The Concept of Heroism is Twisted in the Filipino Context

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With National Heroes Day (Pambansang Araw ng mga Bayani) having just passed us, I thought it was time to finish this post before it became untimely. It’s something thought up after finding that gem of a slideshow that may have a good explanation of Filipino Society’s nastiness, as I wrote about earlier. The slideshow was based mostly on the work of Tomas Q.D. Andres, who often writes on the topic of Filipino worker values, and I happened upon it while looking for a picture of one of Andres’ works. Some people might tell me Andres’ works are inaccurate and invalid, he’s an old coot or something, but I don’t think so, since his work was apparently done in a scholarly manner. I echo the “wow” of commenter Marius when he highlighted one of the last slides:

Slide 17: Pagkabayani

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The slideshow uses Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, with a Filipino version constructed alongside Maslow’s original. Physiological and security needs are equated to Filipino familism and reciprocity, Self-Esteem needs according to the Filipino are met by Social Mobility (no wonder!), and Self-Actualization is met by the concept of Pagkabayani or Heroism. Interesting.

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I was going to make a commentary about the whole slideshow, but just focusing on one slide, the bottom-line slide about Pagkabayani already earns a long enough post of its own. That the ultimate Filipino goal is to be a “bayani” or hero makes sense. But here’s where my contrarian tendency comes in: the bayani that Filipinos have in mind is likely to not be the good kind.

Some of us know heroes as people who sacrifice for others. But heroes in the Filipino context, in practice, are quite different. It seems to me that Filipinos see heroes as what warlords are – people who are respected, pampered, praised, flattered, served, etc., simply because they are. Going back to another opinion I gave, Filipinos want to be treated like kings without doing anything to merit it. In Tagalog, I’d call it tuka na walang kayod (or peck without work, taken from the saying, isang kayod, isang tuka, or one unit of work, one peck to feed onself); simply put, reward without work. Indeed, we have always said the moocher mentality of Filipinos is one of the serious obstacles to improvement of our society. But in addition to this, our concept of heroes is also twisted, because moochers cling to people who are “heroes” to them, while they themselves, vainly, feel like heroes by sticking to such “heroes.” Perhaps the real national hero of the Philippines, if we base it on this observation, is Juan Tamad.

This idea may be odious to some, but among those who would self-actualize according to the Filipino concept would be drug lords. They fit the description of being revered. Skeptical? Just recall the pictures spread around a while back of the funeral of the slain drug lord nicknamed Jaguar.

Criminals being revered in the Philippines? It seems to show in the movies we loved before, like Nardong Putik, Boy Negro and Asiong Salonga. Movies about police officers and soldiers seem to pale in comparison. Filipinos actually like lawbreakers. This might be why some “social media influencers” are crying foul when a suspected drug dealer is killed, but seemingly not when a police officer is killed in trying to catch the drug dealer. Thus, it is not farfetched that people we may revere as “heroes” may actually behind killings in society.

Ah yes, “social media influencers” who attack people with sensible ideas instead of come up with sensible ideas of their own. And that picture above of people in the streets holding placards and shouting at the top of their lungs decrying someone. Some people feel that this is valid heroism. I don’t.

But what if you’re not a hero or someone revered? Then the likely comment from others is, “Nakakahiya ka (You’re shameful)!” As I said, Fililpinos are into shaming others since they have a compulsion to assert class dominance over the other (social mobility as the way to meet self-esteem needs). And, as our esteemed webmaster Benign0 always says, it is a cultural hobble. It hobbles us from realizing what we have to change and instead we keep the causes of our problems. As a result, we are fried in our own oil. But it may also serve to keep the society servile, since if one sane mind may refuse to worship a “hero,” the sycophants around may be used to vilify him. Ah yes, what “social media influencers” may actually be doing.

Let me add another slide to talk about. So when Filipinos are heroes, what do they want?

Slide 18: Managers guide their subordinates both in their business and their personal lives.

In the western orientation, work is work and personal life is personal life: never mix the two. As the action movie line goes, “trabaho lang, walang personalan.” When you’re a leader at work in such places, that doesn’t mean you’re a leader in life. Because those two areas are separate and unrelated according to a more practical, equality-based culture.

But in Filipino culture, authority in one field is expected to carry over to another. A manager is expected to mess with employee’s personal lives. The archaic tradition seems to prevail today – if one is a leader in an organization, he is thought to also be a leader in life, outside of the organization. With the truth about how people are today, that is likely to lead to disaster. A manager can tell their subordinate to forget their problems at home by going to a beerhouse and drinking the night away or making out with the pokpoks there. Sometimes the subordinate is unable to refuse, especially if the manager is the type who can’t take no for an answer. Perhaps the manager is seen as a “hero” or “lord” in this context. Still a recipe for disaster.

This is also likely what Filipinos really want as heroes – control of others. If one goes through the whole Pinoy Management slideshow again, they might catch the hint that the Filipino is all about trying to outdo and dominate others. That still makes up the underlying concept of the Filipino view of “heroism.”

Some people say, we have to teach what the good heroes really are, so people may try to emulate and be like them, and thus establish the true meaning of heroism. But for me, the exalting of heroes is a flawed concept. Aside from what I’ve explained about, readers of history would know how “heroes” like Aguinaldo, Del Pilar and Luna actually squabbled and screwed up in the end. And some would argue these figures had ulterior motives behind their heroism. Perhaps there are acts that these people did right, and thus it’s better to exalt the acts and not the people. Well, I did also say that exaltation of heroes could also be a form of inequality perpetuation.

So all these, desire to be heroes, the compulsion to shame others, the desire to become above others, the compulsion to “win,” we better drop. Being a decent, contributing person to society is better. Heroes are something better confined to comic books. We should see being a hero as a want, not a need. Of course, we should still honor a firefighter who gave his life while saving people from a burning building, or someone who shielded people from an amok gunman. But really, heroism is something done when the situation calls for it, not because we want it. Also, let us honor even the businessperson who provides jobs for people. They also are contributing to society, as our webmaster Benign0 wrote.

Being an 80’s music fan, I’ll conclude with famous words from a Tina Turner classic: “We don’t need another hero!”

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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.