By Con Gen Paul Raymund Cortes
There are an estimated half a million Filipinos in the gem of the Middle East, Dubai. Compared to Dubai, however, there are not as many Filipinos in Istanbul. In a megalopolis of 15 million souls, the Filipino population of just around 3000 are almost invisible, inconspicuous. Just as our experience in Budapest some 20 years ago taught us, locals are genuinely amazed and pleasantly surprised when they meet Filipinos. It’s not that they have never heard of Filipinos – but as a norm, you don’t usually bump into Pinoys when in the streets of this grand imperial capital of the Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman Empires. So while gallivanting in Istiklal after a grueling day of work and intense discussions through PowerPoint presentations, one local approached me, attempting to strong arm me to enter a sidewalk , hole-in-the-wall eatery, and asked me where I was from and when I said the Philippines, he says: “Ah Filipino. Very nice people. Kind heart!”
But that’s not news. Fondness of the Filipinos because of our cheery disposition, our generally upbeat and positive character, is ubiquitous among almost all communities across the globe. Many are smitten by the reputed Filipino charm. Notwithstanding, I don’t think kindness is a monopoly of the Pinoys though, maybe just more pronounced.
How kind are we in the eyes of foreigners? My colleagues in the diplomatic and consular corps are genuinely amazed when I share with them our Consulate’s programs and projects geared for the benefit of our Overseas Filipinos. How we provide for our Filipinos, to many of them at the point of spoiling them, is quite simply unthinkable and unfathomable and well, yes – unreasonable. Many feel that their citizens must exhibit a modicum of responsibility and be at the very least mature enough to take care of themselves when in another country. I justify to them that it’s not about treating them like they cannot look after themselves but more of caring and accepting the plight of our nationals with a deeper sense of compassion. To many other diplomats, the Philippine Foreign Service has the best program relative to their nationals abroad, something Filipinos themselves are not aware of or even worse, think that ours pales in comparison with other diplomatic services.
Our reputed kindness does not end with our fellow Filipinos, though. We are seen as extremely welcoming and accommodating to foreigners. The Filipino hospitality is much bruited about and has been quite a selling point as far as our tourism is concerned. The ad with a Caucasian foreigner being called ‘anak’ or child by a local Filipino exemplifies this.
I am staring at the painting, standing very close to it, that understanding the totality of what it is that makes Filipinos reputed as kind or of a most generous heart escapes me. Social scientists posit the Filipino character in a conceptual framework that involves the psychic domain of thought and interpersonal relationships, perspectives on social acceptance, debt of gratitude and reciprocity, fate and destiny. There are numerous and more academic reads on this but in sum, socio-cultural anthropologists pin our propensity to feel our way through how others feel as a result of our personal dealings with them. We base our actions on how it contributes to smooth interpersonal relations. If any word or deed would cause discomfort in the personal dealing between a Filipino and another individual, then Filipinos as a rule would rather not say it or would not commence any action accordingly. It then begins with reading the non-verbal cues others emit before we even act.
We prefer to not say truths as it is for fear of offending someone and often, this comes at the expense of our efficiency in terms of getting things done more effectively. We’ve been too cautious because we don’t want to hurt and be the subject of reciprocal response. We are thus deemed kind-hearted and easier to deal with as other ethnicities do not need to care about defending their egos and selves when being around Filipinos.
If this is kind, must there be a balancing act necessary? In the words of my colleagues at the corps, being too kind opens the doors for others to abuse your generosity until there is nothing left for you to give, until the well of good deeds dries up.
Call it naiveté or gullibility but if everyone, by default, stands guard and assumes that his humanity is bound to be abused by others, then there is nothing more that brings hope and sunshine. Cheesy but true – there will always be the need to have that someone else who will take the step forward and move us towards being a better society. If not, we would remain on the very spot where we are, afraid of taking it a notch higher and forever be mired in that state of stunted humanity. In a farfetched sense and for purposes of arousing a more spirited discussion, Filipinos’ innate kindness, gentleness, and softheartedness serve as instigators and starting points of man’s capability to become better human beings. How bad is it to want to play that role rather than regret being used and abused by other?
Consul General Paul Raymund Cortes
When not performing his duties as the head of the Filipino community in Dubai and the Northern Emirates, or the obligations of a dutiful dad, passionate patriot Paul Raymund Cortes mulls over how to further enrich the local Filipino community by promoting a more progressive mindset.
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