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Similarities between Filipino and Finnish cultures

/ 05:12 AM February 22, 2018

Last Feb. 18 marked 10 years since our family arrived here in the Philippines, and it’s been a mostly happy occasion. We’ve been through three floods in 2009 and Tropical Storm “Sendong” in 2011 here in Cagayan de Oro City. We mourned the death of my mother-in-law, brother-in-law, and a good friend.

But I would like to mention certain traits I have seen in Filipinos that I had not ever considered before, and to contrast them with some Finnish ones. (Why Finnish? Because although so seemingly different in culture and climate, they seem so strikingly similar as cited in an article on Finland in The Guardian last Feb. 12.)

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The first is talkoo, defined by historian Sippa Kahkonen as “working together collectively, for a specific good, getting the harvest in, stocking wood, raising money. It’s about cooperation, everyone together equally.”

That sounds like bayanihan to me, and the outstanding example of that here in CDO was after Sendong hit us and the water district’s pumps broke down and we were without water for three weeks: the rest of the country pulled together and provided for us; my friend, who lived in a nipa hut but had access to a deep well, let us use it out of the goodness of his heart.

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Then there is the hard-to-translate word, sisu, a “dogged courageous persistence regardless of consequence, which in 1939-1940 allowed 350,000 to twice fight off Soviet forces three times their number and inflict losses five times heavier than those they sustained.”

That has to me the connotation of calidad humana, a Filipino trait best exemplified by the sacrifices borne by over 10 million overseas Filipino workers for the sake of their families’ future, as well as speaking truth to power in confronting the armed might of a dictator with bare hands and rosaries.

With the Finns, as former president Tarja Halonen put it: “We live in a cold, harsh, and remote place. Every person has to work hard for themselves, but that is not always enough. You have to help your neighbor.”

But calidad humana connotes the sort of deep caring one might expect of a first-class hospice or palliative care center.

Another similarity between Finland and the Philippines is how much they value education. Finland has been fortunate in having a third of its presidents come from educated philosophical backgrounds.

(In CDO, education seems to be the biggest industry.) As sociologist Riitta Jallinoja put it: “Education was the key to advancement.”

So the “magic sauce” for the Finns were self-confidence, cooperation, equality, respect for education, and trust in the workings of their democratic institutions (so organized crime and corruption are virtually nonexistent).

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With the cost of higher education in the Philippines being made somewhat irrelevant, the future looks brighter here.

One memory that has stayed with me a long time is when I went to the SSS once to submit a payment for my wife, and found long queues everywhere.

Being in a bit of a hurry, I asked a lady in the middle of a long line how long she had been waiting, and she said about an hour but her face was so tranquil and patient, as she was prepared to stand there for as long as it took.

Wasn’t the first adjective that St. Paul used in 1 Cor. 13:4 on love is that it was “patient” and that it was “kind”?

Those adjectives say a lot about the best Filipino traits I have noticed — it’s not how technologically clever they are, but their patience and kindness will see them through.

For us, it’s been a memorable and tumultuous 10 years. For myself, all I can say is: “Je suis contente. Zadowolony (I am happy, contented).”

WALTER P KOMARNICKI, [email protected]

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TAGS: Bayanihan, Filipino culture, Filipino-Finish similarities, Finnish culture, Inquirer letters, persistence, sisu, talkoo, Walter P. Komarnicki
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