Embracing our Roots, Learning from the Past

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By Richard Leo Ramos as originally posted at the Philippine Online Chronicles


It is at once one of the greatest strengths and one of the most striking weaknesses of the Filipino psyche: Somehow, Filipinos seem to have a very short memory when it comes to unpleasant events. Depending on the context of the situation, this is either proof of the Filipino’s capacity to forgive, forget, and move on, or it could also be evidence that Filipinos are culturally hopeless, as they will be doomed to keep on making the same general mistakes over and over again.

And the sad part is, we do actually have a saying about it:

“Ang hindi marunong lumingon sa pinanggalingan ay hindi makararating sa paroroonan.”

Traditionally said to be from Jose Rizal, this quotation is already a warning to the Filipino people to start remembering what went wrong in the first place, and to fix it, if possible.

The irony of the situation, however, is that it is usually used as a way to guilt-trip people into supporting old friends, or giving money when there is a need. Even worse, it can also be used as a way to create a “class divide” when someone from a poorer neighborhood makes it big and moves on to a better financial scale of living.

Here are some things we shouldn’t forget – even if it means we stop being the “nice, likeable Filipinos” that we are stereotyped as being.

Debts and favors given
This one is a classic: An old friend from your past, someone who may not even have been in touch with you for quite some time, suddenly knocks at your proverbial door to ask for help. It could be help in finding a job, but it usually is about borrowing money, with the promise to pay it back when things get better.

It all sounds fine, until you start asking for the money. The next thing you know, you’re being told that you’re not acting like a friend, or, worse, the person will avoid you or even try to ruin your name by spinning a different tale about the money involved.

Our piece of advice is to do a “Frozen” and let it go. However, it does not mean that you should forget. The next time that person comes knocking at your door (if ever), smile, offer them a drink… and nothing else. Don’t do anything for them again. While it may not be the Christian thing to do, by some people’s eyes, it is definitely more Christian in the sense that you are helping yourself to less stress, and helping the other by giving them a character-defining moment.

Accepting a less-than-stellar past
If there’s anything that a person should be proud of, it’s rising from humble beginnings to become a more successful person. And this isn’t just about financial success, but also about personal and artistic triumphs as well.

Some people, however, seem to feel ashamed about not being successful early in life. This is understandable: after all, it could be about peer pressure, where they could lose some strategic friendships or alliances if it were found out they were “not one of us” in the beginning, or it could simply be about not destroying the personal narrative that has been created.

What these people fail to see is that this turn of events in one’s life could be even more powerful than perpetuating a “mysterious past.” Rags-to-riches success stories are the best examples of human determination and passion. If you have “friends” who can’t handle it, that’s their problem. And you will always find better allies who will respect what you’ve done.

Our advice is to accept your origins, and use it as part of your strength moving forward. Ignore the people who love to harp on it, because that’s either insecurity or limited thinking at work. Your only concern is to do well for yourself, and to be a good person.

Charity, social responsibility, and crab mentality
Now, this is somewhat related to the first issue about old friends knocking at your door. However, in this case, it’s about the community that can build around people who are successful, one way or the other.

Filipino communities, for want of a better term, are held together in part by the power of tsismis, or the gossip grapevine. It’s no surprise, then, that some people you may not even know, or community leaders, may come knocking at your door, if they know you have particular skills, financial reserves, or connections. Now, many of these requests definitely fall in the reasonable side of things, and should be entertained and acted upon as best as possible. After all, what’s a little goodwill? However, when you do start noticing that people are beginning to see you more as a favor-mill than as a person, then you should find a way to explain that your resources are limited – and that you do have other things to do with your time.

The bad part is: many people won’t take it well. Welcome to the wonderful world of crab mentality, where people will start all sorts of gossip about you, just because you had the temerity to say “no” to their request.

Our advice on this one is: again, keep on doing good for the people who ask you correctly, who don’t impose on you. Keep on minding your own business. If people believe the gossip, let them – at least you know whom you should not trust, and who will never ask for your help.

The two sides of the coin
If you’ve noticed, it seems that the whole idea of “remembering your roots” has both a dark and light side to it, particularly for Filipinos. Now, this isn’t something you should despair about. Instead, think about it as an effect of the difficult times the Filipino people has had in the past few decades. People need help from each other, and in some cases, this has become rather negative in aspect, where people expect those who are more successful to share the wealth. And traditions can be twisted such that if you try to be reasonable and strict about your contributions, you will end up being the bad guy.

If anything, the best way to help yourself in staying true to your roots and the past, it is to do as much good as possible, by being fair in your business practices, by being an ethical and moral person, and simply knowing when to say no. Your personal and public dealings must reflect your real character. That way, no matter what people say, you will be doing right by your own traditions, your own past.

Photo: “Memories” by Marina del Castell , c/o Flickr. Some Rights Reserved