Sunday, May 22, 2011

Confidence as Weakness

One of the characteristics that sets Filipinos apart from other cultures, which can be seen as weakness or strength, is a durable sense of self. I have no statistics to back it up, but my guess is that Americans have more insecurities than Filipinos. A lot. It is the result of all the introspection that is done by Americans, the self-critiques that drive self-improvement but also makes for self-doubt.

Filipinos are high on themselves, as Ilda pointed out in her Get Real Post article that reported survey results showing that 48% of Filipino men believe they are sexually attractive, making them the most narcissistic men in all of Asia.

This self-appreciation is weakness if it evokes an onion skin sensitivity that rejects criticism and forms an inherent blindness against the agitations and tensions that produce growth. It is strength when it is combined with skills and discipline, as in the case of Manny Pacquiao who is skilled and disciplined at boxing, or Cristeta Comerford, US President Obama’s chef, who is skilled and disciplined at managing cookery, or Charise who is skilled and disciplined at entertaining.

Too many Filipinos exercise their durable sense of self without any skills or discipline attached, and that produces pollution, overbearing poverty, houses built on slippery slopes, poor response to typhoons, and a weak economy without any industrial strength: a lackluster tourist effort that tries to paint a glow on dead coral, trashy beaches and rebel-infested mountains; weak mining and forestry management that can’t get out from under corruption and poor industrial practices; trade that is bogged down in Customs taxes and nightmare paperwork; and fishing and farming that are managed as workplaces for the indigent rather than globally competitive industries.

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. You can explain to a Filipino the importance of developing skills, but you can’t make him skilled. Especially if the educational system is weak, the societal umbrella is warped by favoritism instead of a premium on competence, and there are too many bodies fighting for too few substantive jobs.

You can’t develop skills if that durable sense of self blocks self awareness. Coach Roach gave Manny the self-awareness that to be a truly top-flight fighter, he needed to combine his raw athletic talent and toughness with skill and discipline. He needed to develop the ability to fight with left and right hand power. He needed to learn the technique of stepping 90 degrees to the opponent’s right and clocking him with a right cross that he can’t even see. He needed to develop the discipline to send his party-hearty friends packing when he needed to train 100%.

The primary need of the Philippines is not a President who is a hero, or more foreign investment. It is the self-awareness that “I need skills”, in business management, or technology, or language, or diplomacy, or the disciplines I exhibit in my daily life. A skilled person would not accept stray dogs on the highway killing motorcyclists, or pollution that gives people cancer, or running agriculture as farming instead of agribusiness, or hiring cousins and classmates instead of competent people, or arriving late for anything.

Self confidence is great if it is attached to skills and discipline. Otherwise, it is just the Philippines as we see it now.


  1. I think you overlooked the problems with global overfishing. Marine protected areas in the Philippines is one of the things we should be proud of and many can learn from. Overfishing can destroy ecosystems and the MPAs in the Philippines can provide sustainable sources for impoverished coastal communities.

  2. I lived for a time on Gingoog Bay on the north side of Mindanao. The Bay could have been a natural spawning ground for the seas, as thousands of fingerlings were hatched in the tidal ponds on my property. But the fingerlings were scooped up for sale to fish ponds and the bay was fished to desert. Then fish cages were brought in, bringing pollution to the bay and destroying it as a place to swim and feel good.

    I know there are some places where fishing is managed, and the US is engaged in some of these projects. But I think, far and wide, fishing is a subsistence industry that is not managed, and dynamite is still a problem.

    A local fisherman at Gingoog (he uses small netting that scooped up large and small fish) and I would argue. He had seven kids, and he would ask, "you want me to become a thief to eat"? I think that attitude is very common.


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