A lot of Filipinos have an identity crisis. You can spot these sorts a mile away. They are the ones who shout out “I am proud to be Filipino!” as if they hold a monopoly over harbouring such a sentiment. It is usually in the way it is expressed and in the context and timing of when the words are said that give these people away.
To me, anyone who says, “I am proud to be Filipino!” after Manny Pacquiao wins a fight or after any Filipino receives international recognition, has an identity crisis. Shaking your head in disagreement? Pause to think about it. When Manny Pacquiao wins or Arnel Pineda sings for the band Journey, is it every Filipino on the ring or on stage with them while they are performing? I don’t think so. Pacquiao and Pineda may put our country on the map with what they do achieve, but why can’t Filipinos be proud as a people regardless? Does it have to take someone from the outside to tell us “Hey, you guys are ok!” before we can believe in our capabilities? Isn’t it just that all-too-familiar colonial mentality at work whenever we feel that we have to rely on outsiders for validation?
It has to do with the reality that we are not known for achieving something uniquely exceptional as a people. Do we just want to be known as singers, dancers, boxers and all around entertainers around the globe? Personally, I don’t want our country to be known only as exporters of second rate artists because these are professions that offer fleeting recognition. If you are an entertainer for example, you only have the attention of people who admire your work for maybe, a maximum of two to three hours and then people go back to focusing on their daily lives and forget about you. Likewise, if you are a sports athlete, you only have your youth and stamina before you pack up your bags, go home, and retire. Indeed, the number of Filipinos (those born and bred in the Philippines) who make it big as actors in Hollywood is nil because the competition there is tough. So I’d rather see our citizens aspire for something that will leave a lasting legacy and contribution to sustained growth in our society.
Quite a number of people were outraged when blogger rafterman wrote about Efren Penaflorida and his supposedly “rigged” win as a CNN hero. I noticed that most of that anger had a lot to do with people’s thinking that our country gets special mention or international recognition only once in a blue moon only to have it ruined by a blogger saying the selection process was “rigged”. The people who were offended do not realise that it was Filipinos themselves — and not CNN the corporation nor the international community — who won Efren the honour of being awarded 2009 CNN Hero of the Year by voting for him in droves online on the CNN website.
Taking stock of most of the comments in this blogsite, I have come to the conclusion that we Filipinos need help in defining ourselves. Some of us need a refresher course on how to become a success without the need to piggyback on someone else’s achievements.
Knowing What We Want
The first thing we have to do to find out who we are as a people is to know what we want to be as individuals. What do we want to achieve in our own lives? What is our purpose in this world? We don’t all have to do or be the same things to be successful people. We don’t all have to be actresses or singers to be happy and gain recognition. Whatever we do as an individual — if done the right way, with our whole heart in it, and therefore not in that half-baked manner that we are inclined to — can be great in its own right. We can’t do a half-assed job and then expect to be successful at what we do. We don’t have to have lots of money to do great things. We just need the determination and the vision to accomplish something and then put our best effort into carrying it out. Whatever job we choose, as long as we are passionate at what we do and take pride in it, we will excel in our work. So what do we want to be? We want to excel individually at what we do and if a big enough number of us take that view, collectively we can become a successful people.
Take the Italians. Italians are known for many, many things. They are famous for doing things with a passion whether it be, say, cooking (pasta) or building sports cars (Massaratis). They are even good at being mobsters! Think of the perverse passion the characters in the film The Godfather applied to their “craft”. Italians take pride in their workmanship. The results speak for themselves. When people see something is made in Italy, they quickly say, “How exquisite!”
When someone creates something nice, the creator’s love of the work that went into his creation rubs off on those who regard it. When a work or a creation is done with pride, the creator gains respect. It does not matter if it is a pair of shoes, a piece of furniture or a sports car. It does not matter how small or big it is. If it appeals to people’s senses and practical sensibilities because of its excellent design, it stands a better chance of becoming a hit locally and globally. In essence, truly excellent work does not have to be shoved down people’s throats to gain appreciation. If it is really great work, people from all over will seek it and buy it.
Let’s go local and look at some of today’s famous Filipinos to illustrate my point even further. Manny Pacquiao as an individual, wanted to become a boxer when he was younger. He trained very hard to become one and is now the World Welterweight champion in boxing and we all know how much money he made out of his winnings. Efren Penaflorida wanted to be a teacher and to help underprivileged kids acquire an education. He finished school, designed his own kariton and is now roaming the streets of Manila teaching kids just like he wanted to. It’s not the most ideal way of educating our street kids but, hey, he is now walking around town carrying the title “CNN 2009 Hero of the Year” (thanks mostly to Filipino online voters). Manny and Efren are individuals who have done well in their chosen field and have been recognized because of their work. Let me stress here that a boxing title or the label “hero” is not a prerequisite to be considered a successful individual. You can be a success even without these titles. A title can even be a burden to an individual because with these come the need to have to live up to people’s expectations. Efren and Manny both started out doing what they do with just the expectations they put on themselves. Just think of some otherwise excellent actors who had received an Academy Award for acting like Cuba Gooding Jr and Lou Gossett Jr who hardly get any work now because their fees have gone up.
It’s hard not to notice that a country of 90 million struggles to hit double digit numbers when asked to cite examples of the truly exceptional and world-class among their lot. It’s hard not to notice too that out of 90 million people, very few of the celebrated come from the field of science and technology. It makes you wonder what Filipinos really aspire to become. We have to work on this aspiration of ours. We have to move beyond the goal of doing something just to gain publicity, fame, and fortune.
Before we get ahead of ourselves and think of the profits that we might eventually gain from our work or all the accolades we might eventually receive, we have to be good at what we do first. We have to dream big and aspire to innovations that will improve our standard of living and those around us. For example, the refrigerator was invented to preserve perishable food. As a result of this innovation, people no longer had to to go hunting for food everyday. When the washing machine was invented, women were freed of one of the most onerous of household chores. Being innovative is what builds wealth and quality of life. Perhaps it will help us be more innovative if we put ourselves in our servant’s shoes and use our education to think of ways to work smarter even as we work harder.
Some Filipinos keep thinking that Manny Pacquiao is lucky because of the millions in his bank account right now. Luck had very little to do with his success. Training hard to to be a great boxer had the most to do with his success. Manny makes it looks easy now but he made a lot of sacrifices to get to where he is. In fact, gravity will work against Manny’s career one day and soon; he will be forced to retire. We can see that what he does is something that is profitable only for himself. Sure, he may “inspire”. But the Philippines is not necessarily any better as a society after Manny Pacquiao. Let’s face it, not all of us have what it takes to be a boxer. Just like not everyone is cut out to be a Nicole Kidman or a Jon Bon Jovi. We all have what it takes to be something else that is uniquely us as individuals though but we need to work as hard as Manny Pacquiao to excel in whatever that something may be.
Therefore, we have to love what we are doing first and do what we do for the love of it and not because of any unrealistic hope for fame or fortune. Doors will surely open once we have mastered a craft. If we really don’t like what we are doing but are just forced to do it for a living, we must find opportunities to acquire the skills that will enable us to make a living out of what we prefer to do. If you’ve always wanted to be dressmaker but you are stuck being a cleaner, use your spare time to learn how to sew dresses in a dressmaking course. Of course, you should bear in mind that while you are waiting for the opportunity to become a dressmaker, you should still do your best at being a cleaner. Pining for another job is not an excuse to do dodgy work in your current job.
Everyone can be a winner in their own right. As I said before, we don’t need anyone to tell us we’re good at what we do if we know that we are good it. Take the blogger Benign0 for instance. He was trained to write well at school which gave him the confidence to write anything he wants. He doesn’t really seem to try to impress anyone else but himself. He has his own standard and style of writing that is uniquely his own and will not compromise on anything just to please anyone. He is a winner in his own right.
If you are a house painter or a construction worker for example, would you try to do a good job at painting or bricklaying to impress your customer or to impress yourself? The answer to that depends on how you see your own personal standards stacking up with your customer’s. If you are the sort that works to your standards and, in the process, meet your customer’s requirements as well, you probably have the right answer to that question. It really won’t matter if your client is easy or hard to please. If you don’t compromise on the quality of your work as a matter of personal principle, your customers will in most cases be satisfied with the outcome of your work. Customers who watch while you work won’t be a worry. You will be doing your work just the way you want it done at the quality acceptable to you. It’s as easy as that.
If you manufacture stuff, try to imagine that you are manufacturing every single product for your own use. You wouldn’t sell a defective product to yourself, would you? Apply a mindset where you see yourself as your most important customer, and you will produce at the highest standards of quality.
Often we compromise the quality of our work because we lack our own personal style and personal standards even as we aim to work towards others’ standards and styles. We Filipinos are not known for creation or innovation that is underpinned by a style unique to us or standards inherent to us. Hermès Birkin handbags, for example, are said to be hand-built by experienced craftsmen. The production of each handbag can take weeks. The manufacturers of Hermès Birkin handbags do not compromise on quality. This is the primary reason why it is able to command such high prices. Hermès Birkin handbags are classic examples of products that have unique brands of style and exclusivity.
In contrast, a lot of the workmanship around the country is very mediocre; all second-rate. One only has to look at the jeepneys or tricycles roaming our cities’ streets to this day to realise that we haven’t really set out to even impress ourselves with a more advanced and environmentally-sound means of transportation and livelihood. How then do we hope to impress other people outside our community? Everything made and done in the Philippines: our roads and infrastructure, the way we vote for our own public officials, our struggles for global recognition; they are all half-baked. It’s almost like we set out to lower our standards to purposely make our own lives miserable. It’s because we don’t aim to please ourselves when we make or do something. This is no different to the way we vote someone into public office. It’s as if we are voting for someone because we are trying to please that person and not ourselves.
The concept of pleasing ourselves first can also be applied in the way we conduct ourselves outside our home. When we leave our homes to go to school or work, we should treat the public space the way we would our own home. We should dispose of our garbage properly, cross the streets in the right places, and follow traffic rules and regulations. The public space outside our homes is a space that we share with others and is for our own enjoyment as well. We wouldn’t want to see garbage scattered inside our own homes so why should we tolerate it on public land? Just remember that whatever garbage we dispose of carelessly outside will come back to bite us again when the storm drains get clogged up…
In whatever we do, we have to think of what is good for ourselves. This means not just cleaning up our own backyard but maintaining order in the public spaces as well because we spend as much time using public facilities as we do those in our own home. The cleaner our environment, the more enjoyable our trip to wherever we are going will be.
As they say, the place we are born in is just the luck of our draw. We had no choice in the matter. It’s what we do in the place we inhabit that matters. Filipinos don’t have to feel unlucky for having to live in such a harsh climate. Some cultures live in worse conditions but have managed to find a way to work around their unique circumstances. As Galileo said, we have to master the mathematics of nature, understand it, harness its energy and use it for our benefit. There are also little ways we can alleviate our discomfort. If we find it hard to work and be productive during the hottest part of the day, we could adjust our working schedules to the times that work for us. If 12 noon to 3 pm is the most unproductive part of the day because of the heat and humidity, perhaps we should make our working hours before and after that time.
If the humidity in our country is stifling our productivity and our lifestyle, there are many ways to cope. We could design our abode and our work environment in a way that will encourage fresh air to flow freely making us less-dependent on energy-guzzling air-conditioning. We could also watch what we eat because taking in too much food during a hot day can make us lethargic. It is very obvious that people from First World countries have acquired a taste for knowledge. They use this knowledge to enhance their lifestyle and improve the quality of their lives. They appreciate the beauty of nature and compliment it with beautiful architecture and infrastructure. This is how they are and that is how they want to live. The question we have to ask ourselves is, how do we want to live? Do we want to continue to live in the condition we are in or do we want to make our existence a little bit easier for us? We seem to remain complacent even though we suffer from shortages of food, water, energy and get severe battings from the weather every now and then. We have to formulate plans, think more about our future, and be more creative.
Be proud because of yourself and not because of your race
No race is superior to the other. If we keep thinking that people who live in western countries are superior to us because of the amount of their knowledge and their wealth, then it’s like saying that people in third world countries are inferior because of their ignorance and poverty. In the same manner, we will always think that we are just victims of the circumstances we are in. If we keep thinking this way, we will never have any motivation to do something to elevate ourselves from our wretched existence. We will always feel bitter and envious about the prosperity of the richer nations. If we keep thinking this way, we will always feel incompetent and hopeless. Eleanor Roosevelt once said that no one can make you feel inferior without your consent. We don’t have to feel inferior to western cultures because we are capable of acquiring the same amount of knowledge and wealth ourselves if we choose to.
The trouble is, Filipinos actually do feel inferior to other cultures. This is evident in the way we give priority to those who have fairer skin or possess Caucasian features. One just has to look at all the actors and actresses who make it big in Philippine cinema. They all have fairer complexions compared to the average Filipino. However, the average Filipino does not use this sense of inferiority or admiration for the western way of life as a strong motivator to copy their success. They use this sense of inferiority instead as an excuse to act like a victim of colonialism when in fact it is us who continue to allow our takeover by foreigners in the first place.
Ironically, this sense of inferiority of ours is the reason our “pride” as Filipinos remains misguided. The fact that some people have to constantly say “I am proud to be Filipino!” means that they are trying to prove something, like they may as well be saying that they are so unlike many Filipinos. They say the one who shouts the loudest is the one most insecure.
We have to work on our self-esteem. A person who is genuinely proud exudes quiet confidence and does not need to shout it out loudly. A person with confidence is a winner and a winner will always be recognised.