The culture of permission

CTALK - Cito Beltran - The Philippine Star

Hesitant, intimidated, unsure, not “rich” enough, can’t afford, fear of being embarrassed or worse, afraid of humiliation. Do you recognize yourself in any of these? Have you ever used any of those labels on yourself? Bottom line is we all have, and they are clear indicators of “rejection” in our life.

Not many Filipinos would be willing to admit it, but the general population go through life feeling they are not good enough, don’t have enough or are out of their league when it comes to aspiring for things, opportunities or positions that are on the next level. Perhaps that’s why only ten percent of the population has more money than the combined wealth of the 90 percent while the majority live by the doctrine of compromise, termed “puede na” or “will make do.”

We actively make “tawad” or haggle for discounts with street vendors, fervently pray for breakthroughs in finances or good fortune for the lottery, but we fold up or chicken out when it comes to stating what exactly we want, how we want it and how much we are willing to pay for something above our usual pay grade or skill set. Some won’t even dare to imagine the possibility and won’t wish it or write it on the board.

Most of the time we dismiss them as unattainable, too pricey or out of reach. We won’t try studying the possibility, options or means to get what God himself may have painted in our hearts or minds. Yes, it’s been said that it is God that sows the seeds of things he wants us to have. But we immediately presume we can’t. That’s because many of us were raised or told to know our place in the family, in society and eventually as well as our position in the workplace or pay grade.

No thanks to the feudalistic TV dramas of old as well as having domestic helpers, Philippine society created our own caste system based on education and economic status. I remember people saying that certain goods or things are only for the rich, not for ordinary Filipinos. As long as the product is “branded,” popular, or comes from a respected source or supplier, many Pinoys quickly think they can’t afford it. So, they “compromise” with knockoffs.

From the home to the many years in school, we all learned that we needed to ask permission: to go out, to do something, or to become somebody. Training to be respectful turned out to be a lifetime of being molded or dominated as well as brainwashed. That culture of required permission eventually created an even worse scenario: our Culture of Rejection.

Someone who had the upper hand would often say “No”, “Not now”, “Not yet” or “Never”. Others dictate terms, conditions, timeline and price points on our needs, dreams, goals and material desires. From childhood to adult life many of us were exposed to varying types and doses of rejection at home, at school, in relationships, in communities, the marketplace and at work so we were marked with rejection for life.

We were told to live within our means, to be realistic, that in order to be someone you needed an MBA or a university degree from the US or some exclusive university. The environment then was so controlling and limiting that we never evolved into an aspiring society where making it was possible just like “The American Dream.” We simply turned on the Filipino mentality and collectively labeled ourselves as a bunch of “Crabs.”

In fact, that is why so many Filipinos chased their dreams and the green card and the green buck in the USA. When that Promised Land dried up, Pinoys went to the deserts of the Middle East, then to other countries where they could try their luck, work hard, take chances without needing anybody’s permission.

I’ve never heard of any Filipino thought leader actually addressing the subject matter or of any movement actively calling attention to how the culture of permission has gone from parental tool and degenerated into a societal curse where our dread of rejection has impaired aspiration, ambition and desires for better things in life. This mindset is manifested in our consumer behavior towards used imported items, ukay-ukay or “cheap” products from abroad.

People mask it as “smart buys,” being practical, but why pick branded used items and not new unbranded products? Why rummage through stores filled with buyer “returns” from the US, or surplus used items from Japan? When it comes to things of real value and good quality, we bail instead of “Bid.” I confess that for the longest time in my life, I played victim to that culture. I avoided going for what I wanted because I did not want to be “shamed” or literally, speaking in Tagalog: “Ayaw kong mapahiya.”

It’s not simple embarrassment. The fear of being “shamed” because you did not have the cash or credentials cuts to the bone and a lifelong history of rejection makes it paralyzing or defeating. Even Filipinos who have the money or capital get squeamish or uncomfortable during real negotiations. They try to play safe, ask third parties to intervene, anything just to avoid the shame or embarrassment.

The best way to break it is with practice. Recognize the value of something or someone, determine what the value is to you, acknowledge the way people think or their culture.

Ultimately make your offer and stand by it with just enough elbow room. But whatever you do, don’t let the fear of rejection cheat you. Instead have FAITH and remember this verse:

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives and he who seeks, finds and to him who knocks, it will be opened.” Matthew 7:7-8

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