Kanya-Kanya: Pitfalls of a Personal Agenda

“Filipinos have a selfish, self-serving attitude that generates a feeling of envy and competitiveness towards others, particularly one’s peers, who seem to have gained some status or prestige. Towards them, the Filipino demonstrates the so-called “crab mentality”, using the levelling instruments of” tsismis”,” intriga” and destructive criticism to bring others down. There seems to be a basic assumption that another’s gain is our loss. The kanya-kanya syndrome is also evident in personal ambition, the drive for power and a status that is completely insensitive to the common good. Personal and in-group interests reign supreme. This characteristic is also evident in the lack of a sense of service among people in the government bureaucracy. The public is made to feel that service from these offices and from these civil servants is an extra perk that has to be paid for”.
-Patricia Licuanan, Filipino Virtues and Values, Chapter 4, Ateneo de Manila
Within the rules of critical thinking, absolute generalizations are classified as a fallacy. When a sweeping statement unfairly implies a one-sided attribute, there is something erratic about its journalistic structure. Although I do not completely agree with the author whom I quoted above, I don’t refute the contents of her premises either. However, I believe a self-serving attitude that generates envy towards another is not a dominant or an exclusive Filipino trait. It is actually a common human weakness present in any ethnic race, although I can concede that the “crab mentality” innuendo is one of our favorite stereotyped national traits, a self debasing description that we decry with gusto.
Moreover, I would dare say that “crab mentality” is not a Filipino monopoly. We first need to understand that the insular conditions of many Filipinos have affected us to think and behave as such. A “crab” as a metaphor is more affiliated to islands and islets, places where many of us grew up. The term ‘insular” is used in contrast to “continental”, a huge land mass like that that of Europe, America or Africa. An insular person is subjected to the limitations of land and has easy access to bodies of water. A continental person on the other hand sometimes does not even have any idea of what a sea looks like though he has more freedom to travel by land. The factors that affect their modes of thinking are directly determined by the contrasting geographical conditions that surround them.
So who is the typical “crab”? Grade school science taught me that crabs are crustaceans, marine animals that possess an exoskeleton, a hard outer shell utilized as a protection against hostile predators, and provides a portable shelter against an unpredictable environment. Crabs have big bulging eyes and normally walk sideways. They have pincers with thorny spikes oftentimes used for self defense. They are slow and ugly. Quarrelsome and individualistic, each crab fights to climb up and out, only to have other crabs pull it down again. It is a crab’s nature to step on other crabs and be pulled down by the pincers of its peers.
For the Filipino, those with a hard shell are those with a tough hide (makapal ang mukha), a conniving soul whose conscience is lost in the thicket of wild rumors, sanctimonious complaints, and bellowing bickers. Beware of that person. Only a miracle could change an obstinate being. Unfortunately, like him though, we also fall into the trap of unconsciously pulling others down to lance ourselves on top, committing crimes of slander just so our names will not go under. Shame, shame, shame. Before we start thinking of naming names, listen to the whispers of “Davy Cricket”, that feisty bug who bemoaned “Pinocchio”, the wooden puppet because of his growing nose, the curse he got for deviating from the truth
Personal ambition is laudable. It is through a burning dream that ambitions are incarnated into reality. In some sectors of the Philippine society, there is a pejorative attachment to the modifier “ambicioso”, the Tagalog translation for ambitious. It is as if wanting to be better or desiring to have something more were a cardinal offense. The admonition “do not be too ambitious” is a nagging reminder amongst some to just remain where they are and stay put. Again, the life in an island, with security bordered by the sea, is a life with limited dimensions. Unless someone climbs a boat and sails through the waves, happiness is confined to what there is. Crab behavior is a validation of this situation. And the one who thinks like a crab is someone who is afraid to go somewhere but does not want to be alone. Someone else has to hang around in the same misery, buried in the same pile of mediocrity.
When we review a Filipino American organization, club or association, the “Crab Mentality” prevails when the symptoms of resistance become a force that refuses anything new just because it is new. Since a static condition is boring, the bored individual needs to grab another bored soul to further populate a very bored function. So we end up with hundreds of listed and unlisted organizations with a lot of fuzz and a myriad buzz of too much ado about nothing.
Of course this cult like group would defend, by all means, the comforts of kanya-kanya. That which is good in competition, the desire to do the best, is then extracted into a heap of negative efforts by discrediting the best in others. So instead of emulating the wisdom and sage of the authentic few, crabs have to pull them down and force them to be like the faceless many of the nameless bum. The green growling envious heart spills the bile of fatal jealousy and destructive enmity until the crab gathers more crabs and huddle in their small, dingy little space.
Personal agenda is permissible only in so far as it could serve a common good. It is personal only because it comes from a specific person whose initiative deserves praise. But when that personal agenda is geared and customized to satiate an endless hanker for selfish good, then it becomes a crab eager to pull a comrade down to its own pit. And the vice becomes a vicious pattern of destruction and mediocrity.
When I was a kid, I somewhat enjoy to listen to “chismes”(gossip) and intriga (intrigue). They somewhat represent a Filipino’s spice of life. Chismes and Intriga could only be true or false. If false, then we don’t have anything to worry. And if they are true, no one would probably believe them anyway. So in the end, we are left with satirical verses worthy of a chuckle. And taking things more seriously, we are who we are and not what others think us to be.
Every story, every tale, has its own value and function in the greater design of things.
Have a nice day! (And the crab went away)

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