Tuesday, June 20, 2006

A lesson in "hiya"

We had an eye-opening experience last weekend. It had something to do with kindness, manipulation and the Filipino word “hiya”. Hiya, in Filipino means shame and is a motivating factor behind behavior. It is a sense of social propriety and conforming to societal norms of behavior. It is synonymous to basic courtesy. Good manners, that is. But in our experience last Saturday, hiya was thrown out of the window.

I know it’s a cultural difference. This culture, unlike Pinoy, tends to be more assertive, demanding and bold. While most Pinoys would be hesitant and shy with other people who are helping them, this culture appeared to me as presumptuous. I know it was our first sampling of that particular trait, but I could not believe it was tolerated (by grownups, regretfully). It was disheartening.

Courtesy, respect, gratitude- these were all trampled upon. In my own two eyes, I witnessed how a 9 year old child, can manipulate other people. One could easily argue the child’s background and emotional need. But helping this child to experience what they couldn’t possibly experience in their own family life, disregarding courtesy, respect and gratitude, is not helping at all. I believe you simply gave them something, but with no meaning.

Let me talk about Little Miss Ginger Ale, our 9 year old subject. She came from the inner city, from a neighborhood teeming with drugs. She was part of the group of kids invited by the inner city outing club where we took part as first-time volunteers for the club’s activity for that day. That weekend, we were going to a charity polo match at the Green Meadows Polo Club in The Plains, Virginia. Initially, she seemed to be fine, talkative and eager. But much to our surprise, she was no timid little child, after all.

We took them first to a department store to pick some outfits and accessories for them. For the girls, we were to pick shoes and hats for them, to complete their ensemble for the polo match. Since nothing would fit from the choices prepared by the store for them, we were asked to pick shoes and hats with them. As soon as they set their eyes on the hats and shoes, they started ripping the price tag off them! We were aghast. And it looked like they were out of control. They would not listen to us, and they began demanding the things that they want. Little Miss Ginger Ale smugly declared to us- “I want this! I want this pair of shoes! I need a purse! I need some earrings! This is what I want!” And they made quite a little scene at the store, which prompted a lady to say to me, Oh guys, you’re in a mess.

We were mortified. We felt helpless. We went into a litany of “You can’t have that! Put that back! Are you out of your mind? You can’t even walk in them!” Ginger Ale’s sister even cried and insisted she wanted those stilettos. We, with our hiya culture and background, were all shook up. We were tormented by the scene we’ve just been exposed to. Nobody, even how poor and desperate and troubled they are, in the Philippines would act such a way when other people show them kindness.

And I thought that was the last of their hullabaloo. On the way to the event, they were constantly annoying us- “Turn that music on! Turn this window down! It makes my nose bleed. Give me your glasses! I need some lotion! I only drink ginger ale. Get me some ginger ale!” I couldn’t wait for them to get off the car.

I know this is a different culture, a different place and a totally different scenario. We were aware of that. But we believe courtesy, respect and gratitude must be invariable. And we couldn’t help but compare them with those humble, impoverished underprivileged souls in the Philippines who would say thank you when given something, and would not dare to demand for something, and would not be as manipulative as Little Miss Ginger Ale. Hiya would always matter, out of respect and gratitude to those who helped them.

And sadly, the grownups seemed tolerant. Whatever they want, they said. Which we believe was unacceptable. Allowing kids to be impolite is allowing them to plunge deeper into the shabby existence they already have. I know their life is hard, and a little indulgence can make them a little happy. But the way we saw it, it was a clear case of manipulation and taking advantage of one’s kindness.

Yes, it was but one, single experience. But it was enough to jolt us to a harsh reality, and into a barrage of questions that would torment our beings. We hope we can fathom the entanglement of the said experience. I had some experience mingling with the underprivileged kids in my husband's high school batch's yearly Reachout before, but we never encountered anything like Ginger Ale. Which made us realize that wherever we may go, the values that we grow up with, sometimes forgotten, will still stir our souls and make us appreciate what we have as warm and grateful people..........

No comments: