Belongingness

A person grows up in the Filipino culture with one paramount assumption: that he belongs to someone. When he presents his self to others, it is with his family that he is identified. He belongs to the family as a whole as well as to its members. Whatever honor, glory, infamy, or disgrace he gains is shared by them. In good fortune and bad, his family is the first to know and participate.

Within the family, such belongingness becomes more finely delineated. One belongs to one’s parents, or to whoever assumes meaningfully or sustains authority and responsibility in their absence. It may be an aunt, an older sibling, a grandparent, or a benefactor. The feeling of belongingness assumes an additional meaning aside from shared participation, as in the context of the family, in that interpersonal belongingness stresses allegiance, loyalty, and a sense of obligation. The importance of parents, particularly the mother, appears to be that of keeping the family intact, so that the feeling of belonging may continue. The absence of the parents (authority figures) makes the solidarity of the family difficult to maintain. Usually, one sibling emerges to keep the family together. This is why, during the parents’ lifetime, plans are usually laid for the solidarity to continue, even after they are gone. A dying or ill parent tells the offspring “Take care of each other” or to the oldest child, “You will be in charge now.”

Between the parents, there is a further choice as to whom one belongs. Almost always, it is the mother. The loyalty, allegiance and sense of obligation are stronger with her than with father. One must never cause her hurt or displeasure. The greater attachment to the mother is, of course, inevitable not only because of biological circumstances, but also because of the prolonged intense emotional nurturing received from her. Here is where to belong gains the meaning of to be loved, cared for, and protected. Father is no less important, but love arise mostly from what he does for the family as a whole: he provides its material needs and spearheads family activity in society. His relationship with the children is also influenced greatly by how mother presents his image to the children. Sadly sometimes, father does not have much of a role aside from being the breadwinner; he may then seek attachments which are more emotionally satisfying to him outside the family.

The Filipino woman portrays quite often the quintessence of this attachment to mother. Daughters are happiest when they can return the mother’s great love and endless sacrifices by making her comfortable and happy through their personal efforts. Even after the daughter’s marriage, the mother can still be a fount of strength, especially in times of stress. She cries our for mother on the delivery table and shares with her much of the joy her children bring. In the language of the anthropologist, her family of orientation comes first, as far as a sense of belonging is concerned, rather than her family of procreation.

Gradually, as her own family grows, she starts to dedicate her life to her children. She is ever watchful of them, protects them, worries about them, and as much as possible makes life uncomplicated for them. She now belongs to her children. Some now her husband does not attain the same degree of central importance in her emotional life.
The person one belongs to is regarded as an extension of oneself. As Webster defines it, to belong is to “be part of.” This is the basic need of the Filipino. It transcends the need to be dependent or to be interdependent or to be socially liked, accepted or approved of. When he knows whom he belongs to, then he knows that there is where his emotional and material security lies. He knows also that there is where he owes loyalty and allegiance and this knowledge guides his behavior accordingly. This is his insurance against an unpredictable fate. Belonging brings with it reciprocal love, loyalty, care, and -protection depending on what is within one’s means to give. The satisfactions derived from the relationship are highly personalized and very warm; from this arises a person’s own tendency to feel warm and personal in all his other positive relationships, even at work and his propensity to quickly identify with someone else’s misfortune.

The Filipino thus forms other relationships on the basis of this original model. That which approximates the model closer is weighted with greater psychological significance. To strengthen and perpetuate a relationship, fulfilling the obligation to be worthy of it, is a major prerequisite. The sense of obligation assumes such an important part of the relationship that he sometimes wonders if this is not really the essence of it. He practically puts oneself at the service of the other, so that he, as it were, is “owned” by the one he belongs to. The person need not be recompensed by affection or loyalty to the same degree as he gives it, but the assumption and expectation that he will at least be protected and cared for seem to be enough.

A foreigner would be likely to describe Filipinos as to tending to “own” people and “be owned” in return, particularly in relation to those whom they love. The Filipino sees nothing onerous about it. The same quality of warm, personal interest filters into his style of relating to others. Even when there is no great emotional investment or when there is no actual desire to belong he looks for his special quality in relationships. He also feels obligated to respond to overtures for help, bids for sympathy and to share whatever good fortune befalls him.

What is happening today? Migration to urban areas is not only geographical, but psychological as well. The Filipino who moves to Manila may do so out of motivations to improve himself educationally and economically. But because he has been trained to be sensitive to environmental stimuli and to adapt himself to the here and now, he responds quickly to the new realities about him.

A mere change of cultural scenery does not effect psychological transition. One tries to recreate the old “security operations” in a new setting. Typical examples of this are the folk- ways retained by people from provinces who have now settled in Manila and the security a Filipino abroad immediately seeks out in the companionship of other Filipinos.

Typically, the Filipino still denies that he has taken steps to make the break from old ties. This is largely due to efforts by the older generation, the parents, to deny what is happening; and by their children, now grown up, who are themselves making all the moves to attenuate the old bonds, to reinforce this denial. Curiously, much of this attenuation has been occasioned by geographical separation. Perhaps, someday, the time will come when a Filipino no longer has to cross miles of ocean and continent to emancipate himself from his parents. But for now, the lure of economic success in foreign lands has conspired successfully with the wish, unconscious or not, to be on one’s own, thus motivating many Filipinos to move away from home.

As mentioned, many Filipinos who have already made the break away from home still talk about “returning some day.” Some who have stayed away five, ten, or twelve years do not seem to realize how changed they are and how improbable would be the compatibility of their present values with the old ones which still obtain to a large extent in the Philippines. Perhaps, in the recesses, of their hearts, they know that their old loyalties remain anchored only by a thread which they then try to preserve at any cost. One Filipina girl who had been very close to her mother had unexpectedly married a foreigner while in the United States. She now lives abroad and her new status precludes a visit “home” for at least three years. It is also unlikely, in her case, for her mother to come and visit her. In a conversation with this young girl, she spoke somewhat disparagingly of the coldness of American families who, when visiting one another in different towns, stay in hotels instead of in the house of the parent, son, or daughter. She said she would never allow her mother to live in a hotel when visiting her. However, she knows she may not see her mother again for a long, long time. Even after the break is made, the “myth” of warmth and belongingness is preserved.

In Manila, family solidarity is still very important but the strains of keeping families together, strongly united, are beginning to show. Family “compounds” and joint family enterprise notwithstanding, the trend is to discover individual worth through emphasis on individual effort. One important reason for this is that the average Filipino cannot boast of illustrious or well-heeled parents or ninongs who can provide him with a starting advantage over the rest. To survive economically, he is forced to rely on himself.

Let us digress for a moment and look at how the economic vigor and animated competition in Manila affect the habits of the people who live there.

The Filipino is at last discovering that his wistful dreams of years past—namely, to go to Manila, to study, to finish a course, to get a good job, to buy a house for himself and for his parents if they need it, too, to go abroad, to buy a car, etc.—now stand a good chance of coming true. There is no longer any excuse for just dreaming. He either has to put up or shut up.

In particular, the urban Filipino in Manila society now realizes that there are many ways to get these material things. The middle and upper middle class Filipinos, residing in Manila,
wave geared their daily life to making money and getting things noney can buy. There are three aspects of this economic rush ‘which are particularly impressive. First, the tendency toward economic insatiability has insidiously taken hold. Second, simultaneous with the avid pursuit of money is self-indulgence through spending. And third, throughout even the friendliest of relationships runs the thread of tacit but undeniable competitiveness.

One has only to listen to intimate conversations among groups of men and women to find out that these are the recurring themes: how to make more money, how to spend it, and how the others are doing along this line. Men, in between conversations about golf and sex, talk about the latest car model, price of real estate, who made a big financial killing where. Women still talk about problems with maids (who are also, incidentally, becoming more “wise” about money), exchange recipes and anecdotes about their children. But between the lines are clues about the woman’s finances and spending habits. Intimate talk with them reveals that many women complain about their closets being full of clothes they hardly wear, except once or twice. Many say they tire easily of shoes, bags, dresses, etc., but cannot resist buying new things. Women especially are fond of jewelry and like to display them at social functions. A foreign visitor, entertained at a middle or upper middle class Filipino party, is likely to remark on how well-dressed and bejeweled the Filipino women are.

Women are also greatly interested in family investments and together with the husband, often take active part in making business. They are involved in their husband’s professional and financial advancement and will not hesitate to help place him in a higher rank or position.

Self-indulgence through  spending is extended to children. Parents, especially mothers, seem determined to give their children the very best that their money can buy. Many young mothers, from the birth of a child, already start a bank account for him. Children grow up very much aware of the importance of money. They hear their parents talk about it from the breakfast table until bedtime. To supplement these observations are the advertising campaigns on TV, radio, and newspapers which promote further the desire to spend and acquire new things. All this mad rush about money creates an atmosphere of grim psychological tenseness. Certainly, everyone in Manila feels this tenseness; the complaint always seems to be that not enough money is coming in to compensate for what is going out.

Except for those with ambivalent attitudes towards success and power, everyone seems perfectly willing to pay the price for their attainment, whether it be chronic anxiety, ulcers, estrangement from old friends, an unhappy wife, or the giving up of certain principles. The economic tensions, while psychologically exhausting, do give the Filipino an exhilarating feeling of challenge.

A recent movement in Manila and nearby provinces, religious in nature, claims to have the effect of bringing about a healthy dampening of an excessive drive to make, money—a pursuit to which many of the movement’s advocates appeared to have fallen prey. At the other end of the spectrum, the church has been working along with other social agencies on the farmer in rural areas to have him join the economic race. Thus, rural seminars, community development projects, and foreign aid programs have set their sights on the slow-moving farmer, prodding him to acquire more get-up-and-go to join the economic revolution.

For all the dismay expressed at the shift toward economic values in place of traditional gentleness and togetherness, one good thing that has happened is the disappearance of many of the old hypocritical and unrealistic attitudes about money. Although the Filipino is still awkward about the intrusion of money into his personal, non-business relationships, he no longer deceives himself about the importance and value of money as he used to do, in the interest of protecting relationships.

Above all, the coming of an industrialized, technological society focuses on the Filipino as an individual. The supports of his family and of the group are still important, but where he has to make a choice between them and his individual ambitions, likely as not, he will favor the latter.

It is precisely on this issue, following renunciation of the wish to belong and weakening of interpersonal ties, that the next problem arises and addresses itself to the Filipino’s handling of his aggressive drives. As we tread on this sensitive ground, there will be occasion to mention again his emergence as an individual, releasing himself from the moorings of heretofore highly valued interpersonal supports.