Friday, April 6, 2012

Wielding the Filipino Ego

I penned the following response to a cerebral article by Arche on Get Real Post dealing with the difficulty of finding truth. I argued that we don't need truth or facts to find meaning. Often what is missing is the construct on which to hang the facts to get at something meaningful.

Take the concept "Filipinos have big egos". That can be considered an axiom, I guess. There is no proof, and therefore no proven truth to it.

But If you ASSUME it is true, it leads to debate. Is this ego good or bad? It is good in the sense that confidence drives success; it is bad in the sense that blind confidence blocks knowledge. But in making the statement, and accepting it, one is inclined to be more aware of how one engages with others, building on the strengths of confidence and being wary of when ego is blocking knowledge. Thus opening up and becoming smarter.

That is good.

In this article, I would like to push this commentary a little further along.

The assumption is that "Filipinos have big egos". My point was that this can be good (high level of confidence) or bad (closed to outside ideas), and reflecting on it leads to good (knowledge and self improvement).

It does not matter whether the assumption is right or wrong. Reflecting on it is important. It is also true that I speak in generalities that for sure don't apply across the board to every individual. But the point is to comprehend the lesson, not calculate the statistical precision of the arguments.

I actually do personally believe Filipinos have a different, in many ways bigger, ego than we Westerners, even though we Westerners are noticeably arrogant. I think a big ego has the POTENTIAL to be very good. Depending on how that ego is wielded. How it is applied.

Confident people have big egos. They are good, and they know it.

But in the Philippines, you typically find a big ego rests on a big pile of insecurity. Onion skin sensitivity. Macho posturing. The desperate need to win in any argument, breaking every interpersonal interaction into a win/lose struggle. It's a strange concoction, big ego and insecurity.

Often the ego rests on ignorance. Lack of education, limited reading, simplistic ideas and superstition. This, too, is a strange concoction, big ego and ignorance.

The danger, of course, is that the strength of ego is used to build impermeable walls around the knowledge that exists, permitting little growth. The impermeable walls are built of excuse and blame and a shedding of responsibility for any thing at all. This wall is called "face".

The defense of face in a man is called macho, and macho rides the waves of Philippine life like so much flotsam upon a storm-beaten shore. Guns and cock fights, braggadocio dares, gangs of men acting the clown. Sex in the city and the country, birthing babies into the arms of mothers too burdened with feeding the cawing mouths to care. And the next round is begun, ego on insecurity, ego on ignorance.

The defense of face in a woman is called surviving, and feeding people, and dreaming about being a singing star.

How to break the cycle. How to break the cycle.

Introspection is banned. It is not macho. Responsibility is not permitted. It is weak. Every strength is ridiculed, for the insecure don't dare let others get ahead. If you like to read and get educated, you are condemned as a "librarian". If you are ambitious and like to work and achieve and grow more competent and wealthier, you are condemned as "Ambisyoso". If you are smart, you are ridiculed. If you are creative, you are ridiculed. If you are successful, you are ridiculed.

In other words, ego in conjunction with insecurity acts much like the three monkeys "see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil", only the monkeys also have hatchets to whack at those who can see, hear and speak well.

With this as the fundamental interpersonal environment, the central drive of the Philippines becomes decidedly negative. The weak tear down the strong and the successful. Envy roars in the burning ears of the village gossips. Jealousy and its partner revenge turn into drive-by shootings, a guy on a motorcycle. Pow! A President pushes too hard and his opponents orchestrate a coup. Here today, gone tomorrow, and the cycle goes on.

How to break the cycle. How to break the cycle.

The good ego, confidence, is fundamentally important in driving for success. You see it in the determination of laborers to slog though the day to earn their 170 pesos. You see it in the pride that emerges in hosting a good party for the relatives or during a fiesta. Yes, and you see it on the stage or in the ring or other places where Filipinos strut their stuff for an audience. Indeed, you see it in the self-assurance of crooks who are confident they can rip off someone else's money and not get caught.

There is strength in that kind of discipline and commitment and confidence.

The trick is to get it applied to innovative and productive and kind endeavors. By kind, I mean courteous, law-abiding and environmentally aware.

The schools of the Philippines are places where a different mind set ought to be formed, but they are fundamentally useless. The schools are like keeping a dog on a leash. Their authoritarian narrowness never allows for exploration, for risk-taking, for building excitement about achievement. The educators appear to have never read a book on motivation, for they certainly fail the Philippines at instilling positive applications of ego. When they permit millions of kids to graduate believing rote obedience is good and ambition is bad, they have failed.

With schools standing by as useless and archaic institutions, it falls to the internet - social networking and the enlightenment that comes with dialogue and open thinking  - to instill a new set of values among the educated future opinion leaders. To open minds to the excitement that comes with achievement, and to set aside the need to compare oneself with others as a measure of worth.

It is different, to be pleased with oneself, rather than have to look to a cheering crowd to confirm one's worth.

When Filipinos learn to wield their egos well, to expand rather than limit, they will have fun at a whole deeper and personal level. And the entire nation will rise up from the bondage of insecurity and ignorance that today constrains ingenuity, productivity and wealth-building.

Theoretically speaking, of course.


  1. GMA has shown great leadership and virtue during her tenure and Noynoy, knowing he cannot match her achievements, has made it his mission to tear her down to hide his inadequacies.

    Noynoy is a failed president.

    We need to re-elect GMA; the greatest Philippine president in our histroy.

    Only GMA can fix this country.

  2. Okie dokie. I'll be watching for that with great anticipation.

  3. *Wits

    More Filipinos still believe in self-flagellation every Good Friday.

    1. Maybe that's why some would prefer GMA return to power. Exquisite pain.

    2. *Wits


    3. And don't forget those who wish to vote Erap back into the presidency.
      We've had a good laugh those years but the joke's getting old.

  4. Mr. Ignacio, I am sorry to hear that you want GMA back in power. It seems like a lot of us still want to remain in this horrible mindset which this article so well explored. I do hope that you reflect over and at least demonstrate some maturity to the other filipinos in order to help themselves become a whole lot more responsible citizens.

    1. Good of you to visit, Marnie. I'm glad your takeaway on the article was constructive.

  5. "The assumption is that "Filipinos have big egos". My point was that this can be good "

    actually, EGO has a negative connotation. it already has embedded in it, a value judgement.

    1. Yes, you are right. For most people it has a negative connotation. But if you are in the business of psychology, you will find it described in objective psycho-medical terms not associated with dysfunctional behavior. My point is that the "hubris" attached to ego, confidence, can be positive if it propels its owner toward achievement instead of defense of weak self-esteem. Determination is applied ego, in the sense that I use it.

    2. ah, if ur talking psych, then there is no such thing as "big" ego. ego, in the field, is a technical term.

      "big ego", isnt a technical term.

      there is only one way to interpret "big ego". also, there is no such thing as a "small ego"

    3. Well, I suspect you are technically correct. In such cases, I fall back to my trusty Humpy Dumpty New World Dictionary, which permits me to define a word however I want, to make my point.

      Also am happy to see you keeping manuelbuencamino in line on Pro-Pinoy . . . on Bible interpretation. I keep trying to comment but the system evidently is putting me into the spam file.

      But nevermind. My ego can take it.

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  7. From my 3 year experience here in the Philippines, I completely agree with you. I'm surprised you were not flooded with hate mail. Because that always happens to me if I speak up about certain issues.

    1. I don't get much hate mail. I think perhaps because I have established a track record of commentary that may on occasion actually make sense. Good of you to visit.


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