SIR is the basis on which Philippine Society functions. It is the very foundation of Philippine Culture. It is also something that most foreigners don’t understand, even if they try. I don’t fully understand it, although I have a pretty good understanding of SIR, I think, but there is always a need to learn more about a topic that is so important that it dictates how you need to live your life if you are living the Philippines. If you can’t grasp SIR to some extent, and at least make some effort to live your life in a way that is compatible with SIR, you probably won’t be very happy Living in the Philippines.
Who is this “SIR” that I am talking about? Actually, it’s not a person, it is a lifestyle, a culture. SIR stands for Smooth Interpersonal Relations. It is the main building block, the foundation of how Philippine Society operates. “Smooth” being part of the name, let’s say that SIR is the way that things are kept “Smooth” in the society. SIR dictates how a person should act, how others should be treated, where your place is in society, how to interact with others, just about everything about life in the Society of the Philippines.
Many foreigners like you and I may just laugh this off, think that the culture of the Philippines is inferior to Western culture, etc. But, if you plan to live in the Philippines, it’s best to put that attitude behind you, and at least try to adopt to the accepted culture of your new home. If you choose not to, it could cost you your life in extreme cases. So, I don’t laugh off SIR, I believe it is something that I should learn more about, and show deference to.
Last year, AmericanLola wrote an article on this site about SIR. She had been to a conference where Intercultural relationships were discussed, and she told us a little about SIR. For those who don’t know who AmericanLola is, she is an American who lived in the Philippines for over 20 years, as I recall. She is currently on a sort of haitus from the LiP site, and from the Philippines. She is back in the States, but she expects to return to the Philippines sometime next year, and I fully expect that she will return to writing on LiP at that time too.
Recently, my teacher, Bebe Metillo gave me two sets of papers about Philippine Culture. One of the items spelled out the Eight Basic Cultural Values that make up SIR. The other item she gave me goes into more detail in explaining cultural norms in the Philippines. When I looked over these materials I immediatley thought back to AmericanLola’s attendence at the conference about SIR, something which I had kind of forgotten about. I believe that AmericanLola and I may be using the same materials, because AmericanLola also has some relationship with the group that Bebe works with too. Whether the materials are the same or not, I find this subject to be very enlightening.
Many of the aspects of SIR are things that I already knew about. But, in reading the materials, I find that new concepts are introduced that I had not understood or thought of before. This particularly happens when concept A and concept B are then related to each other, which creates a whole new concept. I may have understood A and B, but never considered how they interacted with each other to create totally new concepts. In reading these things, I find that I can look back and see how these dynamics were present in different situations that I have experienced in my time living in the Philippines. I believe that learning this to a deeper extend, and applying these things to my life as much as I can will have a positive effect on my future of living in the Philippines.
So, what are the 8 Basic Cultural Values that make up SIR?
- In Group
- Ability to get along
- Shame, Loss of Face
- Debt of Gratitude
- Self-Esteem, Self-Worth
- Compadre/Kinship System
In the coming series of articles, I will address each of these Values, how they work, and how they interact with each other. I will also address things that we, as foreigners may not understand.
So, consider this as the first article in a series of articles that I will be writing about SIR over the next couple of weeks. I won’t write about this every day, some might find the subject boring, but I will write a number of articles on this over time. If you find that you have questions about SIR, ask away! If I don’t know the answer, I will ask Bebe about it and will get back to the discussion with her answer. She teaches the subject in school, after all, so she has expertise on this, and would be happy to share it.