- Power = ego gratification
- Face = protection against shame
- Shame = the failure of power
The same closet-minded attitude about psychotherapy existed in the U.S. in the 1950’s. But Americans, with television in front of them, began to see others openly talking about therapy and how they learned from it and grew stronger. And so, like the science of computers, the science of self-awareness spread wide and deep across the nation. Many Americans today want to understand why they behave as they do , "What makes me lose emotional control? Why am I depressed when I have so much? How can I gain confidence?"
Counseling is looked at, not as a weakness, but as a sign of sincerity and, indeed, the courage to understand, and perhaps even change, one's emotional behavior.
What do psychotherapists or full-bore psychiatrists typically try to do? They try to bridge between our emotional selves and our rational selves. The objective is to teach people to live happier, less stressful, more constructive lives, where dysfunctional behavior takes the form of excessive or inappropriate anger or fear or anxiety or sadness (depression).
I'm not qualified to offer advice that can be taken as anything but speculation and opinion. However, you may be able to use your own observations to confirm the merit of what I express here.
The Preservation of Face
How are Filipinos different from most Americans? For one thing, Filipinos seem to operate on a very different interpersonal framework. The Filipino framework is characterized by preservation of “face”, where face is the positive side of self esteem or high regard for oneself. The negative side is loss of face. Or shame.
But the character of face in the Philippines seems more self-involved than that found in, say, Japan. In Japan, face is an explicit value that incorporates taking care of others as a primary value. In the Philippines, face is an explicit value that is focused mainly on taking care of oneself.
The Japanese excel in courtesy; they are meticulously polite on the outside. Inside may be a different dialogue entirely; it may or may not correspond with the politeness shown to others.
Filipinos do not appear to be so duplicitous. Indeed, I would guess that most outsiders find Filipinos to be excessively pointed and even rude. Maybe this is more honest than the Japanese inter-personal behavior. But it is not wholly good. Filipinos prize power. Courtesy is read by many to be a weakness. Soft. Non-macho. Something to be taken advantage of. And so emerge two of the most common outsider complaints about Filipinos: (1) rude, and (2) not trustworthy.
So it would seem that courtesy and the concern about others, even the well-being of community, do not drive personal interactions in the Philippines. Self-enhancement and power do. That's why laws are routinely ignored and little is done to improve sanitation.
What's in it for me?
If the concept of face between Japan and the Philippines is very different, Americans are even more unusual for having a very subdued sense of face. Indeed, the American arrogance that Filipinos and citizens of other countries complain about is a function of behavior without shame. Even if Americans are shown to be wrong, they don't exhibit shame. Therefore they project arrogance to those who are shame-based.
Americans operate on the principle that objectivity, acceptance of responsibility, and confidence are important. Saving or building face is not an explicit value for most Americans. Indeed, the healthy view taught by psychotherapists is that we ought to accept responsibility for our acts rather than find excuses or blame others for problems. And we need not try too hard to impress others, for that reflects a neediness for their approval that is not healthy. That is why so many educated Americans actively manage their emotional well-being with rational introspection, rather than hang their self-worth on face that can be given or taken away by others.
Power as Currency
How else is the Philippines different? Here's one way. Whereas the Americans social fabric seems to support the accumulation of "things" (homes, cars, electronics, furniture, clothing), the Philippine social fabric seems to support the accumulation of power.
The Philippines is comparatively poor. Most people can't spend lavishly to acquire things. But everyone can acquire something different that costs little money. They can acquire interpersonal power. And it seems to me that Filipinos seek to acquire and project power in everything they do. Indeed, as I've written elsewhere, just about all interpersonal interactions in the Philippines are binary, 1 or 0, powerful or powerless. Win or lose. Dominant or submissive.
The exercise of power is what pushes the "trade of favors" that generates small scale corruption (an LTO officer taking payment for expediting an application) to large scale corruption (kickbacks on multi-million peso construction projects). The more power a person accumulates, the more favors he can grant and receive. And the richer he becomes. Thus, power, as the means of acquiring wealth, is actually more important as a currency than the pesos themselves.
I suspect the power-dealing is not a conscious thing most of the time. It is built into the personality, the morality, the culture, of the Philippines. Filipinos are intuitive readers of power, their own and whomever they are facing.
The outsider does not grasp this right away. Indeed, outsiders may come to the conclusion that Filipinos are rude. But they aren’t, from within the bubble of Philippine society. Filipinos are just going about their business claiming and conceding to power as the situation requires.
What are some instances?
One of the rules of acquiring power is to get there first. This applies to the intersection or the ATM or the line at the supermarket. Only one person has power, the one in front, and he is not afraid to use it. He need not hurry. He need not care about the powerless behind him. He rules.
Another way to acquire power is to get a gun. There is a reason murder is a common occurrence in the Philippines during elections or business disputes or marital disputes or to get rid of an irritating journalist.
You have power if you are a bank manager or a doctor or a government office worker who has what common people need. Therefore, you need not be polite. You need not set appointments or even be particularly good at what you do. You have the power, and that is what counts.
Morality is not what counts; right and wrong are largely irrelevant and courtesy is largely irrelevant. The power is what counts. And sometimes it is wrapped up in that strong defense of face mentioned above.
Power. It is more intoxicating than drugs or alcohol.
Power is as sublime as a backbiting neighbor's catty gossip. "Oh, the wife of the American is a prostitute."
Such remarks have the wonderful ability to cut two slices at once, raising the esteem of the person making the remark and cutting down the person who is the object of the remark. It is power and it is everywhere in the Philippines, sly little digs and criticisms.
"Why did you build your house so big?"
"Why did you build your house so small?"
No matter that it is the same house. Because the question is not really about the house at all, it is about raising the power of the person asking it to the level of higher critic.
It is a small thing, really. Except it is everywhere, in every conversation, a fine patina that overlays Philippine interpersonal dynamics like butter over popcorn. This overlay is the need to project a higher mind, to win, and to avoid the shame of losing.
That's why in blog debates between commenters, you seldom see flexibility or concession. It signifies weakness. Disagreements are two bricks whacking at one another. Solution is not the goal. Preservation of face, and power, are the goals.
The "so what" factor is that the healthiest society is one that deals forthrightly rather than wages power battles sublimely or under the cover of protected face. Power battles create winners and losers. Forthright dealings create only winners.
Filipinos are actually aware of the SYMPTOMS of their power-mongering. They recognize this in the behavior of supposedly educated Senator Sotto justifying his plagiarisms, or in the rice worker blaming others for his crop failure. Face it, the Philippines is at its most dysfunctional self when problem solving and good acts are set aside in favor of blames and excuses and playing the victim.
Most Filipinos are not able to accept mistakes as a normal part of the risks of being human. Face rules. Power as currency reigns supreme. Filipinos deny the value of "trial and error" as scientific method in daily life. They instead waste energy defending, covering, ducking, running, attacking, undermining, dodging and digging at others.
I tend to see the internet, blogging and social networks as being, for the Philippines, much as television was to America. A medium for enlightenment. I read both very healthy and very unhealthy arguments in the comments that people make online. And I sense that most intelligent Filipinos are grasping this notion that forthright is best.
It is a natural progression that healthy should win out, for it is best for the survival of the community, and the species.
We would do more to ensure survival and vibrancy of the Philippines if we did what we can do to accelerate this enlightenment.
Like put it into the schools, you dig?