Are Filipinos a curious people?

At the end of the day, we all do what we do (whether it be running triathlons, climbing Mt Everest, or — hey yeah — blogging about Pinoy dysfunction) because we get off on it. If doing something for our own personal pleasure yields the bonus of actually delivering an outcome that might one way or another have an impact on someone’s way of thinking or start a chain reaction of thinking that may unfold over a year (or 100 years), then that’s a nice outcome. But as far as I’m concerned, I don’t hold my breath for bonuses like those much the same way that one doesn’t quit his day job just because he buys a lottery ticket. It is unlikely, for example, that Bill Gates saw himself someday having $40 billion to his name even as he spent 10-12 hour days glued to his school minicomputer back in 1975. For all we know, he may not have gone on to become the richest man in the world and still not regret a single minute spent at that terminal.

Now consider for a moment a world where all those who would go on to come up with groundbreaking ideas and contributions had thought to themselves “I only fight battles I could win”. If they had thought this way, these people would not have worked anywhere near the crazy hours (if at all) on stuff that the people of their day thought to be silly, eccentric, and even hopeless undertakings. Indeed, among those who did, we hear about only those who won. The majority of such people failed or didn’t live to see what were then counterintuitive ideas of theirs bear fruit or go mainstream.

Men and women who delivered the great ideas that changed the course of history didn’t spend their time dabbling in what were considered to be the winnable ideas of their time. They took a chance on what a brilliant application of their minds led them to — paths of exploration, often bumpy and twisted, that hinted at deeper truths relative to the belief systems that prevailed then. Many of them did so even under threat of persecution, excommunication, and incarceration. There were things that simply needed to be figured out. Perhaps there were certain beliefs that simply didn’t quite sit well or hang together. And as such there was an alternative out there to be found.

Like solving a crossword puzzle is an intellectual challenge, so too for some of us is the task of trying to find, figure out, and articulate deep truths about the nature of Da Pinoy. Because at its most basic, the chronic failure of Pinoys to advance socially and progress economically is a grand puzzle — one that even the most revered minds of our society today seem to comprehensively and spectacularly fail to grasp.

What could be missing in our society so much so that a puzzle on whose solution rests the entire long-term viability of our sovereignty remains beyond the reach of the most educated and becredentialled of our lot? I can think of one such ingredient that is key to an individual’s and even an entire society’s prospects for advancement — curiosity.

Are Filipinos a curious people?

In thinking of the answer to such a question, consider a people who could go through the last half century without even wondering at a deep enough level why they fail at every step. Could it be that we simply aren’t curious enough to try new things? Or curious enough to find merit in spending time even thinking about these things? Or at least curious as to why some societies with bigger odds stacked against them succeeded mightily?

* * *

Sometimes excellent days like this come along where events come together to reveal clear differences between the men and the boys. Today I learned that one can classify Filipinos into roughly three boxes based on the way they regard the nature of our character as a people. I’d label these boxes as follows:

1) People who deny that there is a problem

2) People who see the problem and look for solutions based on what they see

3) People who see the problem but deny the existence of solutions

Obviously most of us who either write for, comment insightfully here and in other blogs, or see Noynoy Aquino as an epitome of everything that is wrong with Pinoy politics fall within Category 2. It’s one thing to see problems. But what separates the men from the boys is the ability to see opportunity in problems. Some see the problem of the idiocy of Filipinos as an opportunity to make lots of money off them. That’s fair enough. After all, it is quite easy to sell mediocre products to people with an ingrained taste for the mediocre.

In my case, I find no particular urgency around making money off a bunch of lemmings, nor do I see any merit in going beyond my comfy means to “help out” then pitch it self-righteously to those who gawk at those efforts as some sort of noble “sacrifice” on my part. My reasons for doing what I do here are quite mundane. I, personally, first saw an opportunity way back in 2000 to hone my HTML coding skills building a website focused on a topic I happen to have a lot of stuff to say about. As I learned more about the quaint ways that Pinoys of conventional means of thinking respond and react to my views, I saw an opportunity to step up to the challenge of securing the long-term integrity of the frameworks that were crystallising in my head (and in my site) as I subjected them to the scrutiny of detractors.

The rest is history and you probably catch my drift by now. There’s is nothing particularly “noble” about what motivates me to be “benign0”. I dare say this is all just a hobby to me. But like most hobbies, it is personally rewarding. And that is primarily what I am in it for. If there is anything that remotely resembles a bigger reason why I do this, it lies mainly in the minds of people who regard what I do from an outside perspective. They may as well judge a person who spends most of his leisure time hand-restoring a car from scratch on the same grounds.

Like most other things, however, the nature of one’s motivation evolves. And as people began to come on board with me (and I with them) on the basis of shared views and principles, my motivation broadened. If I begin now to even consider what to me is a miniscule possibility that some of the stuff we write passionately about is gaining traction in our society and even changing things in small ways then I am guilty of allowing these to find their way into the scope of my motivation.

* * *

Now that my motivation has evolved from the contrarian-for-contrarian’s sake phase that characterised my early days in this thing, it does bother me now that the work that we do can be misconstrued as license to be anti-everything. There is a clear line between being critical of a situation and being dismissive of it. Being critical results in creative solutions. In contrast being dismissive simply breeds anarchists.

Take the career commentor Renato Pacifico, for example. Renato Pacifico (and some of his copycats) has not much else to say other than to emphasize that there is not much point in, well, anything (which too begs the question as to why he bothers…). I’ve once been called a “professional commentor” and therefore am in a takes-one-to-know-one position of authority to size up this guy (even before that I’ve already been marked many times as this fan blog demonstrates). So some blog owners ban characters like Pacifico and some tolerate these kinds of morons. chooses to tolerate his kind. But is there a point in debating with him? The answer to that is debatable of course just like everything else. The argument I put forth is quite simple given the short exercise I took to concluding he is anti-anything-and-everything (the following is a transcript of the messages I directed at Pacifico on the AP shoutbox):

i’m pretty much aware that ur not the kind of person who has much to lose so there is really not much in the way of making countercomments against u that can make a dent on ur pa-cool exterior.

ur style is to be anti-everything, renato. the mark of a true loser. because by being anti-everything, you put urself in a position of not having to defend any principles.

and the trouble with debating with someone like u, renato, a person who lacks any principles to defend, is that we all end up wasting time even trying.

One of the things Lee Kuan Yew implemented back when Singapore was still developing was to make it easier for ordinary Singaporeans to own their own homes. The thinking there was that if Singaporeans had a personal stake in their surroundings, they can be expected to do their individual part to be decent and civic-oriented citizens. In contrast when people see themselves as not part of something (or for that matter anything) they become the sort of people who see themselves as entitled to piss on any public wall they happen to be walking by at the time Nature beckons them to empty their bladder. The irony that escapes some morons (specially those who presume to criticise Pinoys in the one-dimensional look-at-me-i’m-an-anarchist way that they do) is that the behaviour they exhibit mirrors the same kind of pissing-on-public-property mentality they claim to loath.

Unfortunate, indeed. Being a “getrealist” it turns out is not as clear-cut as some people think it is. There will always be a square that defines an outside region that beckons us to think over there. Even “getrealism” is defined by such a square. It may be a square bigger than conventional Pinoy thinking, but that doesn’t mean that there won’t be a region that lies outside of that bigger square as well.

The challenge will always be about moving the perimeter of the square we happen to be sitting within further outwards. And having the humility to continuously seek to do so begins with being perennially curious about what lies outside the proverbial squares we inhabit.

[Image courtesy]


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16 Responses to Are Filipinos a curious people?

  1. BenK says:

    Compare the lack of curiosity you describe with the level of superstition in Pinoy society – by which I mean both the conventional “superstitions” and deep religiosity. I’m not a social scientist, so I’m not sure what the most accurate way to express the connection is, but it seems to me that the more people are willing to accept “black box” explanations, the less inquisitive and adventurous they are able to be.

  2. ChinoF says:

    Curious = usisero? 😛

    I think many Filipinos can get curious towards the wrong things. They’re more curious about who Aling Siony’s husband slept with than with planned parenthood programs. I guess we at AP have curiosity at the right directions, ’cause we’re more curious about saving the country than mere tsismis. 🙂

  3. Homer says:

    The major networks have a nasty habit of using celeb-gossip news items as “teasers” during their primetime newscasts to keep viewers from changing the channel and stay for the rest of the program. They use these teasers over and over again till the viewers realize that the news item finally comes out at the very end of the newscast after sitting through all those commercials. Like the suckers they are, they keep falling for the same gimmick…all because of their curiosity for that kind of s**t. The networks know this, and they are laughing all the way to the bank while no one questions why the news focuses less on REAL issues.

    We desperately need more minds thinking “outside the box”. Of course, I can’t speak for those who are already brainwashed by customs, traditions, superstitions, and religion. That’s another story.

    If our collective curiosity will always be limited to “who’s boinking who”, we won’t progress.

  4. benign0 says:

    Indeed, Chino, it is really the wrong things Pinoys are curious about. The posturing of the who’s who over the detail of issues that matter, for example. They rely on aggregators and encapsulators (such as the Media and demagogues) to package these ideas and issues into those neat black boxes that BenK mentioned. When people lose start to lose sight of what is IN those black boxes, those who present them can start re-labelling them with impunity as people become less inclined to question their contents.

    @ Homer: having said the above, we not only should think outside the box but also start to challenge what is IN those boxes that politicians, the media, and our revered “experts” keep pitching to us. The whole “Laban” slogan for example is one such box. We keep latching on to it without really first understanding what its substance is to begin with…

  5. A good example of this curiousity is the Philippine Media. In this country, curiousity leads to making gossips ad hearsays. People like hearing such things hence, the proliferation of cheap tabloids and tv shows where they talk about gossip for hours.

  6. Kahlil says:

    “There’s is nothing particularly “noble” about what motivates me to be “benign0″. I dare say this is all just a hobby to me. But like most hobbies, it is personally rewarding. And that is primarily what I am in it for.”

    hey everyone,

    the line above struck me and i thought maybe this is a function that is somehow missing in our culture, this desire to pursue “personally rewarding” activities. i find it alarming that this is so common to most pinoys i meet here in dubai. initially, i’d merely dismiss them as boring or uninteresting but now i’m seeing a correlation in their interest in parties, videokes, malls, shopping, TFC, Wowowee, this ceaseless congregation of barkadas and associations in lieu of forming meaningful relations with individuals. i’ve seen this behaviour in pinas in the past but it wasn’t so clear to me then. i’ve yet to form a proper opinion on this observation though. has anyone else observed this?

    • BongV says:


      now you mentioned it – yes, i have.

      a lot of fil-ams define “personally rewarding” activities as – parties, videokes, malls, shopping, TFC, Wowowee, this ceaseless congregation of barkadas and associations in lieu of forming meaningful relations with individuals. i call this “group A”

      then there are those who define “personal rewarding activities” as something that’s more intimate – smaller sized groups, individuals – going solo even – blogging, bumming on the beach, taking road trips and pausing to smell the flowers, fishing/boating, gardening, painting, play station, cooking, camping, tennis, MMA, anything out of the ordinary. – “group B”

      individuals in group A tends to get affirmations from outside sources.

      individuals in group B tend to have self-affirmations.

      • Kahlil says:


        i think you just spelled it out for me. funny how this is regarded as an extension of bayanihan here in dubai. some non-filipino friends of mine keep asking me about this, how we tend to congregate. they say its nice that we like each other so much but they always wonder why they are never invited in on the fun. silly me, i couldn’t explain it properly as i myself am a bit of an outcast by choice.

      • BongV says:

        hi kahlil:

        i think it also has something to do with the generation gap.

        the associations here have older officers (as in baby boomer generation) – and am Generation X.

        the boomers like balls, line dancing, ballroom dancing, dinner dance.

        i prefer dance parties (hiphop/r&b/80s/house).

        boomers like picnics.

        i prefer camping, hiking, biking, just chilling at the beach, fishing, boating,

        live and let live.

        and the gen X is still in the process of accumulating wealth – the boomers already have it.

        so magkaiba rin ang choices of entertainment. they like the cruises – i prefer the Black Eyed peas live concert 🙂

        the boomers like Martin and Gary –

        I’ve outgrown Martin and Gary and prefer the Symphony Orchestra.. reggae.. and other cultures.. lol

  7. benign0 says:

    @ Kahlil/BongV

    Indeed, it’s kind of a hard concept to articulate. A lot of stuff that was achieved in other more advanced societies were pursued by individuals who didn’t do it for anything more “noble” than the simple reason that it was personally rewarding for them personally.

    In Pinoy society, you get judged all the time (specially when you make critical observations about how things are) on whether or not what you do is “contributing” to the “greater good”. I mean, who’s to say that whatever one happens to be doing will or will not contribute in the bigger scheme of things?

    Did Bill Gates actually foresee how his work would one day contribute to creating employment for millions of Indians and Filipinos within their homelands? Did he foresee how the wealth he was gonna accumulate from all that would one day be used for the most massive philantropic work in human history?

    For that matter:

    Was it goals of the above nature what motivated the young Bill Gates to become the best programmer and (eventually) the cutthroat tech entrepeneur he was destined to be?

    Of course not. His motivation was primarily personal gain. He did what he did for personal reward and personal fulfilment.

    In societies like ours, it seems there is a stigma attached to doing things simply because it is personally rewarding. You can see in for example how the majority of the articles there always trumpet the subsumation of one’s personal aspirations to the “common good” — to “sacrifice” and be “selfless” and all that crap.

    To be fair, the opposite — rugged individualism (as is for the most part exhibited here in AP) — is a Western (and specifically an American) thing. But then that begs the question as to our aspirations as a nation. Most of these aspirations (standard of living, personal liberties, and the right to pursue one’s happiness) are all underpinned by that very individualism that we seem to be culturally predisposed to shirk.

    I did mention in a blurb I wrote way back

    Great nations were not built on good intentions. They were built on business sense. Real change in Pinoy society will never be achieved through the “sacrifice” of altruistic “heroes”. True change will be driven by people who find no shame in expecting a buck for their trouble.

    … or at least an ounce of personal fulfilment or reward. 🙂

    • BongV says:

      i dunno abt da pinoy – kahit personal space mo – has to be the greater good.

      dang, what i do with my personal space – as long as i don’t violate the law or do anything criminal – is my business and mine alone.

      but when asked to say contribute, volunteer, lead – kung ano anong palusot. kesyo may errand – greater good my arse.

    • benign0 says:

      Exactly. There are a lot of quiet achievers out there who probably contribute more than these moronic “heroes” that we celebrate.

      True heroes in my book are those who had the foresight to prevent or avert problems and even disasters — and remained obscure and unrecognised for their trouble.

      Those conventional heroes we celebrate got their fame because they were seen to be rectifying or “fighting” problems that could have been prevented to begin with.

      Such is life. But then only a very tiny elite truly get it. 😉

    • Kahlil says:

      when i was 7 or 8 i took to collecting rocks. i’d bring them home, clean and inspect them one by one, categorize them and keep them in a safe spot in the back of our house. i got into rocks because i was fascinated by a series of photographs of strange looking rocks i found in some book. when i was in high-school, i struck a deal with the school gang that i be accepted without initiation as long as i print their T-shirts at no cost. the ‘death’ motif was very popular back then so i drew a nasty looking skull and added a crucifix for effect. i was ecstatic when i rolled out my first design. it felt good except that i got kicked-out of school because i couldn’t pass my algebra. though i didn’t get anything out of collecting rocks, my interest in photography can be traced back to my fascination with those pictures and what i got from that gang in school was the resolve to figure out how to get things done.

      benign0, your post made me realize that most of the things i know right now i can trace back to my interest in them. i earn my living through a career based on skill sets i mastered because i wanted to and not because i wanted a career and i definitely didn’t get it from school. in school, i was mediocre at best but if there’s something i liked doing, i try it. if i get better at it, i follow through by fixing faults in what i know. is this supposed to be a special trait? i think not. i think this should be common among pinoys.

      so i came up with questions i ask myself now: is the lack of curiosity a feature of our culture or is it in the kind of education that makes a difference? is it in the environment one grows up in? does it run in the family? why is it inherent in some people and not in others? big questions, i know, and they’re driving me nuts right now.

      • benign0 says:

        @ Kahlil, glad I could help highlight or crystallise the questions in your mind. Thanks to all your comments here, I developed further my thoughts on the matter in a follow-up article Why Filipinos suck at Democracy.

        I too was into really esoteric pursuits when I was a kid. I had a fascination with ants and played with fire a lot (one of my most memorable “discoveries” was a jug of gasoline in my dad’s workshop!). I had a healthy number of friends to play with at our street, but usually an hour or two at most was enough for me to get bored and go back to these pursuits that not too many people ‘get’. 🙂

  8. Persona Non Grata says:

    Religion killed curiousity. What is there a need to study when religion has all the answer.

    “God made it so that is why the sky is blue”

  9. Zadkiel says:

    Religion was here when we became #2. it not Religion, its corruption.

    please stop barking at the wrong tree.

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