Is Assertiveness Valued in Filipino Culture?
How many times have we been put in a spot because we wanted to please someone else – because we did not assert ourselves? A lot of us Pinoys are, by virtue of being “the most hospitable nation in Asia” often interpret this as a license to become Asia’s doormats. We become ninong, ninang to our “wards” who call us “bossing”, “boss”, “boss-chief” and all the endearments that come with being the proverbial boss-man. But that can be a double-edged sword because the privilege of being called “boss-man” comes with “responsibilities”. We say “YES” for a lot of reasons – but are we saying YES for the right reasons?
We Say “YES” To Uphold “Amor Propio”
By saying “yes” nearly all the time, we also become enablers to the a libre me this a libre me that culture. We become mini-padrinos just like the trapos who “dispense” favors to their constitutent. In the process we get into a whole lot of trouble in order to meet the obligations of the role we said yes to, lest our amor propio be under question.
“Amor propio” is Spanish word which means self –love; a sense of self-esteem or self respect that prevents a person from swallowing his pride. It includes sensitivity to personal insult or affront. A slight remark or offensive gesture, though insulting, would not trigger a sense of “amor propio”. The stimulus that sets it off is only that which strikes at the Filipino’s most highly valued attributes. For example, an abandoned wife will refuse to seek financial support from a husband who has abandoned her no matter how financially destitute she is on this principle. Amor propio in short means ego defensiveness, dignity or one’s personal pride akin to the traditional oriental attitude of having ‘face’.
In Philippine society, building up one’s self-esteem is essential, and to this end amor propio in all respect reinforces the Filipino trait “hiya”.
To damage another person’s amor-propio is to invite conflict, even violence; a Filipino is prevented by “hiya” from placing a person’s self-esteem in jeopardy For example, a bride who stoods up a groom in the altar places the latter’s “amor propio” at risk and could lead to a conflict between the families of both.
A person whose breach of conduct, such as the bride in the above example, is deemed to have lost him self-esteem or “amor-propio” may receive the judgment: ‘Basang basa ang papel niyan sa amin’. (’His public image is shattered with us.’) A literal translation makes reference to one’s ‘paper’ being ‘wet’, allusions to ‘image’ being presented before the public being ‘all wet’. Her act is said to be “nakaka-hiya” or shameful.
Unlike in the West where there is only wrong and right and a person only needs to feel guilty if he is wrong, hiya operates even when the person is absolutely right and the other person wrong. This is because of the Filipino interaction between “hiya” and “amor propio” . Like for example, a person may hesitate to collect a long overdue financial debt or item borrowed because to raise the matter face to face may place a person’s amor-propio at risk and can cause the latter to flare up. Public confrontation can lead to violence. Filipinos avoiding open confict as matter of amor-propio and honour.
Now if you are wondering why a Filipino hesitates to bring up a problem, or point out that “your slip is showing”, or call your attention to an anomalous situation, remember that it is hiya in operation. Filipinos feel uneasy if they are instrumental in making waves, rocking the boat and exposing someone’s volatile amor-propio to injury.
To avoid further confrontation and damage to one’s “amor propio”, the best solution one can resort to is to get a “go between”.
http://www.western-asian.com/filipino-qamor-propioq, Accessed: 05/23/2010
How many times have we said “Yes” or kept mum to corruption because of the amor propios of the parties involved?
We also say say “YES” a lot of times because we don’t to offend others
In order not to cause a personal affront to others who made the request, we say YES. In evading to cause a perceived discomfort to some one else, we cause the discomfort on ourself. This is an emotional baggage which can be carried as a “sacrifice” which in due time in the future can be used as a bargaining chip to gain a favor – clever. Or, we don’t want our “reputation” to lose points if we turn an offer down. Both of said behaviors are driven by another value – hiya.
The Value of Shame (“Hiya”) to Filipinos
Filipinos are very sensitive to personal affront. They try, as much as possible, to avoid feeling “hiya”, a painful emotion or deep shame arising from a realization of having failed to live up to the standards of the society such as a breach of social norms. It is a kind of anxiety, a fear of being left exposed, unprotected and unaccepted. It is a fear of being shunned by society, being subjected to which would mean humiliation of oneself.
“Hiya” is the value that regulates the Filipinos social behavior. Just as one is very careful not to be subjected to embarrassment or “mapahiya” one must also make it a point not to cause another person’s embarassment. For example, in asking favor, both parties are careful not to offend the other. So if a favor cannot be granted, the person who cannot oblige apologizes for his failure to do so with an explanation that it is not his intention to refuse but that other factors beyond his control keep him from doing so.
It is the currency applied within the society, controlling and motivating a person’s social behavior; the reason why a vast majority of Filipinos still remain conservative in their actions in this modern age. Everyone is expected to have hiya in the way they behave in order to win respect from the community. Dressing and living up to your word are good ways avoiding “hiya”.
Public ridicule, or to be censured openly, or to fail to do what is expected of one, is to suffer hiya, a loss of self-esteem. Inversely, not to feel one has acted improperly or to continue to behave in a manner disapproved by the community, is to be without “hiya”. This label automatically results in withdrawal of acceptance within one’s group, if not the entire community. It is a rather difficult word that to be charged with not having this sense of hiya is regarded as a grave social sin, for one to be called “walang hiya” is an ultimate insult.
Hiya is a controlling element in the Filipino society. A person’s behaviour is restricted by his sense of “hiya” while public behaviour is censured, or approved of, by hiya. For example, an employee would refrain from asking questions from his supervisor even if he is not quite sure what to do because of hiya; a party host may end up spending more than she can afford for a party, driven by hiya, a fear of being perceived in a negative way.
One’s self-esteem goes up and down, depending on the value you place on your own hiya in public. Like an employee dismissed from his job may react violently because of “hiya” or a workmate may not openly disagree with you even if he feels strongly against your opinion out of “hiya”.
This concept would be meaningless to a westerner who values individualism and non-conformism may because his behavior is controlled more by individual sense of guilt and less by group censure. To a Filipino, to lose the support of his kinsmen is to become a social outcast.
http://www.western-asian.com/value-of-shame-qhiyaq, Accessed 05/23/2010
How many Pinoys have kept their mouths shut to corruption para walang mapahiya (so as not to cause a personal affront) ?
We Say “Yes” Because of “Pakikisama”
A lot of times, we say yes out of peer pressure, or social pressure to conform. How many times have we said yes after being told “makisama ka naman”, or “walang pakisama”? How many in the workplace have kept their mouths shut to the corruption out of “pakikisama”?
|The Art of Filipino Togetherness: “Pakikisama”
To Filipinos, “pakikisama” is a very important trait. “Pakikisama” is the ability of a person to get along with others to maintain good and harmonious relationships. It implies camaraderie and togetherness in a group and the cause of one’s being socially accepted. “Pakikisama” requires someone yielding to group opinion, pressuring him to do what he can for the advancement of his group, sacrificing individual welfare for the general welfare.
A person who has become successful in his field has to be very careful not to neglect his friends lest they accuse him of becoming very proud and considering them no longer worthy of his friendship. This is why there is so much warmth, backslapping and handshaking when Filipinos meet. The best compliment that a Filipino can say to another is that he hasn’t changed ( “hindi nagbabago”), meaning he still remains the person that he was socially accepted as. Conversely, one of the worst things that can be said of a person is that he has changed a lot which means has forgotten how to get along well with others/them thus making him socially unacceptable.
If given a choice between an employee who is very good in his job but had no “pakikisama” and therefore could not get along with the others and another who did not know his job but understood “pakikisama”, employers and co-workers alike would prefer the unskilled employee. Without “pakikisama” a worker, even if skilled, was considered worthless and might even in the future cause more harm than good to a business or a group.
Another reflection would be a politician who does not know how to get along with his constituents would very much likely lose in the next election. A personality of a Filipino is greatly measured by the way they get along with others.
http://www.western-asian.com/pakikisama, Accessed 05/23/2010
We Say Yes Because of Utang Na Loob
We also “YES” a lot out of “utang na loob”. The problem is we get to say more YESes than we’d like to. A lot of the horsetrading in our politics and in the workplace is based on “utang na loob”. A lot of crooks are able to get away because of “utang na loob”. We say “YES” to crime and corruption because of “utang na loob”.
|Reciprocity and The Concept of Filipino “Utang na Loob ”
Because of the interdependent society of the Philippines, interpersonal relations revolve, to a large extent, around the granting and receiving of favors. Reciprocity has developed in order to keep interpersonal relationships “smooth.”
What I mean by reciprocity is that every service received, whether solicited or not, demands a return determined by the relative status of the parties involved. To Filipinos, reciprocity could be two things:
1. Contractual- whereby two or more persons enter into a contract regarding the performance of something. This could be either a written or an oral contract. What matters is that the parties have agreed and the amount and form of performance are established beforehand. Both parties know what is expected of him and what he may expect of other. For example, upon completion of the work, a handyman is paid the agreed amount and the reciprocal relationship is terminated. There is a very little or no sentiment or emotion involved in this kind of relationship.
2. “Utang-na-loob”- Gratitude is highly valued in the Philippine society. A Filipino should at all times be aware of his obligation to those from whom he receives favors and should repay them in an acceptable manner. “Utang na loob” invariably stems from a service rendered which is impossible of quantification even though a material gift may be involved. Here, one of the parties does not expect to be paid back. The degree of debt of gratitude depends to a large extent on the favor received. For instance, if a nearly dying patient was cured by a doctor and survives the family of that patient will forever be indebted to the doctor. “Utang na loob ” in this instance is unquantifiable as there is nothing more important to a person than his life and that of his family. A child is indebted to his parents for his life and is considered ungrateful, ” walang utang na loob” (ungrateful) if he fails to care for them in their old age. We have a Filipino saying ” Ang hindi marunong lumingon sa pinanggalingan, hindi makararating as paroroonan (He who does not look back to the place he has been to will not get to where he is going).”
A Filipino who is a recipient of a favor shows his gratitude by returning the favor “with interest” to be sure that he does not remain in the other person’s debt and he would feel “shamed” “napapahiya” if this token of gratitude is not received. To refuse a token of gratitude would make one feel that his gift is not good enough or interprets it as a sign that the other party wants to end their relationship. For example, when a person was helped by someone secure a public office, the recipient will naturally feel grateful and try to find a way to repay the former for his help. So when this person comes to him for a for by virtue of that office, he is expected to grant this new favor an much more in order for him not to remain indebted to the former. If he is able to help him back, say, secure a government contract, “utang na loob ” is deemed offset. If the person in office refuses, the other person will feel very offended and takes it as a cue to end their relationship.
However, debts of gratitude, big or small, cannot really be paid at all, as shown in another Tagalog saying: ” Ang utang na loob, napakaliit man, utang at utang din kahit mabayaran. Sa pakitang loob at tapat na damay ay walang sukat maitimbang (A favor, no matter how small, is a debt we must never forget since no money can ever fully repay it).”
A person who continues to ask for favors cannot presume that the other party doesn’t want to ask him future favors. If he does, he is deemed as “walang pakiramdam” (literally translated means “no feeling” i.e., callous) or “makapal ang mukha ” (”thick faced’,’ i.e., shameless).
The Filipino cannot run his office as impersonally as the Westerner. In many offices, one usually gets the impression that when he gets his papers processed, for example, a favor has been done for him. It is not unusual, therefore, for people who have received such “favors” to feel that they should offer a “reward’.’ These rewards may take the form of, say, fruits and vegetables, eggs, a sack of rice, etc. and are given at a “decent” time, i.e., not too soon after the favor has been received. Giving money as a payment for a favors however, is usually considered insulting. Where a Westerner would simply write a “thank you” note for a favor received and consider his ”debt” paid, the Filipino does not write such a note but considers himself indebted and waits for a chance to return the favor.
To illustrate the difference between “utang na loob ” and another Filipino trait “pakikisama”, the latter is more like the “I owe you one” scenes in Hollywood movies which presupposes repayment of a debt on request. “Utang na loob” is more intricate and far-reaching because one is expected to repay the favour with interest, and the fact that one’s obligation is not readily quantified creates an escalating cycle of “utang na loob”, weaving a highly complex fabric of interdependence.
In the circle of Filipino relationships every Filipino is deemed to have “utang na loob” to someone, while others have “utang na loob” to him. In effect, “utang na loob” binds a group together.
A foreigner is best warned before entering in this web of reciprocal obligations, as even Filipinos are careful about getting themselves in someone’s debt. On the other hand, it is important to understand the concept of “utang no loob” because a lack of awareness thereof can cause serious errors of judgment. For example, a businessman will find that an employee who is less skilled at work and does not appear as conscientious, but who has connections in government positions and among business clients may still be considered a very good asset because he obviously has built up a bank of “utang na loob” which he can call upon when needed.
The political system, from barrio level to national machinery functions blissfully, largely on “utang na loob”, despite contradictions from the principles and tenets of the Western political model established in the Philippines. The Western model expects the political system to be determined by ‘issues’, but “utang na loob” has a stronger pull. Filipino politicians utilize political patronage in exchange for votes at election time, thus introducing the Filipino “utang na loob” element into a Western political system. The contradiction between the basic Filipino dynamics of power involving such aspects as “utang na loob” and the theory of democratic elections from the West makes up volatile and footloose political system of the Philippines.
Many historians and political analysts claim that the Filipino leaders had been placed in a disadvantageous position in negotiations between the United States and the Philippines after World War II because Filipino leaders acted under a sense of “utang na loob” for the American ‘liberation’ of the Philippines from Japan. Thus, the onerous US parity rights inserted in the Philippine constitution and the re-establishment of US military bases were disproportionate concessions given out of a feeling of obligation to repay “utang na loob” .
Therefore, one must be aware that in some diluted form or even intact in some tiny corner, “utang na loob” as well as “hiya” and “amor-propio” are could ambush an unwary person. Smooth interpersonal relations with heavy doses of euphemisms and “pakikisama” always come into play.
http://www.western-asian.com/utang-na-loob, Accessed 05/23/2010
We Say “Yes” Due to the Intercession of Go-Betweens
Oftentimes, despite having said “No”, the more dogged ones use go-betweens – a relative, a close friend, a boss to get their way. At times, we get an invitation we cannot refuse. Clearly, be very careful on owing favors, specially the ones that can never be repaid or people who don’t treat favors as being repaid ever.
|Importance of “Go-betweens” in the Filipino Society
Because of the inter-play between “hiya” and “amor propio”, face to face situations are delicately handled. An intermediary or “go-between” (locally termed as “padrino”) is needed to defuse the situation. The “go-between” makes it possible to raise matters that may have caused a person’s “hiya” or embarrassment. The person addressed by the go-between has the prerogative to turn down the request, or contradict the charges and explain his side without fear that he is threatening the amor propio of the petitioner.
For example, a simple request for a job placement from a friend/family is fraught with “amor propio” elements, since to say a person is not qualified may wound that person’s “amor propio” and cause “hiya” for having presumed that he can do the job and for having aspired for it; rejection of an application creates an awkward situation for both the applicant and the person who has to turn him down. This is much harder when the other element of Filipino society such as kinship comes in. “Amor propio” would be more wounded if the person who turned down the request is, say, a relative or a friend. In this situation, the job of the third person is to convey the request, in which case the person from whom the job is solicited will feel free to say no gracefully, rejection is taken in better grace when explained by the intermediary.
A “go-between” is often used by a young man to know whether the lady he is courting likes him as well. As we say, the way to a Filipina’s heart is through her best friend, or a cousin. Because of “hiya” and “amor propio”, face to face confrontations are very much discouraged which makes the “go-between” indispensable. This is also inculcated within the Filipino family. Children approaches the mother over a grievance or disciplinary problems involving the father. A grandmother, aunt, sister, or brother may all serve as intermediaries over inter-family differences.
In business dealings with Filipinos, it is only practical for business executives to be warned that the Filipino values of “hiya” and “amor propio” is often the cause of much misunderstanding. Filipinos have a high sense of personal dignity. To a Filipino, dignity and honor is everything, so that the wounding of them, whether real or imaginary is considered a challenge to his manhood. He respects other people and he expects other people to respect him as well. Often conflicts between a foreign superior and a Filipino subordinate is founded on a disregard on the one hand, and a sacred regard on the other of individual dignity.
Go-betweens are also used in business affairs, government transactions and dealing with officialdom. A good though perverse example would be the “fixers” that hangs around in public offices offering assistance for a fee. The Philippine society need for better Smooth Interpersonal Relationship (SlR). The “go-between practice” revolves around “hiya” and “amor-propio”, a matter of the highly sensitive self-esteem.
http://www.western-asian.com/importance-of-go-betweens-, Accessed 05/23/2010
Pinoy Culture is Stacked Against Assertiveness
The preceding sections show that amor propio, hiya, pakikisama, utang na loob and go-betweens work against assertiveness. In general, Filipino culture is predisposed to be conformist instead of individualist/assertive.
The problem is – this conformist attitude can cause a lot of strain. Saying yes for the sake of saying yes, without thinking through whether “YES” is the correct answer can cause complications. For example, out of “pakikisama”, one says “YES” to attend a picnic BUT does not show up because of prior forgoteen engagements. The correct answer should have been “NO, let me think about it”.
It is OKAY to Say NO. It Is Okay. To be Assertive
There are strategies of saying “NO” without feeling bad about yourself. Remember, you are also sending a message that you value your decision, your time, your money, and your self. This means you will not commit to overload yourself leading to continuously missed deadlines, slippage in quality of work, and engaging in activities you do not enjoy doing.
Yo don’t have to say “NO” to everything that comes your way. It’s also important to know what’s on your plate, how much more you can take on, and whether a request fits your priorities. Do not cave in if you don’t want to say “YES”. Here are some strategies suggested by Leo Babauta
|8 ESSENTIAL STRATEGIES TO SAYING NO
1. Try saying “yes” first. This may sound counterintuitive, but I think of it as a form of mental judo. You say “yes” to the request (assuming you want to do it but don’t have the time to do it now), and then do one of two things: 1) you say “Sure, but I am swamped right now — can you get back to me on this in a month or so? I don’t want to commit to it unless I can actually do a great job on it.” or 2) you say “Sure, but can you do x, y and z first, so we can analyze if this is going to work before we set it into action?” In both cases, you are not turning them down outright, but are putting the action back in their court. I think you should only say these things if you are sincere about wanting to do it, but can’t do it right now. This takes the burden of action off of you for the moment, without having to actually say no.
2. Know your commitments. In order to know when to say no, you need to know what’s on your plate. You should have a running list of all your current projects/assignments, as well as an action task list, made up not of projects but of concrete action steps you need to complete in the next week or so. Once you see this list of all your commitments, you can decide whether the request can fit into your schedule, and if it’s of high enough priority to place on your list of commitments. Guard that list carefully, and only add stuff on there if they are essential.
3. Value your time. One reason a lot of people can’t say no is that they (subconsciously, perhaps) feel that their time is not as valuable as someone else’s time. For example, if someone asks you to do something that they could easily do themselves, and you say yes, you are in effect saying that their time is more valuable than yours — or else why would you do it instead of them? Learn to value your time — you only have a finite amount of it, and it’s perhaps your most valuable asset — and learn to show others that you value it by not taking on requests that don’t actually need to be done by you.
4. Defer. Similar to Strategy 1, this strategy calls for you not to actually decide on something, and not to say yes or no, but to ask the requester to ask you later. For example, you might say, “My plate is really full right now. Could you ping me in two weeks on this?” If the requester is good, they’ll put a reminder in their calendar to ping you in two weeks. If not, they might forget about it. Sometimes, if you defer twice in a row, the other person will give up. But it’s not good to defer too many times on a single request, as it makes you look bad. After two deferrals, on the third request, you should give a definite answer.
5. Be polite, but firm. One mistake a lot of people make is being too nice, and too wishy-washy. They might say no but make it sound like they are wavering. If you respond like that, a strong person will continue to press that request until you say yes, because they think there’s a chance you are going to change your mind. You have to make it clear, if you say no, that you’re not going to change your mind. But don’t be rude about it. A simple, “No, I just can’t right now” will suffice.
6. Pre-empt. If you think that a request is likely to be made, it’s easier to tell people you’re busy before the request is actually made. If you’re meeting with someone, you could say something like, “Before we get started, I have to let you know that my schedule is booked solid for a month, so I won’t be taking on any new projects for at least 30 days.” That will warn the person about to make a request, and they cannot blame you if you say no to a request.
7. “I’d love to, but”. Similar to Strategy 1, this strategy sends the message that this sounds like a great project to you, but you just can’t because of your schedule or other commitments. If the project sounds genuinely interesting, I’ll often say something like, “That sounds like a great project, and I wish I could be a part of it.” I’ll also suggest alternatives if possible, giving the person other people or ideas that might work. Some people will actually appreciate this kind of rejection, as it helps them out.
8. Never say you’re sorry. Again, you have to respect your time. If you apologize, you are sending the message that you are doing something wrong by saying no, that somehow you don’t have a strong right to say no. It’s very tempting to apologize, I know. We often say things like, “I’m sorry, but …” or “I wish I could, I’m so sorry” just because we’re uncomfortable giving an outright no. But again, you are sending the wrong message. See Strategy 5 for a better approach.
It is not UN-FILIPINO to Say NO and Be Assertive
How often have you been told that you are so “pang hindi Pinoy” if you are not “pakisama”. Or that you are “walang utang na loob” if you turn down a request for questionable favor? Do you want to keep on hearing that, or do you want to try something different?
We can’t wait for the horse trading of the trapos to stop, or the unending “utang na loob” of the oligarchy, or for our co-workers to develop “hiya”
Well, don’t feel bad about doing the right thing. Assertiveness is the ability to formulate and communicate one’s own thoughts, opinions and wishes in a clear, direct and non-aggressive way.
It’s not Un-Filipino to be assertive.
It’s not Un-Filipino to say “NO”
Assertiveness has a long way to go in the pantheon of Filipino values. But we have to start somewhere. We can start now.
Stop being a human doormat. Do not say “yes” when you mean “no”. Express yourself – do not keep your opinions to yourself for fear of beginning an argument- stand up for yourself as much as you should.