Over the weekend, I read an interesting article from Dave Starr on his site entitled “Philippine Family Matters.” I was so happy that I decided to take the time to read the article because of several reasons. Firstly, it drove home something that I have written about myself a number of times. Secondly, it made me think about how Dave’s Philippine family and mine are so very similar, which reinforced in me that this is really how the culture is, not just some freak occurance. And, thirdly, it made me think of something new. To be honest, I don’t think it taught me anything I didn’t already know, but what it did was make me put a few different things together and that made me think about something in a new way.
Dave told a story about his niece, Gia, who has moved in with Dave and his wife and is now attending school. I could tell from reading the article that Dave has an obvious affection for his niece. I really value my relationships with several of my nieces, it is a special tie. Dave told about how since Gia is now living in his household, he and his wife have taken on the role of parenting. Much like Dave, I have had the same experience. For 7 or 8 years now, I have had various nieces and nephews living with me off an on. Some of them up to 4 or 5 years at a time, even longer, I suppose. And, indeed, you become a parent to them. You don’t call up or text their parents when a decision needs to be made. You are the parent now, and you make the decision. You do what is best for the young lady or man. It’s a special responsibility, and to be honest, it is one that I have enjoyed. It has brought richness to my life. Instead of having 3 or 4 kids, I have lots of kids now that I also have some parenting responsibility for other family members too.
Dave told about how Philippine families “pay it forward.” I loved it. I’ve heard the term “pay it forward” but had never thought of it in the terms Dave used. Dave told about how one family member (or a combination of family members) will pay for a youngster to go to school. Let’s say that “Uncle Dave” pays for Gia to go to college (I don’t know the financial arrangements that Dave has with Gia, so this is only an example). OK, when Gia finishes up college, she does not necessarily pay Dave back the money that he spent on her education. Instead, she might use her education to earn money to pay for her younger brother, or her young cousin or nephew to go to college. She pays it forward, not back. So, Dave might pay for one person to go to school, then it starts a seemingly never-ending chain of people getting educated from those original funds. In other words, unless somebody breaks that chain, Dave’s investment keeps getting paid forward to somebody else, and that original investment enables a LOT of people to go to college over the years. This is how it generally works in my Philippine family too, and I find it refreshing.
Now, all of this kicked off some other thinking in my mind. Over the years, I have heard a lot of foreigners say that Filipinos are dishonest. I’ve heard a lot of people say that money loaned is never repaid. Some foreigners tell me that if a family member asks to borrow money you should just give it as a gift instead of a loan, because it won’t be repaid anyway. Well, maybe, just maybe, these two things are tied together. Maybe they are not going to pay it back. Maybe they intend to pay it forward. Maybe not… but maybe so too.
Maybe the best thing we can do for a family member who is in need is not to give a gift of money to them. Maybe we should tell them that they don’t have to pay it back, but rather, they have to pay it forward within the family. Maybe we need to tell the family member that by accepting the P5,000 from us, they are taking on a responsibilitiy to pay the money forward to another family member who is in need in the future. I think that if we do so, we should also tell the borrower that when they do pay it forward, they need to let us know that they already fulfilled their responsibility.
If we, as foreigners, handle family financial requests this way, we can make ourselves feel better. Firstly, we are not getting all upset waiting for the loan to be repaid. Secondly, we can feel happiness about helping somebody with a genuine financial need. Thirdly, we get to experience the joy all over again a few years down the road when a second person gets assistance when they are in need.
I am not talking about somebody wanting some money to buy a new cellphone, or to go out drinking. I’m talking about a genuine financial need.
You know, we don’t know all the answers. We can learn from the way that Filipinos do things. Yeah, they can learn from us too, but that’s not the point. If we loan P1,000 to a brother in law and he doesn’t pay it back, how much stress should we go through over it? How much damage to our health should be endure from the stress? Instead, maybe we need to loosen up a bit, enjoy the help that we have given to somebody’s life, and look forward to how that assistance will continue to move forward in the family.
That’s the thought that Dave struck in my mind. What do you think?