On Humility: Are Filipinos humble for the right reasons?

Humility. Pagpapakumbaba in Tagalog. Such a long word for something that is supposed to signify being “humble”.

It has always baffled me the way majority of Pinoys seem to define the word “humility”. The more traditional definition of humility is learning to lower one’s self in society. It means putting others ahead of oneself even if one is actually superior to the people around oneself. Christians often cite Jesus as the ultimate example of humility as He is essentially God Who assumed a frail mortal form just so he could help humanity which He so loved.


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However, as it is with concepts like Christianity and democracy, we often get it wrong and focus only on the superficial instead of its true meaning. Anyway, here’s what I’m actually talking about:

Taking A Backseat To Seniors

In many Pinoy households, children are expressedly forbidden to speak against their elders lest they be called “arrogant”. Also, this applies even in other settings beyond the home such as offices and other workplaces as new or young employees are often discouraged from speaking out or even getting ahead of senior members. There are even those few who seem to think that seniority guarantees a promotion and are often outraged when a younger employee is promoted before them.

Unfortunately, this kind of belief can’t be called true humility as one party, the elders and the seniors namely, have a sense of entitlement over the younger party. Also, one should note that this kind of practice is a self-defeating one as it only ensures stagnation and essentially prevents any kind of progress to take place. If anything, humility should simply be about respecting elders. It should be about letting them have their say and respecting their opinions but it doesn’t mean that you have to agree with them. Remember that “listening” doesn’t necessarily mean “obeying”.

Being Content In Life

Another thing I noticed is that one of the biggest reasons a lot of Pinoy families are poor or suffering is simply because the family in question is content with their lot in life. It doesn’t matter if they’re actually starving and forced to eat what is essentially pigfood because they’re happy to be together in their little home even when the family has more than twenty kids to worry about. It also doesn’t matter if one’s parents or older siblings are working in other countries with professions that are akin to slave labor, are at the mercy of cruel employers or are in danger of being arrested and executed for crimes as long as they make ends meet.

Needless to say, this is probably one of the worst misinterpretations of “humility”. While yes, humility is about finding contentment in life, it does not mean that one should be happy when one actually lives in misery. I think that humility is simply about not being too ambitious and remembering that we are not really “entitled” to anything in life but that we all deserve to live a life of dignity and meaning.


15 Replies to “On Humility: Are Filipinos humble for the right reasons?”

  1. Oh good topic, Grimwald. Allow me please to add to the topic for it is in a way a starting virtue. Through it, other virtues could easily be acquired, and in that sense, it is a beautiful virtue.

    I think there is something incomplete when Tagalog translate the word simply as ‘pagkukumbaba’. In a world characterized as dog-eat-dog and where the dominant philosophy is to adore one’s ego as a way to self-confidence and subsequently, to advancement, ‘pagkukumbaba’ becomes an anti-thesis. If it is an anti-thesis, then it is no longer a virtue. But, that reveals a fallacy because time and time again, humility has been proven to be a virtue. If one could not believe that, then just look at what misery narcissism could inflict.

    Probably, the fallacy, or error, has to be in the philosophy about the ego, or in the dog-eat-dog lifestyle. But, to accept that, we risk ourselves in being passive: since it is the world that is in error, I might as well go with the flow, and humility is lost in the maze. Or, knowing that, we fight passivity, and tell ourselves: maybe, it starts with me, afterall I am part of that world.

    So, how should we understand humility. I think humility is the quiet acceptance of truth; quiet, because it should be a product of continuous self-reflection, which slowly translate to an attitude, or how one is continuously transforming on how one views one’s immediate world and the world in general. If that is humility, then one could already see that with humility, one is already on the way to self-improvement. If that is correct, then it is personality, which is just the surface, that we should NOT be seeking (as we continuously keep saying here in GRP), but character, which is something of the inside. Personality can be detected by emotion, but character can only be detected by the intellect (again, a continuing GRP theme, especially now when we are looking for the best candidate for 2016.)

    It is the acceptance of truth. If it is acceptance, then there is a movement. If there is movement, then it has to come from the will, not from imagination, dreams, or passive intellect. If it is the act of the will, then it has to do with love and justice, which are also acts of the will. Another error in the world is to think that love is of the feeling, but how can that be? Love is the wishing of a good on the other!! wishing is an act of the will. So, there has to be love without any feeling at all, as what we see in the beauty of our grandparents, devoid of any feeling, but still very much together, or as those things we call as tough love. We, however, have to accept that feelings very much assist us in love. Still, we have to remember that feeling is just an assist; will is the center player. Justice is just an extension of love. Justice is simply giving credit to whom credit is due, or punishment to whom punishment is due. This gives us a hint that with humility, one could have a good perspective of what is love and what is justice.

    It is the acceptance of truth. What is truth? It is the aligning of the mind to what is reality, to what is real, to what is objectively and absolutely correct. If one is good and he says he is lousy, that is not being on the side of truth. That is why we call that as false humility. Or, if one is lousy and he says he is good, that is also not being on the side of truth, and we call that being presumptuous. And, if one carries that to the extreme, we call that narcissism. That is why false humility, presumptuousness, and narcissism leads to a perverted attitude, because it only allows a distorted view of the world. If we are good, we should not be obsessed in rubbing it in for that is against love and justice, and that is why we have a name for it: arrogance. But when credit is due us, we should take it less we fall into false humility. And if we are lousy, we should seek advice. Pride is the opposite of humility, and thus we can say that pride is against truth. That is why we say that pride blinds; it make us see reality for what it is not — good becomes bad, and bad becomes good. No wonder, pride precedes the downfall of a man.

    Truth is we are humans. Truth is we are neither sub-human nor super-humans. We are neither animals nor angels nor gods. We are humans. That means we cannot be voracious and selfish as animals, or creatures allowing feeling to dominate intellect for that is allowing the animal in us to take over. That means also that we could not allow ambitions, for some, their messianic complex, to take over our thoughts. Yes, we should have ambitions for that is being human, but should have our feet well planted on the ground. Being social beings, we should fly with the eagles and not be scratching with the chickens. That means, because we could think in the abstract, we are way, way, way above any animal. We could appreciate beauty, goodness, and truth. And, here Grimwald is spot on, because humans are made for happiness, we can not accept misery. That is allowing sub-human conditions to be a truth — that cannot be. If that is correct, we should fight injustice in every way for if we want to be really humble and to really advance as real humans, that is the only way to be humble.

    1. Something I read in a book I’m in the middle of nowadays…

      The biggest breakthrough of European culture that set them apart from what were, at the time, the more advanced societies in China, India, and Persia was their embrace of the reality of their own ignorance — that there is so much of and about the world out there that lay outside of their understanding fueled a desire to explore, conquer, and bring within their sphere of influence.

      So the irony here is it was this inherent humility in European philosophy that fueled their audacious expeditions to every corner of the world and their use of systematic ways to understand their discoveries.

      That’s the potential power that REAL humility could unleash.

      1. >> The biggest breakthrough of European culture that set them apart from what were, at the time, the more advanced societies in China, India, and Persia was their embrace of the reality of their own ignorance ..

        Benign0, you are absolutely correct. Sadly, this was a transient period in our history, and we Europeans are back to thinking we know everything. We have certainly come a long way, but as a culture, we’ve completely forgotten that there is always something new to learn. Even the ethos of science is being corrupted by a dumbed-down version of it, propagated by the media and the government.

        Every culture can benefit from a little humility. Those who are clearly stuck in the 12th century need a little more of it than most.

      2. @marius: That’s ok. The scientific ethic still seems to be strong among Europeans (and their derivative societies), so as long as there remains a culture of inquisitiveness and an intellectual humility that recognises that there is still much about to learn, I am sure all is not lost.

      3. “That’s the potential power that REAL humility could unleash.”

        I don’t remember now the title of a book I borrowed some time ago. It was about Lee Kwan Yew. There, if my memory serves me, he was often referred to as a humble man. It must be something inculcated by the parents because even when he was already a PM, the mother continued to maintain a small boutique shop under the stairs in a lobby of some old building, and she was there eight hours a day until she couldn’t anymore because of health reason. LKY himself was also characterized as being of the naturally inquisitive type. Talking of power unleashed, well, everybody could see Singapore.

        Another guy who is always referred to as being a humble man is Indonesia’s Lim Seow Leong. He was the Chairman of the Board of Salim Group, a conglomerate of 250 companies, where none of the companies is smaller than our San Miguel Brewery. (He was the boss of our Manny Pangilinan.) LSL never moved out of his small house near the port, North of Jakarta. But, he was something, whenever he went jogging, a multitude of poor people lined up both sides of the road, the reason: the two bodyguards on his sides were carrying bags of cash which they distributed to the people (probably, it was a good way of fending off potential kidnappers. Hehehe) After he cut the ribbon in the inauguration of a new company in Texas, he was asked about his thoughts then that he was able to penetrate the US market. He was very surprised, he didn’t know he was inaugurating his own company.

        There is something about the Confucian philosophy. Just look at our own senior taipans: Henry Sy, Gokongwei, and Lucio Tan, all of very humble beginnings.. And if we think about it the Chinese are generally humble people. Think about it, they don’t go around the net with Chinese Pride, and look where China is. Think, Pinoys who always shout Pinoy Pride for the most ridiculous of reasons!!!

        Maybe it is not also just Confucius, just simply humility. By billionaire standards, the two Ayala brothers, JAZA and Fernando, they have very simple lifestyles. They are in starck contrast to their cousins, the children of Enrique Zobel, who are said to be mayabang. Yet, whose side of the business has grown and whose side has lost a lot of ground?

  2. Humility is thinking not more than what you are…accepting you weaknesses; and seeing yourself in Reality. It is the absence of Superiority complex , or Inferiority complex in you. If you accept yourself as you are; there, you can start self improvement. by knowing your strength and weaknesses.

    It is not being content of what you are; or letting others make a “door mat” out of you.
    Filipinos have a false sense of humility. While our Political Leaders have a false sense of superiority…

  3. Humility is all about accepting your weakness. Because that is what will guide you to improve. To go further. To open one’s eyes to the true reality. To realize that he’s not inherently superior to anything else.

    Tendou Souji’s grandma has once said, “Only those who know weakness will be truly able to become stronger.”

  4. *SIGH*..welcome to the Philippines..Mabuhay ang utak at ugaling Pilipino..now and forevermore.

    Campaigning to change or improve the Filipino mentality is like believing in fairy tales.

  5. “Taking A Backseat To Seniors

    In many Pinoy households, children are expressedly forbidden to speak against their elders lest they be called “arrogant”. Also, this applies even in other settings beyond the home such as offices and other workplaces as new or young employees are often discouraged from speaking out or even getting ahead of senior members. There are even those few who seem to think that seniority guarantees a promotion and are often outraged when a younger employee is promoted before them.”

    >> This really rings true espcially in public offices/public schools. There are even no “open door policy” in a foreigner-owned company as long as it is managed by a Filipino.

  6. Filipinos are too self-serving (makasarili) and aristocratic (hambog) to be humble. Any sign of humility on our part is just pretentious.

  7. Grimwald

    Using “the reason” and “is because” in one sentence, is redundant. This is very common in the Philippines as it is in the US but not in the UK. If you use “the reason..” follow it with “is that”….

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