Watch your (my) words

A note with being so direct

An old adage says, “Actions are better than words”. But words can be as powerul as actions. One word can heal. One word can hurt. One word can make and break a relationship. One word can change your life, and that of others. Indeed, one word can do more than a single thing.

I have known myself as a guy who’s always been straighforward, firm to his own principles but still respectful of others’ opinion. (Of course, this is entirely based from my close friends and colleagues’ observation of me — and of my own reflection of myself.) So, when I joined my current employer in the Philippines, which happened to be an American multinational company, I thought I already got the edge when it comes to communicating, through email or in person, primarily with Americans, who are known as direct people. But as time passed by, I realized that my being so direct seemed to be a disadvantage as well. Here’s why:

Even if I am working in an American company, still I am based in the Philippines — which means to say you have to adjust because lot of folks here are clinging to the traditional perception of when speaking so direct to others especially if they are older than you, the society will label you as disrespectful. To the point that those you have “disrespected” blame your parents for bringing you up as such.

For the record, I consider myself as part neither of those folks nor that society.

You should know that majority of Filipinos are hierarchical — which simply means we respect those who are higher to us in terms of age, position at work and ranking in the society, regardless of whether they are already wrong or right.

At workplace, showing respect can be in the form of keeping silent while your boss is defending his or her opinion and urging you to believe in that opinion, though your belief is other way around. To counter argue might be seen as an offensive act to the extent that it may appear already as a disrespectful act for some. In this form of respect alone, there created a source of being judged as disrespectful when not used appropriately. Respect can also be in the form of using polite words before the name of the person you are talking to such as Ate (older sister) and Kuya (older brother) or the Ma’am and Sir. Note though that this is totally different when conversing to other nationalities who prefer to be called at their first name. So you have to be careful when communicating to orthodox folks because if you forget those words, those people will judge you negatively. That’s why for me who has embraced straightforwardness when it comes to many things and who is part of the Filipino community, I have always faced a dilemma.

No question on how I was raised by my parents. Because of them, I learned to be respectful to elders, to those at my age level and to younger ones. But as I grew up, I chose to be straighforward when it comes to my ideas and feelings regardless of who I am talking to. Actually, the words below by Fred Korematsu are what influenced me greatly. To quote:

“If you think there’s something wrong, don’t be afraid to speak up”

To explicate it, if it came to my attention that someone, regardless of his or her age, is already doing something wrong (especially if it already affects other people who can’t fight on their own with the fear of being labeled as disrespectful when they attempt to voice out), I wouldn’t hesitate to step forward and do something, to counter that person’s actions.

I’ve done one before in my previous company by enlisting myself to be a witness to a complaint case against a supervisor who’s accused of violating company policy related to correctly reporting of work time. Well, i have no hidden agenda against that supervisor, it is just that if my voice would help let that person realize her mistakes, why not tell what I had witness. With the help of other witnessess, the results were unfavorable to that supervisor until she got suspended from her job and eventually decided to resign because of humiliation.

Good outcome? Not at all. The repercussions were worst with what I have expected. Aside from the fact that the supervisor unfriended me from Facebook, her kins and close friends started to antagonize me as well. I think this reflects the negative side of the strong family and friendship ties of Filipinos — even if you know already that your kin or friend has been proven to have done something wrong, you still there to protect him or her. Furthermore, another impact of being a witness to a case and eventually won is the feeling of guilt after. Well, this is as far as how I assessed my emotions. Even if i know that I did the right thing, when I caused someone’s pain, I feel guilty.

Perhaps, these are the results of being a direct person. When we don’t control the flow of our words, even if in our perspective, those words would have less impact to others or only words that come out naturally from our mouth, we might turn out to be the villain and accused of being disrespectful.