History has been at the fore of social conversations of late, as much as it has upended our collective understanding of seemingly uncomplicated ideas like truth and respect. As a history content creator, I am awed at the lives of prominent Filipinos of the past who, beyond their commitment to service and excellence, also embraced the traditional Filipino values of honor, benevolence, and loyalty.
Reading the worsening quality of public social media discourse these days, one may ask, Anyare? When I wonder what lies ahead for my children, other questions keep coming. How can we nurture a deeper sense of duty in young Filipinos? How can honor become fashionable in the eyes of Gen Zers? How can we teach our children respect for authority, and how can they hold those in power to a higher standard?
Reimagining the future means looking at our present and our past and appreciating the dynamic nature of Pinoy identity, belief, and culture.
Return to the family. Before the establishment of Western school systems in the Philippines, the education of children was in the hands of their parents. Generations of fathers and mothers took on the honor of passing their knowledge of their craft or vocation to their children. The village elders also took on a special role in teaching the young about our animistic beliefs, histories, weaponry, among others. Our ancestors did not make physical records typically, so they passed knowledge and skills from ascendant to descendant, from mentor to student, ratified only by traditional respect. This profound connection across the generations was an important part of our pre-colonial culture.
Reimagining the future means looking at our present and our past and appreciating the dynamic nature of Pinoy identity, belief and culture.
Promoting a healthy parent-child, mentor-student relationship, outside the confines of a classroom allows a parent or teacher to influence the youth to appreciate not only academics, but also the wisdom and experience of one’s elders. Critical thinking and problem-solving skills in younger children are developed by modeling elders with whom they have an attachment.
Teach responsibility and duty. As children, we first learn about duty and responsibility in the family. The traditional sign of respect, pagmamano, a distinctly Filipino gesture done by bringing the elder’s right hand to the young’s forehead, is one of our revered traditions. Our custom is similar to (though not as nuanced as) the elaborate practice of bowing or stooping in other Asian cultures — “kowtow” in China, “jeol” in Korea and “ojigi” in Japan. Filial piety is an inherent value in Christianism, Confucianism, and Buddhism, where the faithful are dedicated to honoring the family name, respecting one’s aging parents and valuing group harmony over individual whims.
Parents and teachers may reinforce a sense of duty and responsibility in the young by talking about how they are connected to a larger group, the nation and the world. The young must learn how their actions do not only affect one but can also affect many. This need not be a step back for those whose misplaced sense of duty sometimes strains their mental health. Striking a balance is key. A heightened sense of duty and responsibility undeniably contributes to the growing cadre of empowered changemakers shaping the world.
Rediscover respect. The years the Philippines spent under colonial and dictatorial masters exposed us to centuries under powers who brought us into their empires but stifled our indigenous customs and our right to self-determination in the process. It cemented a cultural view that for those who do not wield power, a peaceful existence must be rooted in fear, obedience, and submission. When our national identity was awakened, challenging the oppressive and the powerful became a badge of honor and was deemed worthy of emulation.
As any parent and educator would attest, the delicate balance between teaching independent thinking and respect for authority is best secured with trust, rather than fear. We gain the trust of those under our care when we listen to what they want to say, when we tell them the truth and when we help them succeed. Admittedly, this is more easily said than done.
Nurture honor. Honor is not only about being lifted up for achievement; it also means aspiring for qualities that make individuals a better version of themselves. Palabra de honor or “word of honor,” for example, used to be an immovable expectation in our elders and authority figures, because the truth is a valued foundation of our sense of belonging to society and of profound human relationships. The commitment to truth gives one the license to be in positions of responsibility.
Caretakers of impressionable minds must battle against the challenge of today’s modern existence — a distrust for people trying to live honorable lives. We must teach the young that nurturing a sense of honor in oneself also means seeing this quality in others. We need to make encouraging, empowering, and supporting others a desirable aspiration.
Perhaps, in reimagining our future, we need not delve into the historical “what ifs” or compare ourselves to societies far from our shores. Perhaps in connecting to our values, we can find a path to our ambitions as human beings and as a nation — through love, joy, community, justice, democracy, and peace. Perhaps in rediscovering what our ancestors valued, we can build a nation that is a fitting inheritance for our children.