The Filipino Sense of Shame: Misguided and Misplaced

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What I have noticed about ordinary Filipinos is that they seem heavily motivated to avoid shame in their actions. Filipinos seem more afraid of embarrassment than failure. If they are afraid of failure, such as failure of their movement or ideas becoming popular and accepted, it is because they fear the embarrassment they assume it brings more than anything else.

It leads Filipinos to lie or do other harmful things. For example, Filipinos will boast about having property, riches or all that, so that they will not look bad before a guest; but in truth, they have nothing (this pretend play has often been used in comedy movies; in real life, it isn’t that funny). Another is when a colleague or fellow employee is doing better at work that they get the reward, such as a raise; thus, the employee in question badmouths his colleague in jealousy. The guy sees shame with someone else “getting the glory.” The Filipino, ayaw magpatalo (they refuse to concede or accept defeat). They will do anything, even unethical things, to win and avoid shame.

Hiya, shame in Tagalog, is seen by some Filipino anthropologists as a core trait of Filipinos. Some consider it a value. I however do not see it as such, since it is more brought about by human emotion without thinking (read: knee-jerk reaction). And human emotion without thinking is very dangerous.

The Filipino seems to misplace their shame. For example, if Filipinos don’t win a contest, they say they were cheated even if the winner was truly better, because Filipinos feel it is a shame to lose. If a Filipino has a simple watch, but a neighbor has an expensive watch, the Filipino tends to be ashamed. The guy with the expensive watch and other expensive stuff, even if they gained it through corruption, they will refuse to give it up when asked to live simply; they find it shameful to give up their source of pride. When the August 23, 2010 Bus Hostage Crisis happened in Manila, some Filipinos refused to accept it as shame. I myself would say, any Filipino lacking shame for that incident has no heart.

I had recently attended a support group of parents of children with autism (I am the uncle of one). They all described the difficulty of having such a child. Yes, there is initial shame of having such a child, but they get over this and learn to love their child. There is also the feeling one gets upon seeing their peers’ children getting medals and awards in school, while one’s own child is unable to gain such awards because of their disability (part of this owes to the pasikatan or rat race aspect of Philippine society). There remains some a sort of societal shame towards people with autism, and other people with disabilities. As if such people (and their families) are cursed or treated as pariah in society. I would agree that people with mental disabilities and illness continue to be discriminated in this country (I will try to tackle this in a future article).

Sometimes, the sense of shame also prevents people from doing right. For example, if a person follows rules or avoids cheating and other bad practices, other Filipinos may sneer or scoff at him, saying he is a fool for following the rules, when it is much easier to use corrupt practices. Some would say, just get away with it once. Then we shouldn’t wonder why corruption is prevalent in this country.

All in all, Filipinos are trying to avoid shame for the wrong reasons. Fear of shame actually backfires; it leads to wrong action because avoiding shame leads to failure to face the problem squarely. Thus, we can’t see to solve many of our societal problems. A solution may also require accepting one’s faults and accepting shame. Because of high pride, some Filipinos refuse to accept their faults. They prefer to be always right, always the bida (protagonist, hero). But often, they prove to be in the wrong.

This is also why Filipinos continue to resist criticism. You disagree or even point out a wrongdoing to a Filipino, they will recoil with anger, because they will feel that you are shaming them. Some people believe saying any criticism at all is a shameful act, even if needed. From before Lapu-Lapu, to a 2002 article by Clarence Henderson showing how onion-skinned Filipinos are, and even today, Filipinos cannot handle shame properly… even when they need to.

Fear of shame needs to be dispensed with (along with Pinoy Pride, since this has often become the basis for this unneeded fear of shame).

Acceptance is an important part of how to deal properly with shame. If the shame especially is your own doing, if the fault is true, then you have no choice. After all, acceptance is the first step to meaningful change, which is very much repeated in wisdom writings and psychological advice (for example, Alcoholics Anonymous). As fellow blogger Midwayhaven said, humility has long been a forgotten value of Filipinos, probably because some people mistakenly equate humility with shame.

To quote yet another brilliant fellow blogger, Gogs, Filipinos should not only have Filipino Pride; we need to have “Filipino Shame” too. I can take this as a serious idea, it’s not as bad as it seems. Having “Filipino shame” on the things that we should be shameful about proves that we have a shred of humanity remaining. Being unashamed of even one’s obvious and truly damaging faults is the mark of a brute.

Many people who’ve visited the site say, we need positive solutions. Dropping the fear of shame is one such solution. Trying to avoid shame is negative; thus, the positive action is acceptance. In this sense, let’s rework the Filipino’s sense of shame, remove the fear and fine-tune it so that shame is felt at the right moment and for the right reason. Instead of being motivated by fear of shame, let us instead be motivated by the urgency to do things right, and avoid doing things wrong.

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About ChinoF

I stick with this blog because I believe, as my cohorts here do, that many things Filipinos embrace as part of their culture, the "Filipino Way," are pulling them down. And I blog freely to show that in a truly decent society, with true freedom of speech, even nobodies have a voice.