Amor propio

Corporate Watch
Amelia H.C. Ylagan

Posted on June 18, 2012

"The prism of one’s reason and self-esteem does not seem to me censurable. For some purpose God must have given such qualities to man. Were we to see our personal affairs through the prism of others, we would find that it is not very practical, as there are many prisms as there are individuals…we would not know which to choose, and in choosing we would have to use our own criterion or judgment unless we chose indiscriminately."

That was Jose Rizal speaking his mind, in reply to the Jesuit Fr. Pastells’ letter exhorting him to desist from the contrary evaluation of prevalent politics and philosophies "through the prism of (his) reason and self-esteem" -- to the detriment of his freedom and liberties. (Rizal was in political exile in Dapitan in 1892.) Fr. Pastell, young Rizal’s former mentor at the Ateneo Municipal de Manila, was concerned for Rizal’s ruin by his self-pride, in a way that the 18th century Scottish philosopher David Hume critiqued Genevan thinker Jean Jacques Rousseau’s egotistical daring:

"(He) has not had the precaution to throw any veil over his sentiments; and, as he scorns to dissemble his contempt for established opinions, he could not wonder that all the zealots were in arms against him. The liberty of the press is not so secured in any country…as not to render such an open attack on popular prejudice somewhat dangerous."

But consider that Rizal lived in the 19th century climate change of liberal thought, wrought by storms of the vocal idealism of the 18th century "Age of Enlightenment" in Europe and America -- an ambience that had urged the debate of Rousseau and Hume a century before. From age 21 years, Rizal was educated in Europe: at the Universidad Central de Madrid (licentiate in Medicine, after an M.D. at the Universidad de Santo Tomas in Manila); at the University of Paris (Ph.D.); and at the University of Heidelberg (specialization in ophthalmology). He was a genius who could speak 22 languages, a prolific poet, novelist, essayist, diarist, painter and sculptor, aside from having Latin-honor multiple degrees. Rousseau called such deservedly elevated self-worth "amour propre" or the Spanish "amor propio," which naturally resided in the intellectually superior, such as Rizal.

In Europe, Rizal imbibed the giddy expectations of the emboldened intelligentsia as the waning monarchic aristocracies were forced to make way for democratic rule of nations. While rapidly losing her colonies in South America, the Spanish mainland was, at the time of Rizal, in the vulnerable indecision of trying to set up a republican government or continuing the Carlist monarchical line after Queen Isabella II’s turbulent 35-year reign. For the colonized Filipinos, it was a situation asking for opportunistic attention from the propagandists for representation and participation in the Spanish Cortes; (they were not fighting for independence). Other prominent Propagandists included Graciano Lopez Jaena and Marcelo H. del Pilar, who established a biweekly newspaper in Barcelona, La Solidaridad (Solidarity), which became the principal organ of the Philippine Propaganda Movement.

Yes, it was amor propio for themselves, personally, and for their countrymen as a whole, which drove Rizal and the intellectual propagandists to fight for reforms for the Filipino people. Rizal was particularly incensed by the racist slant of the Spanish historian Antonio Morga in Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas, in which the Spanish colonizers were of course praised and the natives denigrated to indolent savages. Rizal published a controversial detailed annotation and rebuttal of Morga’s book, after which he wrote the two more boldly accusative satires on the misdeeds of the Spanish colonizers, the Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo. The last two novels cost Rizal his life, as he was sentenced and killed for sedition on December 30, 1896. Should he have listened to Fr. Pastell "not to see (things) through the prism of one’s reason and self-esteem?" Hume was right, it can be "dangerous" to do this.

Amor propio is part of our culture, sociologist F. Landa Jocano, professor emeritus of the University of the Philippines College of Sociology and Anthropology teaches -- the Filipino people are super sensitive to the emotional imperatives that guide asal or conduct (behavior). "Delicadeza and Amor propio are the two damdamin (emotional) norms which govern our sense of propriety and self-esteem. Any action which is not cushioned by delicadeza (a refinement of behavior above the basic right thing to do) provokes amor propio (a slight on the other’s self-esteem)." Hurting the amor propio necessitates an equalizing reaction, for the resulting "loss of face" or hiya. This enjoins us (Filipinos) to be sensitive to anything -- a statement or action -- which demeans our personal dignity, or that of others. In this way, amor propio is good, because it provides reinforcement to the basic values of right and wrong, honesty and integrity, transparency and all other rules of ethics and right conduct. This has been the norm for Filipinos since the time of the datus, way before Spanish colonization.

On the eve of the 151st anniversary of the birth of our national hero, Dr. Jose Protacio Rizal (June 19, 1861), we recall how very Filipino he was in his righteous indignation at the affront to the self-esteem of the nation by the abusive and insensitive colonizers. Rizal and his group of propagandists were simply asking for recognition and representation in the Spanish legislature, of course premised on the minimally guided self-rule of a colony under Spain, like the South American colonies moving towards independence from Spain in due time. But each rebuff and insult urged the uncompromising rectification of amor propio, to the teetering edge of Rousseau’s predicted savage conflict of man fighting against man for honor more than for gain. And so we have a well-loved national hero in Jose Rizal, who fought and died for intrinsic Filipino identity and dignity.

The only way Filipinos can revere Rizal’s self-immolation for the country is to uphold the values and traditions that have united the people for the common good, and for universal peace and harmony. There can be no compromises on self-respect, and respect for others. Amor propio and delicadeza must reign in individual ambitions for wealth and glory, now perceptively driven by the pernicious "end justifying the means" of selfish indifference to others.

Alas that politics and economics seem to have sprung too much ahead of the underpinning sociology of human relations that must be the primary concern of countries and governments. Watch politicians fighting dirty for the dismal-paying positions that offer awesome possibilities for unjust enrichment from unexplained wealth. Human rights violations increase unattended, and the chasm between the rich and the poor grows wider as environment for healthy living narrows from criminal neglect. The judicial system that upholds rights and entitlements of the citizenry has succumbed to the corruption of power and influence.

Where is our amor propio as a people?