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Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Value of Shame (“Hiya”) to Filipinos

Filipinos are very sensitive to personal affront. They try, as much as possible, to avoid feeling “hiya”, a painful emotion or deep shame arising from a realization of having failed to live up to the standards of the society such as a breach of social norms. It is a kind of anxiety, a fear of being left exposed, unprotected and unaccepted. It is a fear of being shunned by society, being subjected to which would mean humiliation of oneself.

“Hiya” is the value that regulates the Filipinos social behavior. Just as one is very careful not to be subjected to embarrassment or “mapahiya” one must also make it a point not to cause another person’s embarassment. For example, in asking favor, both parties are careful not to offend the other. So if a favor cannot be granted, the person who cannot oblige apologizes for his failure to do so with an explanation that it is not his intention to refuse but that other factors beyond his control keep him from doing so.

It is the currency applied within the society, controlling and motivating a person’s social behavior; the reason why a vast majority of Filipinos still remain conservative in their actions in this modern age. Everyone is expected to have hiya in the way they behave in order to win respect from the community. Dressing and living up to your word are good ways avoiding “hiya”.

Public ridicule, or to be censured openly, or to fail to do what is expected of one, is to suffer hiya, a loss of self-esteem. Inversely, not to feel one has acted improperly or to continue to behave in a manner disapproved by the community, is to be without “hiya”. This label automatically results in withdrawal of acceptance within one’s group, if not the entire community. It is a rather difficult word that to be charged with not having this sense of hiya is regarded as a grave social sin, for one to be called “walang hiya” is an ultimate insult.

Hiya is a controlling element in the Filipino society. A person’s behaviour is restricted by his sense of “hiya” while public behaviour is censured, or approved of, by hiya. For example, an employee would refrain from asking questions from his supervisor even if he is not quite sure what to do because of hiya; a party host may end up spending more than she can afford for a party, driven by hiya, a fear of being perceived in a negative way.

One’s self-esteem goes up and down, depending on the value you place on your own hiya in public. Like an employee dismissed from his job may react violently because of “hiya” or a workmate may not openly disagree with you even if he feels strongly against your opinion out of “hiya”.

This concept would be meaningless to a westerner who values individualism and non-conformism may because his behavior is controlled more by individual sense of guilt and less by group censure. To a Filipino, to lose the support of his kinsmen is to become a social outcast.

This Filipino trait has to be correlated with “Amor Propio” another important Filipino trait.

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