Bayanihan. Joselito E. Barcelona. 1993. Image from Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Northern Illinois University
I’ve often told my colleagues that I considered myself a team-player. It wasn’t until fairly recently that I realized how inadequate a description that word was. Or how this may seem so unremarkable to others. I don’t think it’s that remarkable either, just that it is something that means a great deal to me. I suppose people call themselves a team-player all the time, so it’s possible to simply pay lip-service to a value without real commitment to it.
I guess, to some people, getting along means complying to their own demands 100%. There’s no give and take. No reciprocity. Others think that in order to get along they have to give in, 100% of the time. All they are expected to do is give. They don’t get a say or are allowed to voice a contrary opinion.
This brings me to pakikisama (camaraderie), the Filipino core virtue of getting along with others. I don’t think Filipinos are the only ones to hold camaraderie as a highly esteemed social virtue. Getting and going along is one way to demonstrate utang na loob (debt of gratitude), which can go unpaid across many generations. This can lead to many bad things. The good things, however, involve being able to empathize and sympathize with your brethren. When I speak of team-work and collegiality, I mean the good aspects of pakikisama. While we each have our own separate responsibilities to uphold, pakikisama exacts an expectation that in order for the group to survive, we need to work together, build a strong feeling of trust among the individual members of the group. Contribution and dissent in such a group dynamic is sometimes necessary (though pakikisama may actually curtail these, too).
All members need to feel invested in the group. This can be less likely when there are obvious signs of favoritism, mistrust, and antagonism within the ranks. But many don’t really care, so there. Ok. Do we really have to like each other so we can move a big house (referring to the picture in this post)? No. Not at all. But if I can’t set my ill will aside so that I’ll do you a turn and lend you my shoulder to lift and move the house, then it matters if I like you or not. More so if we have to solve a very complex problem together, say, several errors in process that involve live computer systems and ongoing human data-entry and procedural input. Or what about coming up with viable solutions and programs that change library patron behaviors and perceptions of the library institution, services, and offerings? Then, perhaps, getting to the heart of the antagonism among the human actors is more than necessary. Too many complexities, too many moving joints, and definitely many opportunities for sabotage and areas for “failure.” Not all problems are as easily fixed as screwing on a light bulb in order to have electric light. Some problems involve matters that deal with sources of electricity to begin with (For example, do we go with solar energy or is nuclear plant-generated electricity the way to go?). Such a question is not going to be addressed by your skill and knowledge of screwing on a light bulb. It’s way too easy to blame an individual for not showing up. And this happens quite a bit. It’s pretty easy to overlook that people have their own strengths, weaknesses, and that the work environment contributes to a lot of shizz that discourages people from showing up, becoming more visible, and committing through their work and effort. Sometimes the message given is “show up my way or not at all.” I am not surprised when many people choose “not at all.”
I have been in too many situations where lip-service to group collegiality is paid with very little commitment or demonstration to building collective trust. In fact, scapegoating dissenters and outliers as outsiders and saboteurs is a thing I’ve seen and experienced much more often. (Ok, I’m ignoring the fact that participation in scapegoating is a way to build collective trust. Let’s not go there.) Actual commitment to getting along (again, from what I’ve seen and experienced) simply = “do as you’re told, or else.” In some respects, doing what you are told preserves group harmony, sure. But it’s also a great way to build resentment and bitterness, support bullying, sabotage, and passive-aggressive behaviors, and, of course, destroy trust. Along with bullying, scapegoating, favoritism, nepotism, and corruption, unreflective self-censorship and self-suppression are just some issues that fall within the darker side of pakikisama. So, which side of the Force do you choose?
Needless to say, pakikisama is another one of my strong, culturally ingrained senses of virtue that often clashes with my social interactions in adult life here in the United States. I still love its positive aspects, mind you. I just don’t delude myself by thinking it’s all good.
Oftentimes, I stay quiet because the stuff that run through my head violate my sense of pakikisama. They are often mean, unkind, and impolitic. My friends on Facebook can understand this the most. They, my children, and my husband are the only ones privy to my sardonic, snarky, and often-salty commentary. Many take my outward quietness as true meekness. To those people, I say, “if only you knew me better. But you don’t. Sorry (for you).”
I’ve been told to be more assertive, to be more confident. In other words, speak my mind. Ok. Point taken. At the same time, I hear things like “be true to your heritage, your roots. Be who you are.” I want to do both! I want to stay true to my upbringing and my culture. I want to be celebrated, not just tolerated. I’m trying! But the contradictions are maddening! I’ve come to the conclusion that people don’t really want to know what I think. They just want to believe that everyone has a right to be heard, but they don’t want to do the actual listening and hearing themselves. Pardon me, but that’s a bunch of bull in a crock. If people have the right to be heard, it takes other people to hear them. Generosity of spirit from institutions, governments, and organizations begins with generosity of spirit from individual human beings. This is what I mean when I say I am a team-player. It is also what I mean when I say I put people first. I have come to these conclusions thanks to pakikisama and other Filipino and Catholic virtues I grew up with.
So, I wonder, do I get along by “not rocking the boat” or do I “get along” for real? How do you get along?