Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Character flaws

This was my column on the date indicated above. This post is antedated.

I also don’t approve of Pinoy bashing particularly when it’s done for no other reason except to make fun of ourselves and our (many) weaknesses and peculiarities.

But there are times when we really need to take a long hard look at ourselves to discover how we compare with others particularly during crisis situations. The objective is not so much to inflict harm on our collective ego but more to help us realize that there are more proactive—and infinitely better—ways to respond to certain situations. We can always learn from reflection.

In the last two weeks there has been this ongoing comparison between the way Filipinos and Japanese behave during crisis situations. The general drift of the comparisons has, as can be expected, been embarrassing for Filipinos. Obviously we pale in comparison to the very orderly, disciplined, and almost stoic way in which the Japanese have been behaving in the face of the enormous difficulties that they have had to contend with in the aftermath of the massive earthquake that hit the country last March 11, the tsunami that the earthquake unleashed, and the possible threats of radiation coming from the problematic nuclear power plants in Fukushima.

Media has been patiently documenting the many ways in which the Japanese have shown remarkable discipline and nationalism under circumstances which others—presumably Filipinos in particular—would have considered license to behave irrationally.

The world has seen pictures of Japanese people patiently waiting in line for food, water, and fuel for hours and hours and even under heavy snow. Such a situation, had it occurred in this country, could have resulted in utter bedlam and confusion with everyone trying to take advantage of everyone else. I saw one particularly heartbreaking picture of Japanese elderly stoically standing in line in a very orderly manner for water, with the seemingly endless line snaking around and around a football field. I cannot imagine Filipinos being as disciplined; I am sure some people would have found an excuse to cut into the line.

When Typhoon Ondoy struck the other year and brought with it massive flooding, many saluted the inherent resilience of Filipinos and the way the spirit of bayanihan was rekindled. But we also witnessed the many ways in which many people took advantage of the tragedy for selfish personal gains; not that the behaviors were representative of the behaviors of all Filipinos. We also witnessed how easy it was for many to cast blame on everyone else.

The difficulties being experienced by many people in Japan today are probably a hundredfold worse because it’s still winter there. And yet we don’t hear of Japanese people openly cursing their government or blaming everyone else for their woes. They trudge on with their lives uncomplaining. They have taken responsibility for rebuilding their lives and in helping their fellow countrymen rather than expect help from their government.

A text message that I received over the weekend noted other areas of comparison. The text message said “Here are some things that we can admire about the Japanese: No local government officials grabbing credit for the relief operations, no Japanese pretending to be victims in order to corner relief goods for themselves, no media people getting in the way of relief operations, and no politicians pasting their pictures on relief goods to gain political mileage.”

Observations like these are amusing, but they also hurt because they illustrate a certain weakness in our character—most of us do have the tendency to put personal needs and interests over and above those of country and fellowmen. And let’s face it, many of our politicians are shameless enough to exploit tragedies for personal political gain.

True, we also have our own strengths as a people, but there’s a lot that we can learn from the Japanese.

The bank that I work for has two offices in Japan and while we cannot fault many Filipinos for wanting to leave Japan out of fear for their lives, we also cannot help but note the way Japanese people choose to stay in Japan at a time like this. As a Japanese friend wrote to me in an email “this is the time when we Japanese must stay in the country to show to the world that Japan remains stable and strong.” Many of our Filipino employees have flown the coop but the Japanese nationals remain steadfast in staying put in Japan to help convey a sense of normalcy even amidst rising panic.

We’ve seen footages of Japanese husbands tearfully bidding wives and children goodbye, sending them off to safer places while they choose to stay where they are out of love for their country. We’ve heard of the hundreds of Japanese workers at the Fukushima nuclear power plants risking their lives to stem a meltdown from happening.

In contrast, we can’t help but compare the way many of our countrymen have given up on the Philippines. Some of them even openly expressed their belief that conditions in the country have become hopeless as a way of justifying their decision to migrate to other countries.

Japan will emerge from this crisis an even stronger nation because their number one strength is the character of their people. One wishes that our leaders recognize this as well and begin putting in place programs that strengthen love of country among Filipinos.

***

While we are on the subject of character flaws and people who seem not to have qualms about exploiting other people’s tragedies for some personal gain, we might as well talk about how Willie Revillame and his staff indulged in the most blatant kind of exploitation recently. They showcased in their show a little boy with a most “unusual” talent: Gyrating like a macho dancer. Videos of the particular Willing Willie episode has been immortalized in YouTube so in case you haven’t seen the grotesque incident, you can easily access it.

The whole thing reminds one of that little girl who did a strip tease act in Little Miss Sunshine, the movie that was shortlisted in the Oscars for best picture a couple of years back. The difference is that this little boy was crying while performing and was obviously confused about the appropriateness of what he was doing. For some strange reason, quite a number of people—including those in the audience that night that lapped up the performance like it was an act from cirque de soleil—found the video of the little boy gyrating like his whole life depended on it cute and endearing.

What was even more shocking was the Revillame didn’t see anything wrong with the whole thing and even egged the little boy to repeat his performance over and over again! They even closed the segment by putting the little boy on a makeshift riser to gyrate while they all doubled over in laughter.

So this is what we have become as a people, we have been desensitized enough that many among us don’t see anything wrong with a little boy performing a very adult act on public television.

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