Being true to one's self

This is my column today.

Nice guys finish last. I have always found this admonition objectionable and I have always gone out of my way to point out to people that being nice is not necessarily a curse. As I always tell my kids, my students, my nephews and nieces and everyone else within my circle of influence: It is okay to be nice.

Being civilized is still and should still be the norm in society regardless of what our leaders say or do.

Apparently, being nice is not only a disadvantage today. It is also considered tantamount to being phony and insincere. Being nice and by extension, being considerate, holding one’s temper and biting one’s tongue in the face of extreme provocation, and generally being tolerant of other people’s shortcomings is now considered the height of hypocrisy. The common expression being used by people today to refer to those who are trying to be nice is “di nagpapakatotoo” (loosely, not being true to one’s self). Others indulge in simple generalizations and label others as “plastic,” meaning fake.

Corollary to this alarming development is the general notion that people who are earnest, take their jobs or their aspirations seriously, or have squeaky clean images are also fake, or “hindi nagpapakatotoo.” It seems we expect everyone to have a dark side and that giving in to this “dark side” is the ultimate measure of authenticity. I beg to disagree.

Two incidents that happened last week got me thinking about this topic. The first one was the whole hullabaloo around the challenges that the housemates in Pinoy Big Brother, the local television version of the Big Brother franchise, were made to go through last week. The second happened over the weekend in Cebu City as an offshoot of the Presidential Forum held at the Cebu International Convention Center last Friday, which was the hot topic of discussion in various Cebu media until yesterday.

In case you are a certified Kapuso, the type who doesn’t give a flying fig about the goings on in local television, or someone who has tuned off from the current season of PBB early on, what follows is a quick summary of what Big Brother made the housemates in that glass house go through last week. Former housemates (those who were already evicted by the people through text voting) were asked to come back to the house to torment the remaining housemates. The title of the challenge given to the former housemates said it all: Resbak Attack (loosely, retaliatory attack of the avengers). The former housemates were allowed to do anything and everything to torment the remaining housemates including taunting and vilifying them in public, even physically accosting them hoping to provoke them into retaliating physically.

The result was a few days worth of drama as the remaining housemates valiantly tried to keep their emotions in check while trying to put up with the physical and verbal abuse that was heaped on them continuously. What the housemates didn’t know was that the abuse, euphemistically known as a challenge, was supposedly designed to make “who they really were” surface. The whole point was supposedly to unmask the real personality of each of the remaining housemates.

I have no problems with challenges designed to encourage people into displaying competencies, behavioral patterns, values, attitudes, etc. Business organizations regularly conduct such interventions in team building activities, management training, and even in manpower selection. There are, however, ethical considerations that need to be taken into account. First, the people conducting the interventions need to have the necessary skills. Second, the intervention needs to be an empowering experience, which means that there cannot be room for negative or abusive challenges. Third, that sufficient processing of the intervention including the possibility of coaching is conducted immediately after. It remains dubious if these considerations were addressed by PBB.

The ethical considerations notwithstanding, what I really found disheartening were the efforts to deliberately provoke the housemates to break down—as in make them boiling mad, cuss publicly, cry or go into hysterics, even get physical and dirty—for them to be judged as finally being true to themselves. According to the PBB people, one can only qualify as being true to one’s self—one can only aspire to be labeled as totoo (real) and nagpapakatotoo (sincere, honest, truthful) if one allows himself to give in to his or her emotions. What the people behind PBB seemed to be saying was that having good coping mechanisms, showing fortitude and determination, being generally nice and unwilling to play rough and dirty—well, all these are not in keeping with who we really are or should be.

Well, excuse me, Big Brother, but I object. Being nice, patient and having the will and moral courage to behave in a civilized and mature way on public television despite extreme provocation is actually the more important facet of one’s personality; it should be what counts. It’s when people are able to do to rise above their shortcomings rather than wallow in these when maturity happens. Of course these behaviors don’t create the emotional fireworks that bring in the ratings so I can understand PBB’s skewed logical deductions. The thing is that they should stop trying to pass off what they do as lessons in human development.

I was in Cebu for the weekend, site of the most recent forum featuring the 2010 presidential candidates. The buzz everywhere in Cebu was about how the so-called presidentiables performed. As can be expected, what ensued after were comparative analyses about the strengths and weaknesses of the candidates and the inevitable attempts to salvage or conversely, boost the image of the candidates.

Everywhere I went (I was in far too many taxicabs, all of which were also tuned in to various talk shows) the discussion centered on who among these three candidates performed better: Noynoy Aquino, Gibo Teodoro, or Dick Gordon. Erap Estrada figured in the discussions but only as comic relief. Strangely, there was hardly any discussion about Manny Villar—it’s as if he didn’t register in the radar at all.

I am not going to go into whom the Cebuanos thought performed better and why—that would be another column. What struck me, however, was that in many of the discussions the notion of who was “being true to himself” inevitably cropped up. For example, the consensus I kept getting was that Erap Estrada virtually made a fool of himself in the Cebu Forum but many people thought he was just “nagpapakatotoo.”

In the same light, attempts to analyze the candidates’ performance during the forum inevitably zeroed in on who was more authentic than the others—again, notions of who was “nagpapakatotoo” and who wasn’t. Unfortunately, many shortcomings—such as inarticulateness, braggadocio, seeming incompetence or ignorance—also somehow got lumped and justified under the heading of “nagpapakatotoo lang.”


Being true to yourself means giving into your emotions?


Being true to yourself is being able to balance rational thought with your emotions - it should be the person who controls their feeling, and not the other way around.

At the risk of sounding new age, I believe that being true to yourself is far more than an emotional outburst/tantrum.

It is about literally looking into yourself, a quiet reflection on what you are, and what you want to mature into, and finding a way to reconcile the disparity between these two concepts.

And part of that journey of maturing is learning self-control.

Being true to yourself isn't that easy - on one hand part of you will always have an emotional reaction to certain matters.

But at the same time, we also experience a nagging feeling - a dissenting voice - that tells us that despite how strongly we may feel about something, there may be better ways of dealing with the situation.
Bong C. Austero said…
I completely agree with you! It's a delicate balancing act that requires some deliberate thinking process.

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