I feel that a constant guiding point of our culture has been the concept of utang ng loob. We Filipinos allow this sense of duty and obligation dictate the paths we take in life. More often than not this obligation is owed to our family, especially our elders.
It manifests itself in the way we never ‘talk back’ (no matter how old or how in the right we are), how moving out of the family home is looked down on, or how everything we do has to give back to the family in one way or the other. But lately, we’ve begun to ask if this should stay an absolute value.
There’s been a recent shift towards a more Western way of thinking. The younger generation has started to look for more and more independence. In some instances, resentment has made this duty seem more like being controlled. So people are distancing themselves from the kind of thinking that says we put our family above everything — even ourselves.
Of course, this happens on a spectrum. The extreme end is cutting off your family entirely, deciding that the harm they impact in your life is too much. Milder actions are things like choosing a degree your parents oppose, or dating someone your family might not necessarily like. The middle ground, and where a majority of the discussion lies, are situations where you deprioritize family for yourself.
This might look like being brave enough to move out and live alone (or with your significant other), despite your family worrying how it will look. Or it could mean saving up and building your own career before you start thinking about sending money back home. Sure, there are hints of selfishness here but it’s ultimately about recognizing that priorities aside from family exist, and subsequently balancing them.
When does the worst happen, then? The extreme end occurs when you’re forced into it. When your family can’t accept who you are, or who you love. When abuse is present at home. Or even just when you are inherently incompatible and forced to conform.
In these instances, it is entirely justified to put yourself first. Prioritization of family should be reciprocal — it’s a give and take. Your willingness to love them no matter what is something they should be giving you, too. It means being able to move past all barriers and come to a compromise, because if family really is the most important thing then nothing should be insurmountable.
Personally, I think that family will always be important. Not necessarily that it should be important, but that as a fact of life, it is important. Our love and loyalty to our family are so deeply ingrained we could call it automatic. Particularly in the Philippines, where the family is still such a tightly knit and important unit of society. It’s so much more difficult to escape the construct of a family here.
But we can still dictate the degree of importance that we allow family to take up in our lives. We can decide when there are things more important than what our family wants and expects from us. In the end, we ought to be able to choose for ourselves and to choose without judgment from others.
Where do you stand on this issue?