Photo by Avel Chuklanov on Unsplash
Before I knew it, my vocal cords were doing proverbial backflips.
There I was, singing country music for a bunch of Filipinos, as a shot glass and bowl of chicken feet got passed around like popcorn.
A dirt floor laid beneath my shoes. A rusty tin roof sheltered my head. The walls were made of heavy concrete blocks. It was a gray dwelling, but it turns out the walls didn’t need any color. The people inside gave the evening all the color it needed.
Besides, the TV had the greatest karaoke B-Roll I’ve ever seen. Slow motion surfing, amusement parks, and beaches danced on the screen. I drank so much beer I thought my voice was actually somewhat good, and I forgot the fact that my forehead had heavy beads of sweat forming near my hairline.
This is a typical party in the Philippines.
Signing, drinking, finger foods, laughing, and shouted conversations (because the music is so loud).
It goes without saying that you literally cannot buy an evening like that in America. You can’t replicate the house, the singing, the sweat, the beer, or the chicken feet — at least not all at the same time.
This is an article about how the Philippines made me a kinder person.
Filipinos are kind, hospitable, and generally smile a lot — but getting exposed to their kindness wasn’t the only thing that made me kinder over the last two years.
What did most of the work was the perspective I’d get from living in a developing country, and how most of the stuff I used to get upset about are things that wouldn’t even rattle my cage today.
The Child Living On A Cardboard Box In Manila Gave Me Perspective
Manila streets are very dark. Even on big thorough-ways alongside highway roads like EDSA, there seems to be little lighting.
One night my girlfriend and I were walking back from the mall and saw a boy sleeping on a cardboard box in the darkness. He must’ve been eleven.
He was also sleeping right in the middle of the sidewalk as people walked by him, not even giving him a second thought.
It was a horrible thing to see.
I didn’t know what to do. Someone had already sat down next to him, poking him, trying to get information about who he was and where he belonged. The boy just wanted to keep sleeping.
The Philippines is home to all sorts of shocking scenes like this. I’ve seen dogs with severe mange hobbling around on two broken legs in the 100 degree heat.
For the record, it’s not the fault of Filipinos. Their government doesn’t always look out for the citizens in my opinion, but that’s neither here nor there.
I hate talking about the poverty because there’s so much more to the Philippines than that, but it’s kind of hard for me to ignore as I pass by it on the street.
When you see stuff like that, you start to understand that life isn’t as simple as “work hard, get a job, and pull yourself up by your bootstraps.”
No. Many people don’t even have any bootstraps. The fact that many Americans seem to think everyone has bootstraps shows our privilege — and I don’t mean to put Americans down. It’s a lesson you can only learn when you go to a developing country.
Seeing such horrible scenes in the Philippines made me sad, but it also injected me with a lot of empathy. It’s shocking to see something like that.
As Baltasar Gracián said, “The truth is generally seen, rarely heard.”
You can’t argue with what you’re seeing.
Witnessing moments like the one I just described for you did a few things to me. One, it made me realize I have no clue what suffering really is. Two, it made me endlessly grateful for the comfort and love I grew up with. Three, it softened my heart, made me humble, and in the end, made me kinder.
The Philippines Has A Culture Of Kindness
People smile a lot in the Philippines. It’s a crazy stereotype, but it’s one that actually holds water.
The Philippines also has a culture of respect, and it generally takes the emphasis off the individual and onto the family. America is a very individualistic society, which is completely fine, but the family-oriented ways of the Philippines has some upsides, too.
When you’re so family-oriented, it makes you less selfish, more giving, and oddly enough, more happy — since your life revolves around other people instead of your own wishes and whims.
A big lie of Western culture is that focusing on yourself more will make you more happy.
This isn’t true. Filipinos know this. That’s why they seem happier despite having less than Americans do.
Being in the Philippines has made me value my own family more. It’s made me love this quote from The Godfather:
“A man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man.”
Adopting a more family-oriented approach in my life has made me happier, more content, and by extension, a bit kinder, too.
The Philippines Broke Down Two Major Western Lies For Me
#1. You need more things to be more content.
#2. You need to focus on yourself to be more happy.
Which brings us back to my chicken feet, shot glass, karaoke popcorn story.
As I consumed chicken feet, sang karaoke, drank beer, and generally had a great time among new friends, I realized all I needed was right there in front of me.
People. Some beer. Some chicken. A karaoke machine.
Give me that, and I’m content.
You don’t need to be in a mansion to have a great time. Laughing with other people is the best medicine. It took me a while to wake myself from the slumber that Western culture put on me.
I love the Philippines. I am kinder here. I’m more content here. I get my whole worldview rocked to its core when I’m there.
This emphasis on others and constantly shifting perspective keeps me light on my toes. It keeps me humble. It keeps me remembering how ignorant I really am of the world. It makes me kinder towards others to know I don’t know everything.
Thank you Philippines for giving that to me.