficulties, by their leaders. From the French revolution, to the Russian Bolsheviks revolution, to any revolution. If people are not happy with their situations. Then, they start to work for change: economic, political , social, etc…the Philippine war of independence; was triggered by the desire for independence. The exiled Filipino Illustrados, informed their fellow Filipinos. And, it awakened them. Change can be good or bad. Napolean came in, after the French Monarchy was destroyed. Lenin and Stalin, with their Soviet Gulags came after the Tsarist regime was overthrown. Adolf Hitler of Germany came, with his wars; after the German Parliament Building was burned…so, we prefer change for the good, and for the better…nothing more…

    1. Napoleon Bonaparte of Corsica came in, to control the Reign of Terror, during the French Revolution. He brought in wars, and sufferings to French people…We must be sure, that the change is for good, and for the better. Remember, Marcos was overthrown…we have the Aquinos, etc…all they brought in was Greed…

  3. I once chatted with – probably a young teenager – person in Patass and he told me “I cant bite the hand that feeds me”. If that person is still dependent on his parents, giving him shelter, food, pocket money, school tuition etc then on one hand I can understand his line of thinking and acting. On the other hand, if he is not allowed to speak his mind and emotions (regarding changing beliefs from catholicism to atheism) then for sure his parents never loved him anyway.

    In short, I really do think it is hard and difficult for many people to really say what they think in the Philippines and do what they think (walk the talk and talk the walk).

    I just think there is a lot of – written and/or unwritten – psychological and emotional blackmail going on in the Philippines, why people cant really think, be, behave and act freely.

    I still do agree completely with the Blog but spending time in the Philippines and looking around on social media websites I just see thats its almost impossible to speak freely without any consequences. Nobody wants to be an outcast. A high prize to pay for living in a non-individusl country but a country that is so focused on the family (direct and extended).

    1. Robert,

      Unfortunately for us, Filipinos follow a very bad Chinese proverb: “The tallest tree is cut down first”, meaning anybody who breaks the mold and does his best for himself is given a hard time by whoever is in charge.

    2. Being and outcast is often the price one has to pay to bring about change, in their own lives, and those around them which then can translate to the larger culture and even the world. Throughout history folks have stood up for what they believe even giving their lives for that belief and cause to see become reality! One has to step outside the prison of conditioning, of tradition, of the past and be willing to be independent in ones thinking, in ones action. Sometimes one has to stand up, step out and be different!

  4. That first part reminded me of something out of The Prince (dammit, why did I lose it in school?!) which said greatness manifests itself when those who see how deep the shit covering a society is ACT.

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