The passion for independence – observations from a different culture

They say you will never really know your country until you live in another country. Having lived in other countries for quite some time now, I have gained a sense of perspective of what successful countries have that we don’t. I have observed that as a people, we Pinoys haven’t really grasped and appreciated the virtue of independence and this is glaringly manifested in our behavior as individuals and in the way we run our families and government. Our almost tribal concept of family – all for one and one for all – as altruistic and reassuring as it sounds might just be the Achilles heel of our country. Pinoys have accepted the idea that the family is some kind of a social safety net where hardworking and lazy members have equal stake at the pot, after all, family is family and everyone is to take care of each other come hell or high water. It is not uncommon to see jobless men shamelessly marry and raise children and continue to live with their parents, relying on their parents and relatives for everything they need under the sun. The implication of this parasitic attitude is it becomes a burden to the family members who happen to support them, not only financially but emotionally, as their own personal plans and dreams can be stalled if not impeded by the liability which they have been unexpectedly thrown into. Collectively as a nation, this phenomenon had multiplied many times over and the high rate of dependency had dragged down our economic prosperity and standard of living. While we may look at this sacrificial relationship as noble, something that the man above would relish and reward us with something much greater in future, westerners totally reject the idea as deplorable and grossly unfair and believe that every man must look after his own welfare. Instead of exposing extended families to undue burden, the task is relegated to government by way of social assistance and welfare programs designed to support those in dire need. Simply put, if you have a wife and 2 kids and have no job, you don’t go back to your parents house; you ask the government to help you. Don’t expect free housing and free food for life unlike your parents’ house. Help is temporary and often conditional upon yourself finding another job which is what it should be. It is one thing to help someone in real need of help and another to sustain a lazy bum.

In prosperous nations such as Canada, learning to be independent is the first brainwashing ritual an individual undergoes. When I drop my 3 year old into day care, I am not allowed to take her lunch bag and things inside the room. The school had posted a note by the door instructing parents to stay outside the room. The child must be given the responsibility of taking and organizing her things inside the classroom. The school emphasizes that the ultimate mission of the program at her age is teaching children how to be independent and not stuffing their young brains with academic puzzles. Sounds crazy but the secret formula to a progressive society seems to be that passion for independence. If everyone takes care of himself, and does not rely on others, wouldn’t that translate into self-sufficiency for people and the nation?

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17 Responses

  1. I think it’s deeply embedded in the Filipino psyche that having (“parasitic”) extended families is normal. I guess I’m just blessed to belong to a family clan which rejects such ideology…or should I say, way of life. I don’t need to send money back home as is the custom of many Pinoys now based in Switzerland.

    While it’s nice to be independent and not always rely on others (family members included) all the time, I think that it’s also important to have close ties with the family as long as people set the right boundaries — “good fences make good neighbors,” as the saying goes — and not condone the lifestyle of ‘overbearing ‘financial parasites’ (read: the grownup dependents).

    Here in Switzerland, independence is also taught at an early age. Parents, who bring or fetch their five-year-olds, are looked down upon by society. So I see lots of young pupils walking to and from school unchaperoned by parents. Many times, I have seen a crying boy or a girl along the pavements without any companion. And this makes me think twice if this independence system for kindergarten kids is 100 percent ideal…. I think it’s not fail-proof. And being driven or fetched by parents has really nothing to do with the goal to prevent kids to grow financially overdependent on their parents all their life. That’s another story. (I mean, the Westerners don’t do this to prevent the children to always ask money from their parents in the future. That is a Filipino/Asian issue.)

    One thing with independence: most Westerners put so much premium on independence and self-sufficiency at the expense of family ties. Suicide rate in Switzerland is high because the relationship with the family, the basic unit of society, is undervalued and, thus, neglected.

    To wrap it up, I would go for balance in everything we do. On the one hand, it’s not good to be too dependent on one’s family/parents, especially if one is already old enough to fend for himself/herself. On the other hand, it’s not also good to be too independent so as to forget the importance of close family ties.
    Christmas or New Year celebrations are ‘fun-less’ without the presence of loved ones. Yun naman ang maganda sa pagiging Pinoy. Basta dapat balanse lang (timplahin kumbaga). 🙂

  2. Agree with you Jayred that the balance is key to having good relationship with family members. I have also observed that white people have different ways and means of expressing their love to family members that we Pinoys misconstrue as indifference. Siguro hindi lang natin naiintindihan sila. By being sort of business like in dealing esp with finances, it does not mean they don’t love each other. Tayong mga Pinoy we only seem to expect nothing short of sacrificial relationship as a symbol of love between family members.

    With respect to fostering independence on children, I always have an argument with my wife because she tends to pamper our 3 year old. Ayaw nyang makitang nahihirapan. The kid wants to put her jacket and shoes by herself, eat by herself, go to the toilet by herself – I always say – pabayaan mo because that’s what she wants.

    Hindi ba there’s a common joke and probably even true in Europe -” he’s
    30 years old and still living with his parents.” This joke is almost an insult to the person. At 30, everyone is expects the guy to be employed, having his own place and no longer depending on his parents. Worse, girls will have second thoughts going out with him because he is a wimp, a nerd or what not!

  3. This idea has been lurking in my mind and you verbalized it well. If we have the value of independence, I believe we’d do away with the deeply rooted Padrino system in our country as well and it may just be one big step to solving graft and corruption.

  4. Definely agree that the Padrino system is a curse of our society! I believe it was Pres Quirino who proposed to abolish it from our culture and practices – exactly how, through a consitutional edict perhaps, I am not sure. In restrospect, we all know by now that he should have have done it!

  5. Maybe this idea should be part of the kids’ education…it would be a good thing for our country…Although in my mind, the present reality in our country, where we have come from a master-and-slave society that we have inherited from our Spanish colonizers, the poor don’t get much opportunity, either in tilling their own lands or in finding employment, as the elites continue to take control of the nation’s wealth. Our elders did not gained their own lands like Americans did, when their government apportioned to each family man three acres each during the colonial years in America.
    But in the Philippines, our olds were so poor and landless, that the cycle of poverty just continued even to this day. And so, the so-called “extended family phenomenon” becomes a manner of natural adaptation to counter poverty and misery and not of clear intention.

    But I hope, in the coming generations, our countrymen would learn to get by by themselves individually…

  6. I teach my daughter to be independet, and I was brought up by my parents not to rely on them too. I guess it is an advantage for me that I was raised to be self-sufficient, and I want my daughter to grow up to be self-reliant too. This is my personal opinion…

    Few days back, a Pinoy Teachers network member emailed this to our listserv that I think is very relevant to your entry (not that I agree or disagree with these Filipino traits but I just wanted to share this)…

    Filipinos are groupists. We love human interaction and company. We always surround ourselves with people and we hover over them, too. According to Dr. Patricia Licuanan, a psychologist from Ateneo and Miriam College, an average Filipino would have and know at least 300 relatives.

    At work, we live bayanihan (mutual help); at play, we want a kalaro(playmate) more than laruan (toy).At socials, our invitations are open and it is more common even for guests to invite and bring in other guests. In transit, we do not want to be separated from our group. So what do we do when there is no more space in a vehicle? Kalung-kalong! (Sit on one another). No one would ever suggest splitting a group and waiting for another vehicle with more space!

    We love to blend and harmonize with people, we like to include them in our “tribe,” in our “family”-and we like to be included in other people’s families, too. Therefore we call our friend’s mother nanay or mommy; we call a friend’s sister ate (eldest sister), and so on. We even call strangers tia (aunt) or tio (uncle), tatang (grandfather), etc.

    So extensive is our social openness and interrelations that we have specific title for extended relations like hipag (sister-in-law’s spouse), balae (child-in-law’s parents), inaanak(godchild), ninong/ninang (godparents) kinakapatid (godparent’s child), etc.

    In addition, we have the profound ‘ka’ institution, loosely translated as “equal to the same kind” as in kasama (of the same company), kaisa (of the same cause), kapanalig (of the same belief), etc. In our social fiber, we treat other people as co-equals.

    Filipinos, because of their social “weaving” traditions, make for excellent team workers.

    Watcha think? napapatango ako sa iba, at napapailing din ako sa iba, haha.

  7. Major Tom, it is true that the extended family relationship seems to be the only way for survival for the poor. I have observed however that even for middle class and upper class families, dependence on family is also prevalent. Over dependency tends to drag down their standard of living and may do so for at least a couple of generations if the grandchildren don’t pick up their pieces.

    As for Pinoys being groupists Teacher Sol, I definitely agree. We are also overly sensisitive people to the concept of pakikisama. THe negative part of this is the inability to say no when needed. Mas concerned tayo sometimes to what others may feel vs what the effect would be on us. Parang our relationship to each other is always centered on giving and sharing. Minsan nahihiya tayong pumunta sa invitation for dinner na wala tayong dala. Paguwi pa ng guests natin, may pabaon pa tayo. We feel good about it but if this social attitude pervades the way we deal with this other in business and government, there is a danger that it can be an obstruction and we might not get the best results.

  8. In relation to this tribal concept of dependency, there are families wherein the parents see their children as their hope for the future. Exactly with the meaning that the kids when they grow up will replace them in their duties and responsibilities to serve and feed the family. It would be acceptable if the parents exerted their efforts to elevate the condition they have or made efforts to work for the kids’ future and bring them to good school and provide enough food and good shelter. But most of the time, only the father in an average or below-average family works while the mother will be just content to be a mother, not helping the partner to earn and just wait for him to hand her down the money. When everything is scant, the mother would rant why there isn’t enough food and money to spend. But she does nothing to help. As if she has all the right to demand. The poor children would then work at an early age while their dependent mother waits for them all to hand her the money. Result, children suffering from physical and emotional abuse. This would later be passed on to the next generation with the thought that their children must repay them.

    Concurrently, the number of dependent husbands is growing in this country of ours. This comes with different situations that I sometimes think is, as you have said, grossly unfair. While most Filipinos think of it as heroic act, it is the utmost display of masochism. It is so hateful to see husbands being able to just sit back and relax while their wives are doing what they are supposed to do. It is so loathsome to see them spend money for gambling, drinking sessions, and at times, philandering in beerhouse joints. While women work for the cause of tendering for their children’s future, they are accomplices, too, for letting such situation prosper.

    I am a working mother with a physically challenged husband who cannot work. There are instances that I would think it over at nights if my decision to still marry him after he got ill was right. But I was caught in a situation where I would be the sole provider for my family FOREVER or be with the man that I love and care and start my own family and venture the unknown. In fairness, my husband is a good husband despite the inadequacy. He tried his best to help even though it was detrimental to his health. Recently, he had to stop because his body finds it strenuous to do heavy physical work. He had to close the mini burger store and the sari-sari store, too.

  9. erratum: tendering should be tending

    sorry, didnt check b4 clicking the publish button

  10. Bing, I sincerely sympathize with your situation. I can only say if this happens in first world nations such as Canada or Australia where health care is free, the government steps in and provides assistance to the family in terms of medical care, supplemental allowance and tax breaks for caring for an infirmed relative. It sometimes boggles my mind how some countries could think about the welfare of their people first and foremost. It may have to do with their pioneering spirit, that they came from far away lands to build a nation. We Pinoys on the other hand being a conquered people and given freedom centuries later seem to have no clue if not confused on to how to manage ourselves.

    With regard to the husband not working, I am particularly referring to those who are lazy and totally dependent and freeloading on their parents and relatives, dragging down the economic well being of their relatives. When a wife supports the husband and children and there are many cases where this happens not by choice but by force of circumstance, the family unit is still independent on its own. Interesting you mention this because in conservative evangelical families, evangelical Christianity being the religion of the founding fathers of North America, the husband is ordained to be the family provider and the wife stays at home. There are die hard evangelicals even today who cling to this belief as if written in blood and insist that their wives not work and will live solely on the husband’s income. Although this works for many people, I would consider this thinking rather extreme. The issue of independence really boils down to the individual’s sense of responsibility towards himself and it is truly perplexing how such a very basic life skill is taken for granted if not overlooked by people.

  11. The private schools in the Philippines are also implementing the same thing for their students. I remember this well when my first kid went to school for the first time. Oh, boy you will hear lots of cries out there. Unfortunately, it normally stopped there.

    I think the problem here is our culture. We are so lenient (mahaba pasensya)on many things especially when it comes to family and family members and this is being abused.

    We Pinoys seemed to accept things as is and “tiis na lang” is always the common attitude.

  12. Hey nice info you posted.
    I just browsing through some blogs and came across yours!

    Excellent blog, good to see someone actually uses em for quality posts.

    Your site kept me on for a few minutes unlike the rest 🙂

    Keep up the good work!

    Thanks!.

  13. Myepinoy, It is nice to know that Pinoy schools are starting to teach young children the virtues of independence. What they learn in school must also be applied at home to be effective.

    Yung tiis na lang attitude might be the fallout of our religious brainwashing by the Spanish friars who impressed upon the native Pinoy that being poor is blessed and suffering is an emulation of Christ. I was born Catholic but as I journey through life, I have began to have serious doubts on a theology that extols poverty , self imposed austerity and suffering. Religion must empower a person and promote self esteem and not mendicancy. Why can’t we all say that poverty stinks and its not cool to be poor?

    Latin and South American countries that were colonized by Spain are in the same predicament as us – sheer coincidence ? Perhaps not. We were all taught by Spain to be content with being poor and disenfanchised because it is pleasing to God, where in fact the motive was to suppress our ambitions and perpetuate our status as serfs, tilling the land of the hacienderos and the elite. Even until today, there still exists two brands of Catholicism – the first world and the third world version. What we must do is stop preaching that poverty is blessed because it is not. It is a curse more than anything and we must get our of our cocoons and face reality and stop dreaming that the man above loves us when we can barely afford to put decent food on the table.

  14. BW, mawalang galang sa tanong ko, wala na bang karapatan na magsampalataya sa Panginoon ang isang nilalang? Kung lubus lubusan ang hirap ng buhay, mali ba ang umasa sa biyaya ng Panginoon? Siguro naman ang pagradasal ay isang karapatan ng tao, lalong lalo na lung nagpapakumbaba siya sa kapangyarihan ng Diyos.

  15. I agree and the issue is not that of pagsasampalataya. Walang problem ang pagdadasal ng tao. The problem is when people expect God to perform miracles for all their needs. Sa tingin ko and this just my personal conviction, God really only helps those who have a genuine desire to help themselves.

  16. What I meant is when you have a need or a problem and you don’t move your butt and sit on the couch twiddling your fingers, don’t expect God to hand you the solution like it was manna from heaven.

  17. […] one was with an occassional reader who I exchanged a few emails with after reading my post Passion for Independence- Observations from a Different Culture.  It turned out that she sacrificed her dreams for the sake of her younger siblings. She had a […]

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