I was recently asked to talk about some core Filipino values at a gathering of foreign nationals. The whole idea of the talk was to give our foreign friends and partners a better idea of what makes the Filipino tick, not only in the workplace, but as a whole. Given ten minutes to speak before an open panel discussion, what could one really share in such a short time? Which resulted in my trying to identify some key words they could go home with, repeat, and also have a better grasp at understanding their Filipino employees or partners. I zeroed into four key words repeated through time by eminent local scholars who study our Filipino psyche.
BATHALA. We Filipinos have at the core of our belief system, the connection to a Force greater and bigger than ourselves. Many call this God. The ancient Tagalogs knew Bathala (Batala) as the Supreme Being; the Omnipotent Creator of the universe. So we Filipinos are deeply spiritual even if manifested in religiosity. But before the Spaniards came to give Christianity, the ancient Filipinos believed in the interconnectedness of everything. All are One in the Universe. The phrase “Bahala na!” roughly translated as “whatever happens happens” finds its roots in the word Bathala. This phrase is said often in exasperated jest during times when the going gets tough. Saying “Bahala na!” is almost like a surrender to release the task and outcome to a greater force after we have done everything humanly possible to make things succeed. This phrase is always used for the invocation of the positive outcome of things and never for the negative. Nowadays, I have heard people change the phrase to “Bahala na si Batman!” in jest but with that same meaning behind the phrase “Bahala Na!”
This belief system gives rise to the idea of the Filipino’s sense of openness and spacelessness expressed in our culture. For example in Architecture (capiz windows that bring in the light, old open carved wooden balustrades to bring in air, the sense of organic line in design to name a few attempt to give presence to this space); our indigenous music where the constant beat and drone brings one to an altered state also breaks from any linearity, evoking openness; in our cuisine where everything is served all at once with no thought of dessert being eaten alongside the main meal, and soup can come last. The openness of the Filipino has allowed him to travel the world, take in all cultures, learn to speak new languages and manage to merge into foreign families through their heart. Lets include here also the friendliness of the Filipino where all foreigners becomes part of the clan. A more common manifestation, and not too positive a trait of this spacelessness can also be seen by the Filipino’s sense of time (always late?)!
KALOOBAN. The inner core of the Filipino is what we call “ loob”, referring to the inner self, or, more specifically, to the internal dimension of a person’s identity. A whole list of positive attributes can be found in this inner core –strength, the ability to have a debt of gratitude, resilience, humility, courage, goodness and other trustworthy qualities. The moment the person expresses all the negative attributes of the above, then this person is considered to have a “bad inner core”. When Filipinos all express and share these higher values in their lives, they become “as one”. This shared “oneness” (again) finds expression in family ties and close community kinship and where we put great importance in our relationships. Thus, the Filipino is very relational, friendly and nurturing. And the Filipino will stretch for you if you have been called a “friend”. An example of this shared inner core has been seen in events that spontaneously united people in the EDSA People Power Revolutions. On the negative side, we also see this in how our clan system politics continue to just go on and one and on through generations.
BAYANIHAN. When Filipinos come together as community to help each other, then the spirit of “bayanihan” is expressed. This is always for the betterment of the community, of the larger whole. So we see the almost magical appearance of droves of people and crowds intuitively coming together to help during natural disasters, in building homes for the poor, through corporate volunteerism efforts today
MABUHAY. This is our eternal greeting to everyone here and abroad, our salute to life as we raise our San Miguel beers. The word roughly can be translated to mean “to be alive, to live life!” It is a call to bring that sense of celebratory joy to everything about life…and that is why the resonance of the DOT slogan “ Its more fun in the Philippines! Mabuhay encompasses all the colorful fiestas of our country, where community seeks to come together to celebrate something. Even funeral wakes are a way to bring people together for poker and mah-jong!
These key words and concepts however, become really powerful when we Filipinos begin to understand them deeper. And live them. Understanding that oneness means the coming together for the good, the higher, the purer. Where the spirit of sharing and caring can be nurtured, in the joyful celebratory space of our culture. Then Life, no matter how tough and stressed and challenging lightens with healthy, loving relationships. As we say in the Philippines – Mabuhay! Live Life!
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