Saturday, December 27, 2008

Traditions We Can Do Without

Next to ingratitude the most painful thing to bear is gratitude. - Henry Ward Beecher

I once read a story about a foreigner in 18th century Japan. While traveling along the edge of a river with his local guide, they saw a man gasping for breath as being drag by the rapids. He attempts to help but his companion admonished “I won’t save him if I were you. You’ll just bring more misery to him worst than his predicament now”. Baffled, the foreigner asks why and the guide explained: “In this part, we take gratitude seriously. If you save him, he’ll be in your debt until he also saves your life. In order to do that, he should be at your side at all times. Since you’re a stranger here, he has no choice but to leave his family and love ones behind. A sacrifice more awful than death”.

That is a tall order to achieve. But at least it has an ending if the man saves the foreigner’s life. On the other hand, we Filipinos put the standard a notch higher. We’re in debt forever if somebody did us a favor. Unlike Americans and Europeans, who consider an obligation repaid when a favor is settled with another favor, we are beholden to an individual for the rest of our life.

Politicians know this and capitalize on this twisted mind-set to stay in power. Dispensing favors here and there, legally or otherwise, to their “lideres”. In return, expects their support every election. This was illustrated comically by Imelda when asked what she thinks of their “friends” when her family fell from grace. She said it quite literally “They don’t have debt inside”. Translated in tagalog as “Wala silang utang na loob”. I guess, to her, 20 years in power isn't enough to repay an old debt.

Priests are also guilty of the same manipulation. Since childhood, they keep drumming inside our head, that our Lord gave His life in order to save us from sins we didn’t commit in the first place. The “brain washing” is so effective that we dare not go against the Church’s wishes or else suffer the fate of eternal damnation. An enigma to me, even if logic dictates that to do otherwise means a better life for us and our family.

Parents as well hold this belief. When you ask couples why they bear children, typically the response will be “so there is somebody to take care of us when we grow old”. First of all, the child didn’t ask to be born. Children have no obligation to take care of their parents. If they do take care of us, it is not because it’s their responsibility but because of love and respect for their parents. On the contrary, parents have duties and responsibility to raise their offspring decently and mold them to be productive members of society. We didn't brought them in this world to obligate them to fulfill what ever whim, needs and wants that cross our minds.

I don’t know about my wife, but when I grow old, I won’t hold it against my daughter if some stranger in white robe wipes my behind instead of her doing it. I am content with the idea that I raised her in a good environment and educated the best way I can afford. I’ll deem myself a failure as a parent if I can't do so.


  1. It is indeed a tradition we can do without. The trait of "utang na loob" has prevented a lot of our countrymen from doing their jobs properly for the sake of repaying "debts" that have long been repaid.

    Personally, I am so sick of this Filipino trait. It is a very corrupting trait and like you, I believe that it has really done us more harm than good.

  2. This is very good and very interesting post na talagang we need to discuss.
    kung anu man yung ginagawa ko para sa magulang ko e hindi ko inisip kahit kelan na dahilmy utang na loob ako sa kanila kundi dahil mahal ko sila diba my kasabihan tayo na makakabayad lang tayo ng utang na loob sa kanila once na magkaron tayo ng mga sari sarili nating mga anak na pinalaki din natin silat ibinigay ang magandang kinabukasan hindi para may kapalit balang araw kundi dahil itoy obligasyon natin sa kanila bilang magulang.
    kaya nga ako e sabi dapat nakong magipon ipon para pag mahina nako mayron akong pambayad sa nars na magaalaga sakin lol dahil diko hahayaang maobliga ang anak ko para lang alagaan ako sa pagtanda ko(lalo pa ngat lalaki ang anak kot hindi ako umaasa na syay magaalaga saking pagtanda)kaya nga panalangin ko wag naman nako paabutin nung sobrang tanda nako na diko na kayang alagaan ang sarili ko dahil ayokong maging pabigat oha,sus drame hehe.

  3. panaderos, I don't know where we got that trait in the first place. It's very oriental but sticking to customs which are regressive in nature in a modern society is I think an exercise in futility.

    TZ, tama ka dyan. Mag bayad ka sa pagpapalaki sayo hindi sa magulang mo kundi sayong anak. Katulad mo, nagiipon-ipon na rin ako para sa pagtanda naming mag-asawa. Ayoko ring maging pabigat kahit kanino pag dating ng panahon.

  4. This post is good... I am scared I am a 'victim' (?!?) of this tradition, I am always considering 'utang-na-loob' even if there were times it's so difficult for me. [I am NOT referring to my parents here, that's another story. I agree that caring for them when they get old must be done all beacuse of love, not because of 'utang-na-loob'.]

    Regarding the 4th paragraph, I think it's not just the priests, other religious ministers of other religions are doing the same as well- even more than the priests. In my almost three decades of existence, though, it never happened that I submitted myself to any 'dictate' or even followed any 'wish' from the church that I feel would create a bad life for me and my family, and so far it has never disturbed my strong faith in God.

  5. IMHO, very right point about children and their "duties". Unfortunately, many parents (at least Russians as I am) do not think so...

  6. That's basically true. It's sometimes regarded as "conscience-gnawing feeling" when you don't take care of your elders when they're all alone. But I admit, I must prepare for the times when my kids will leave us behind. It's not their responsibility to do that "taking care" for us when we can't seem to do things properly come olden times. It's up to them.

  7. I hate this trait as well. In the Philippine context, utang na loob is infinite gratitude. You can never repay it because no amount of payment is enough.

  8. RJ, you're in the right path. Your faith in God is more important than religion.

    Diffio, this prove that, except for the west, this trait (w/ regards to child-parents "duties")is worldwide in nature. Thanks for dropping by.

    sheng, don't mistook duty with love. What your experiencing is love and apprehension for your parents. It is your heart whispering and not your consciense dictating.

    Mari, it is sad, even if a favor was paid tenfolds, people will still call you an ingrate if you turn down the next.

  9. Its the same way in lending money,when you lend somebody a money and they did not pay that becomes a big lifetime burden to them, whenever they meet you in some occasion its unimaginable how they feel and how they try to avoid you to avoid embarrassment.Saving faces is a Filipino trait that we cant live without.

  10. "Children have no obligation to take care of their parents. If they do take care of us, it is not because it’s their responsibility but because out of love and respect for their parents." >>> i agree with this. it's all in the basis of loving.

  11. ed v., true, if the "lendee" has principle but I know someone who avoids his lenders because he actually doesn't want to pay! : )

    donG, love is what binds human family together. Besides speech, it's what makes us unique in the animal kingdom. We are the only specie that takes care of our offspring even when they are already mature. Without it, we're no different than the other fauna.

  12. well avoiding a person that once nice to you is already a big burden you know he he he....

  13. I could be wrong about this one. In a lot of Filipino movies (old and new)and TV dramas, specially those tearjerker ones, the emphasis is always on the parents expecting their sons/daughters support once they're have their own source of income.

    You know how movies and TV networks influence the Filipino way of thinking. They can also fit the role of king maker and many Fillipino takers are just too accommodating.

  14. ed v., Konsyensya na lang ang sisingil! : )

    Trosp, pinoy soaps is another form of brainwashing. That's why I don't allow my daughter to watch that kind of programs because of its negative effect.

  15. I once attended a going away celebration of a CEO of a company and he said " I HATE RECEIVING GIFTS". Some people just hate the idea of owing something to others !

    Former president Elpidio Quirino attempted to ban the compadre system because he thought it creates more harm than good, when people's judgment system are screwed by the "holy alliance", that you must support your compadre by hook or by crook ! Some people purposely take influential people to be their ninong or ninang so they can jump the queue in attaining favors :(

  16. Politicians will hold on to anything just to keep themselves in power. If it's not utang na loob, it will be something else. MAkakapal mukha ng mga yan eh.

    Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you and your family.

  17. bw, "frat mentality" and patronage are also traits we can do without.

    Ka Rolly, Merry Xmas and a Happy New year din to you and your family!

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