It’s 6:30 a.m. and I’m exhausted from having stayed up the whole night with a restless child who just can’t sleep. Just as she seems to be settling down, she gets agitated again because the gardener is passing by, pushing a rusty, rickety wheelbarrow while singing “Pare, Mahal Mo Raw Ako” and laughing after each line. He stops strategically in front of the bedroom window and starts to water the plants, now singing the rap song “Tao Lang.”
After dispatching the gardener to the other end of the garden, and spending another half an hour calming the baby, I settle in for breakfast.
“Ser, good morning, ser,” says the new household helper. She begins to do a frantic dance-and-dust routine, humming some sticky tune that is sure to haunt me for the rest of the day. She dusts all around the room, around the dining table, around me—and never mind that I’m sure I didn’t put milk yet into the champorado but it is now all-white.
These are true although somewhat embellished stories, a composite based on years of having to live with pakitang-tao, literally translated as “letting people see,” with an element of showing off. There are two types of pakitang-tao and the one I’ve just described is one where employees try to impress their employers, to show that they’re working hard.
The problem is that the more pakitang-tao involved, the more likely the employee is not to be at par, meaning when you’re not looking, they end up not doing anything or, worse, doing everything else except their work.
In their zeal to show off, pakitang-tao practitioners sometimes invite unintended, and very serious, consequences. At one time, when visiting my parents, one of my children slipped on the wet floor of the living room. My parents, who were then in their 80s, told me about a long running battle with their helper, who would throw a pail of water on the floor and then mop away (I can’t remember if it’s with or without music) whenever someone was in the living room. I had to talk with the helper to explain the risks of a wet floor… and pakitang-tao.
No one’s watching
I’m taking off from my Wednesday column where I partly blamed what seems to be our lack of discipline on our “hala, lagot” ethic, one that goes back to our child-rearing practices where we’re always admonishing children to behave because someone is watching.
At an early age, kids are able to figure it out: If Dad or the policeman or the priest or some supernatural creature isn’t around, then you can do whatever you want to do.
The “hala, lagot” ethic is related to pakitang-tao. Instead of being concerned about getting caught doing something wrong, here you want to show off good behavior or good work when someone’s watching.
This is always problematic, whether in a household or in an office, because work must be consistently good whether a supervisor is watching or not.
This is why in my own work as an administrator, I’m constantly dropping in on offices unannounced. There have been times, especially when I’m new to an administrative position, when people don’t even recognize me, so I get to see them gossiping or playing games (or, lately, engrossed in Facebook) on the office computer. When they realize that “the boss” is in, they panic. I laugh off their panic but chide them, explaining my views on pakitang-tao and, like MacArthur, promising to return and hoping to see more of kusa, or voluntary goodness.
Pakitang-tao always has a power dimension to it: You display good behavior only to people of authority. I just have to share a story to explain a variation on it.
Shortly after I was appointed university chancellor last year, I arrived at an office on a rainy day. I couldn’t find parking space and all the guard could say was “Hanapin mo lang (Look for it).” I finally found space a bit of a distance from the building. I parked, dashed from the car to the building, and scampered up the slippery steps while the guard looked on nonchalantly.
One of the staff was distraught when she found out. “But I told them the chancellor was arriving,” she said. She ran off to investigate and came back, looking very sheepish and explaining that the guards had indeed been waiting for the chancellor except that they were on the lookout for the previous one, not knowing that a new one had been appointed.
I summoned the guards and started: “I’m not going to look at your name patches this time.” Then I explained that this wasn’t a matter of chancellors or ex-chancellors but of being hospitable to all visitors. Our selective hospitality—that is, extended only to people of our own or of higher status—is in fact pakitang-tao.
The practice of pakitang-tao should be part of personnel training in any office. The problem is endemic, and is one reason even Filipino investors will put their money in another country with less of pakitang-tao.
If your personnel managers are tackling pakitang-tao, they may as well include the other aspect of showing off. Pakitang-tao applies as well to our extravagance when it comes to birthdays, baptisms, weddings, even burials. I once had a household helper borrowing money from me to buy a private memorial park lot for a parent who had just died. When I said it was cheaper in the municipal cemetery, she broke into tears: “But what will my relatives say?”
When you think hard about it, the two types of pakitang-tao find convergence in political gimmickry, especially during election campaigns when you find more billboards proclaiming long-overdue or, worse, nonexistent projects of officials. Then there are all those expensive public relations events like medical missions. It’s all pakitang-tao using taxpayer money.
The solutions to these two types of pakitang-tao will be different. In the first type, where employees feign hard work, we should be pushing for kusaand being consistently good whether someone’s watching or not. In the second type, involving extravagant spending, we’ll just have to invoke the good old value of thrift, maybe advising people that their child would benefit more if the money were set aside for schooling rather than for a big birthday bash.
In both cases, however, we should be going back to the word itself, and its intention of impressing people. All said, pakitang-tao is really just trying to impress yourself. Yet, people do see through it, and talk in condescending terms about people who do it. So all that effort, all that spending, might be in vain, and can even work against you.
It all boils down then to honesty—to others, and, more importantly, to yourself.
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