Thinking small of ourselves

12:25 AM January 11, 2016

EVERY TIME my son, Rex, who is an expert IT trainer comes home from training young executives, he shakes his head in frustration. He complains that his students, all of whom are young executives, do not know how to think and analyze, and are afraid of hard work. They request for easy exam questions and easy homeworks, and complain of headaches when given difficult tasks.

These are the young people our national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal, expected to be the “pag-asa ng bayan” (hope of the motherland) and the ones who would lift the country to the level of a tiger economy.


National Artist Nick Joaquin asks: “Why are we so disinclined to face up to challenges? (“Culture and History,” Anvil Publishing Inc. 1988). Indeed, how can a people ever dream of achieving a tiger economy status when our hearts and minds are that of a pussycat?

We always want a smooth ride on paved roads and avoid driving up rocky and bone-crushing mountain trails to where the pot of gold is.


In that book, Joaquin devotes a whole chapter titled “A Heritage of Smallness” to delving profoundly into the Filipinos’ confidence in doing and excelling in small things and their failures to push beyond the small and easy into the hard and big projects.

According to Joaquin, there is probably no country in the world where one can buy tingi except in the Philippines. He said that while foreigners buy in bulk, only in this country can one “buy and sell one stick of cigarette, half a head of garlic, a dab of hair pomade… one single egg, (and) one single banana.”

Joaquin provides three features of this national character:

“First: the Filipino works best on small scale-tiny figurines, small pots, filigree works in gold or silver, decorative arabesque. The deduction here is that we feel adequate to the challenge of the small, but are cowed by the challenge of the big.

“Second: that the Filipino chooses to work in soft easy materials–clay, molten metal, tree searching has failed to turn up anything really monumental in hardstone. Even carabao horn, an obvious material for native craftsmen, has not been used to any extent remotely comparable to the use of ivory in the ivory countries. The deduction here is that we feel equal to the materials that yield but evade the challenge of materials that resist.

“Third: that having mastered a material, style, craft or product, we tend to rut in it and don’t move on to the next phase, a larger development, based on what we have learned. In fact, we instantly lay down even what mastery we already possess when confronted by the challenge from outside of something more masterly, instead of being provoked by the threat of competition.”

Filipinos are a battered people. We are battered by white colonizers whom we can easily recognize but have difficulties acknowledging the brown and yellow business colonizers among us who shackle our attempts to keep our noses above water. Like giant vacuum cleaners, they suck in every business opportunities open to dirt-poor Filipinos.


How can small and medium businesses fight and survive the juggernaut of huge business empires like Shoemart and Mercury Drug? When the lions roar, the little cats can do nothing but scamper away and find shelter inside the farthest end of a cave.

Confirmed in the feeling of insignificance, he will rationalize his smallness by saying “maliit lang ang nakakapuwing” (only tiny objects irritate the eyes). He will be content to excel doing the small things but will remain pusillanimous in big things where the windfalls are.

The late Fr. Jaime Bulatao, our professor in psychology, said: “You are what you think you are. If you think you have short legs when you actually have long legs, you will probably decline to join a high jump competition.”

Carlos D. Isles, a writer, a poet and a professional harmonica player with a degree in philosophy from San Jose Seminary (Ateneo de Manila), was a consultant of World Bank- and ADB-funded community development projects in Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and the Philippines.

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TAGS: business, Jose Rizal, nick joaquin, opinion
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