The Creative Living Presence Within

The Participation of Filipino (By: Felipe M. de Leon, Jr)

That culture is both a liberating and limiting force is not well known to many people. A society's culture is an unwritten constitution containing its principal assumptions about life. It is the matrix of norms, skills, knowledge, attitudes and values which order and give meaning to every aspect of human thought, feeling, and behavior of its members. It is a system of vital ideas that largely governs and determines the way a people relate to their inner selves; each other, nature, time and space, the spirit world, work and activity; or life and the world. As such, it can open certain possibilities of experience and action but at the same time close all the rest to its members. For instance, once a culture assumes that only material reality is possible, then its members will find it hard to recognize honor and dignity as human virtues since nothing in the material world even comes near to suggesting such ideas.

Cultures may either emphasize individualism or groupism. Individualism believes that a person is endowed with a being of his own, a being that is separate from another person's being not only physically but emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Groupism, on the other hand, assumes that a person's being though it may be unconnected with it in many subtle ways, either through cooperative action, social organization, emotional involvement or sensitivity, imaginative engagement, a concept of shared being, invisible, vital energies, psychic forces, or spiritual links transcending time and space.

Both individualism and groupism have particular strength and weaknesses, advantages as well as disadvantages. The notion of culture as equally a liberating and limiting force is very relevant here. No culture, however, is entirely one or the other. It is either the individualist or the groupist tendencies which dominate. But there are variants of either individualism or groupism.

Filipino groupism is distinctive because it is based on what we may call the Principle of the Creative Living Presence. Filipino culture, at its best, is the celebration and union with the creative living presence in the universe. It is a recognition, affirmation and oneness with the divine essence in every human being and every form of creation. It identified an innermost, sacred core of being that is common to all of humanity. At the deepest level of my being is a shining spirit that is also the innermost core of all other human beings.

The Filipino concept of kapwa signifies this insight. Kapwa means shared being. "Ang Kapwa ay sarili rin." (The other person is also yourself")- a statement from the great Filipino psychologist Dr. Virgilio Enriquez, reveals the words' profound meaning. Kapwa connotes the shared being of all of humanity.

Essentially, Filipino culture is a celebration of our shared being, not only with other people but ultimately with all other beings in the universe because the root of all being is the divine. Thus, pakikipagkapwa (the act of sharing one's being) is always for the good, always for a positive purpose. It is in essence a sacred act. There is never an instance of pakikipagkapwa for something negative or evil. The highest aim of Philippine culture is to search, affirm, celebrate and unite with the scared principle of life.

The prototypal Filipino is then a diviner/celebrant. One who, through intuition opens his/herself as a channel of higher force or the divine and celebrates his/her oneness with it. The modal Filipino personality is that of the Babaylan or Filipino shaman. Openness is his most characteristic trait, the two sides of which are sensitiveness and expressiveness. The highest realization of sensitiveness is through divination, a clairvoyant attunement to the divine will, while the highest manifestation of expressiveness is celebration, which in the Philippines is always a joyous affirmation of life's divine essence. No major activity, task or event tales place in Filipino traditional culture without first consulting the spirits or God for good omens and no celebration or ritual can occur without invoking their blessings.

The idea of shared being or kapwa is the basis of Filipino groupism. It predisposes the Filipino towards the greatest openness. This is the genius of Filipino culture, its most distinctive resource. Perhaps no other personality in the world is as open as the Filipino. While this is his greatest strength, it may become his greatest weakness if carried to the extreme.

Many foreigners have remarked that the Filipino is the easiest to get along with. Whether we take this as a compliment us another matter. But such an observation is definitely consistent with many other qualities attributed to the Filipino-approachable, harmonious, sociable, communicative, flexible, resilient, sensitive, expressive, spontaneous, musical, artistic, and so on--which are all quite valid. For they are all manifestations of an open personality, one that would most deeply feel, receive and absorb, and learn from life's experiences and joyously celebrated these feelings and ideas in the most expressive of ways.

The open psyche of the Filipino is not merely a passive receptacle. It actively seeks harmony, unities, linkages, especially connections with people. Filipinos are highly relational. Their interpersonal skills are of the highest order. They are masters of interpersonal communication.

Pyscholinguistic evidence is very clear in this regard. Just note the numerous affixes in Filipino that indicate mutual and reciprocal action: ka, paki, mag, magka, magka-an, magsi, masing, pakikipag, and many more. These agglutinative part of speech have no equivalent at all in the English language.

The Filipino definitely is not a loner, not a private person. Hardly any Filipino eats alone. If he does, his friends will ask him if he has a problem or is not feeling well. The marketing manager of a well-known US-based fastfood chain was surprised to know that Filipinos typically eat five times or more a day, but not necessarily because of hunger. For Filipinos are light eaters. They simply like to be with the company of their friends or loved ones as often as possible within the day. And eating is one of the most pleasurable ways of doing this.

The relational genius of the Filipino is almost inexhaustible:

Sharing of concern: The most common form of greeting among Filipinos is "Where are you going?" or "Where have you been?" This may even be followed up by "What did you do there?" Such questions are taboo in an individualist culture where they are viewed as intrusions into one's persona sphere and maybe countered with "It's none of your concern/business where I am going!" But the Filipino, whose personal sphere is subsumed within the group sphere, is delighted to respond by simply waving his hand or pointing his lips towards destination. He takes these questions as form of greeting and a show of concern. He is not seriously being asked to report on his travel itinerary.

In the provinces, for instance in Mamburao, Mindoro, the sharing of concerns takes a most interlocking, reciprocal mode. When a woman washes clothes beside the river, it is not only her laundry that she attends to. Every now and then, she washes some of the laundry items of a friend or neighbor beside her as a gesture of concern. Of course, the friend or neighbor reciprocates in the same way. This is not only a rural phenomenon. Even in the cities, examples of such interlocking reciprocity abound, except that these may no longer involve laundry but other shared concerns like helping to take care of the neighbor's children while the parent's are away or volunteering one's services to others in one's immediate community when they are preparing do a party, wedding, graduation or funeral.

Sharing of Problems. Filipino hospital wards have extra beds for the bantay (literally, watcher). It is not only the patient who stays in the ward, One or more close members of the patient's family stay in the same ward for the entire duration of the patient's stay, especially if the illness is serious. These bantays take turns to attend to the needs of the sick relative and shower him with love and care.

Sharing of Goods and Blessings. When one is eating in the presence of another person, he is expected to invite the latter to share his food, even when they do not know each other at all and meet for the first time.

When a guest arrives in the house while the family is eating, the guest expects to be invited to eat even though he may not be there because of a dinner invitation.

When you invite a Filipino to an occasion, expect him to bring one or more uninvited companions.

When a Filipino travels, especially abroad, and is privileged to shop for some goods, he is expected to share these goods with relatives and friends back home. Even a relative or friend fifteen villages away will be a lucky recipient. About two thirds or more of the goods that a Filipino traveler brings home are not for himself but are intended for pasalubong, or gifts for loved ones, relatives, officemates, colleagues, and friends back home. Considering that a Filipino has on the average three hundred relatives, according to a sociologist, the number of those receiving pasalubong must be quite huge indeed.

This practice is widespread in the Philippines. And is a must. It is unthinkable for anyone to return empty-handed and still have his self-esteem and dignity intact. One who does so, even if he has the means, is thought of as inconsiderate, selfish, lacking in generosity and kindness.

Sharing of Worth and Recognition. Filipinos will not take kindly to a situation where recognition, as in the awarding of prizes during a competition, is monopolized by a few. They expect all the others who devoted their time, effort and resource to the success of the event be also rewarded accordingly. So, instead of just three major prizes, the Filipinos will demand runners-up, consolation prizes and the like. Even a Most Cooperative Award will do.

In any social occasion, especially during outings, field trips, celebrations and parties, it is extremely difficult if not impossible to photograph one person alone. Once the others see you aim your camera, everybody will come rushing towards you as not to be left out. Almost always, you will end up with a group photo.

The philosophical assumption behind all these sharing is the concept of a common or shared being, i.e. kapwa, as stated earlier. For if different persons are participants in a larger group being, why should they not cultivate a sharing of concern, problems, goods, and worth and recognition? Is not sharing these with so called "other" persons is just like sharing these with the other "parts" of yourself (or more precisely of your larger Self)? For instance, when I show concern for another person, it is not really for "another" person but for another part of the larger me. The concept of kapwa precludes the existence of the "other."The otherness of the "other" person is an illusion.

In the deeper soul level, I am one with all of humanity. This is why the loss of one human being who has developed his or her soulful qualities to the highest degree affects us all in a way that cannot be explained in any way by materialistic arguments. Just witness the outpouring of grief, compassion and sympathy evoked by the deaths of Princess Diana and Mother Teresa to realize this.

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