OK, I’ll be the first to admit that no one likes their culture being examined too closely – especially when it is being done by a pretty clueless outsider. Americans in particular, get a little peeved when foreigners comment on things that are going on within American society. But, if we are going to come to a better understanding of where and who we are, we have to take a look at what is going on around us. I, for one, find Filipino culture and psychology to be rather fascinating – examining the history and the people that made contemporary society what it is today. And for us foreigners, I think it is extremely important to look at some of the undercurrents affecting the culture so that we can better understand why Filipinos do the things they do. More importantly, it can help us to avoid some of the mistakes we inevitably make in relating to the interpersonal communication and expectations that occur in Filipino society. God knows I’ve made my share and will – most likely – continue to do so as I blunder along trying to figure out the who, what and why of how things work here.
I also don’t want people to think that I am being critical of the culture or that I really even know about what I am talking about. (Don’t evah make that mistake!) Most of what follows was collated through printed research, anecdotal reference and my own experiences in country. Some of it might be right – some of it might be wrong. And if I am wrong – or if you have something to add – feel free to leave it in the comment section. All input is appreciated!
So with out any further ado, lets take a look at amor propio and the role it takes in Filipino society.
In a previous article, we looked at hiya (shame/embarrassment) and the role that it plays in Filipino culture, specifically that of social communication. In the blog entry, we are going to examine the concept of amor propio, an aspect that complements hiya and adds to the complicated intricacies of Filipino interpersonal relationships.
What it Is
Amor propio best translates as “self love.” Although coming from the Spanish, it is actually a concept that predated the Spanish occupation. On the surface, it can be seen as a sense of self worth and/or self respect. In western terms it can loosely related to the cultivation and maintenance of ego. Failing to provide proper hospitality, passionlessly accepting criticism, admitting wrong, or pointing out that someone has toilet paper on their shoe are all considered violations of amor propio – the first two a violation of self, and the latter being a violation of another persons. Building on what we talked about earlier, such transgressions of self-worth can contribute to hiya – a pronounced sense of shame or embarrassment.
Who Is Affected
Amor propio has an effect on nearly every person living within the Philippines. Although it’s not actually discussed openly – younger Filipinos might not even know what it actually is – amor propio is still an integral part of the society and plays a big part in relationships. People will often cite the need to be non-confrontational in the Philippines when it comes to addressing issues with others. Most assume that this is just a symptom of the “passive” nature of the Filipino people, but it actually stems from the need to not offend another person’s sense of amor propio and bring on a sense of hiya/shame. When Filipinos typically have issues with each other, they will usually resort to an intermediary to mediate the dispute. On a local level, the barnagay (local district) captain often steps into the role of mediator, communicating the grievances and assisting the parties in seeking some sort of resolution to the issue at hand.
A recent example of the slurring of the national amor propio, can be seen in the “Twenty Things I Dislike About the Philippines” video done by Jimmy Sieczka. Jimmy’s expletive-laden tirade garnered the attention of the Philippine consciousness and ultimately led to him being declared persona non grata by the Cebu city council. He later went on to apologize and explain himself, but the damage had already been done. And although You Tube has pulled down the video, you still might be able to see it here:
Note that even though most (if not all) the things he notes are actually true, it still resulted in him being attacked on all sides. This level of amor propio can even be seen in contemporary libel and slander laws in the Philippines, in which someone can be held civilly culpable for “defamation of character” even if the allegations are completely and objectively true!
Give Filipinos a Way Out
When dealing with people, it’s important to keep the concepts of amor propio and hiya in mind. Even if it’s a situation in which you are in the right and the other person is completely wrong, always try to give them a way out.
Here’s a few examples:
“Sorry, sir – that is out of stock.”
Avoid: “What do you mean it’s out of stock – I see it right there!”
Instead: “Oh, you probably didn’t notice, but I think what I am looking for is right there…”
Someone cuts in front of you:
Avoid: “Hey, jerkface – What, you don’t see me here??”
Instead: “Excuse me sir, you probably didn’t see me waiting in the line….”
Negative Effects of Amor Propio
Now, with all of this in mind, lets take a look at some of the effects that amor propio and hiya/shame have on the culture.
Responsibility/Blame: Amor propio/hiya can get in the way of folks constructively taking responsibility for their actions. On a personal level, it can take the form of people not apologizing even if they were completely in the wrong or even a tendency to blame others for the offense. Pride is an aspect of amor propio, and an example of it in action is a woman refusing support from an ex-husband even though she might desperately need the money. Another, more simplistic example, can be see in someone not wanting to let another person know that they have toilet paper on their shoe – for fear of offending that person’s sense of amor propio and bringing on a sense of shame.
Lying: Yes, outright lies. Filipinos are not overly fond of saying “no” and therefore a “yes” you received earlier in the day might not actually pan out. Frustrating? Yes, but simply a part of living here. If a house helper is caught stealing, they will likewise deny all culpability, not just to avoid prosecution but to avoid the shame that would accompany such an admission. Not to long ago, a friend of ours walked out to his truck only to find a few Filipinos trying to steal his battery. He chased them and was able to flag down a police officer which resulted in their instant apprehension. Brought back to the scene of the crime, the would-be battery nappers denied all responsibility for the crime with wide-eyed sincerity.
Submission to Authority: This can be most clearly seen by the relationship with the family – specifically the expectations placed upon children by their parents. Abuses occur on this level, as parents know that they make demands without much fear of refusal as this would violate the son or daughters sense of amor propio. Overseas Filipino Workers are a good example of this, and while not all families will abuse the money come back to them, there have been cases of Filipinos or Filipinas working for years overseas and returning to the Republic only to find that all the money he or she has sent over has been frittered away. And with amor propio, there is little room for complaint as to do that would bring on a sense of shame (hiya) for questioning the will and needs of the family.
Foreigners in relationships with Filipinas will often find that their partners are under a great deal or pressure to provide financial assistance to their families. Again, this is an issue of familial expectations and the violation to the partners sense of self esteem (amor propio) that results if those expectations are not met. Even extended family (uncles, cousins, etc.) will pressure the Filipino or Filipina partner, seeing their relationship with a “wealthy” foreigner as a means to provide economic assistance on demand.
Lost Debts: You will hear it said that there is no such thing as a personal loan in the Philippines, especially when it comes to the family of your Philippine partner. Instead, “loans” are more accurately called “gifts,” as actually trying to collect on a debt to family or friends can bring on a violation of that person’s amor propio, thus creating shame/hiya. It is a part of the culture here to not confront a person on an owed debt for fear of embarrassing them. Again, keep in mind that Filipinos try not to be confrontational and will do just about everything in their power not to rock the boat – even when it comes to a much-needed repayment of a loan. Abuses occur here as some Filipinos figure that they won’t be asked for the money back. To a foreigner, it is simple dishonesty; to a Filipino, it is just generally par for course….
Narcissism(?): I’m going out on a limb here, but there just might be some sort of relationship between amor propio and Filipino infatuation with taking selfies. A study by Time magazine actually noted that Makati (the financial hub of Manila) is the selfie capital of the world, and it doesn’t take a newcomer long to realize that Filipinos really like taking their own picture. Another study conducted back in 2006, noted that Filipino men are twice as likely to think they are sexually attractive than other Asian countries that were involved in the study. Coincidence or not, there might be something to the cultivation of ego and self love, narcissism, and the role of amor propio in the Republic of the Philippines.
Violating Amor Propio
If a person (or persons) feel as though their ego has been slighted, there are a number of ways that they can respond. Sumpong can result, which causes the offended person to withdraw from the perceived offenders and isolate his or herself away while going through a cooling off period. Tampo can also occur, in which the offended displays their anger through extended “silent treatments” and sulkiness. These two concepts – tampo being a more extreme form of sumpong – are distinctly Filipino and can also be seen across most of southeast Asia. Again, hiya/shame and the need to avoid direct confrontation are the wellsprings of these two social states.
Other, non-violent ways of expressing disdain because of perceived case of violated amor propio also exist. These can take the form of feuding property owners denying road access or cutting water or electric lines.
Taken to a more extreme level, violations of amor propio and hiya can become quite violent – and sometimes deadly. Murder, assault, and arson are not uncommon responses to violations of amor propio that are perceived as egregious.
Taking it to the national level, collective amor propio can be a very real problem , getting in the way of addressing the very real issues that plague the advancement of the Filipino people, namely that of lagging infrastructure (roads, internet, electrical supply, etc.), local and regional political corruption, difficulties in foreign corporate investiture, and the like.
Understanding the concepts of amor propio and hiya can provide some insight into how Filipinos think and communicate. Most of us are familiar with tampo, but it helps to know where those feelings and behavior spring from. And as a foreigner, don’t think that you are being singled out – these things affect just about every person living in the Philippines.
So, no – you’re not alone, and you’re not going crazy.