Principles vs Rules

My wife is Filipina and Filipino people are more externally-driven than internally-driven.

In my post about the Filipino concept of happiness I mentioned that Filipinos prefer being masaya (temporary happiness which is the result of titillation and external stimulation or, in other words, what Aristotle called “hedonic happiness”) to being maligaya (inner happiness that does not depend upon external stimulation, or what Aristotle called “eudemonic happiness”).

And in my blog I have also repeatedly touched on the Filipino culture of pakikisama or togetherness: Filipinos definitely fancy being part of a group and very few seem to value the kind of solitude that creates internally grounded individuals.

So Filipinos are, in many areas, externally grounded.

This Filipino trait also influences what motivates many Filipinos to do what’s quote-unquote “right” or moral.

Filipinos seem to need rules and authority figures, who enforce the rules, and they also have a deep-seated need to avoid hiya (shame) and save mukha (face).

Very often Filipinos reason in terms of pwede ba? o hindi pwede? (can I or can’t I?), dapat ba? o hindi dapat? (do I have to do it or not?), bawal ba? o hindi bawal? (is it forbidden or not?).

And, as I have said, they often do something or abstain from doing something because failing to do the quote-unquote right thing or doing the wrong thing might be nakahihiya (put them to shame).

The buwaya

Traffic in Manila is a big mess and rules are merrily ignored….unless there is a buwaya (literally “crocodile”: a Filipino word that in this context means policeman) around.

People who are guided by principles create more advanced communities

One of the insights that travelling around the world has given me is that societies that need a lot of rules and the constant presence of some authority figure who is always reminding people to abide by the rules and where people need to always be specifically told what to do or not to do, what’s allowed or not allowed, are less progressive and evolved while societies that are driven by broad principles are more evolved.

This also applies to individuals because a society is the sum total of the individuals who make it up.

In my life I have visited very advanced countries such as Sweden and Finland and developing countries like the Philippines and what I have noticed, for example, is the fact that in the first group of nations people drive safely, and abide by the rules in general, regardless of whether police is around or not while in places like the Philippines people only respect the rules if a buwaya is there.

In the more advanced countries where people do the “right” thing (at least the kind of right things that create order and efficiency and a thriving economy) people seem to be guided by the general overarching principle “if I want to live in an efficient community I have to do my part as an exemplary citizen who drives safely and disposes of the garbage properly, stands in line without complaining etc.”.

There are people (and communities) who seem to be driven to doing what’s quote-unquote “right” from a place of consciousness and awareness of why doing the quote-unquote “right” thing is good and beneficial and they align with it.

And there are people who need a rule and a carrot and stick approach to do what’s “right” and the Philippines definitely seems to fall in this category.

“Tanungin mo ang pastor”, “sabi ng pastor”

And when it comes to religious laws and principles many Filipinos rely on what the pastor said and they need to be constantly reminded by some pastor what to do in a specific situation.

Now what’s interesting here is that the Philippines is a Christian nation, for the most part, and Christianity is all about principles over rules.

So, at least in theory, this concept of principles over rules should be taught from a very early age.

I am not promoting any religion here because it’s not my purpose in this blog, I am just trying to make a point.

The very core of Christianity and what sets it apart from Judaism is the fact that Jesus replaced hundreds of specific laws with few broad principles and, in fact, he said that the hundreds of specific laws of the Mosaic Law boil down to few broad principles like “love your neighbor as yourself”.

He also said something along the lines of “keep on seeking first the Kingdom” instead of giving a ton of commands about how often his followers should do spiritual things.

Once one has embodied the idea (if he believes in Christ) that the Kingdom is a priority it is up to him or her to determine how to apply this broad overarching principle in various circumstances and such individual does not need any constant reminders. And if one has embodied the principle “love your neighbor as yourself” he doesn’t need to be commanded not to kill, steal etc.

Coming from a place of awareness

So, what’s interesting is (and this applies to every domain of life) that one can do what’s right because somebody told him, because of fear of punishment or, as it often happens in the Filipino culture, to avoid hiya (or “shame”) and to save mukha (or “face”) or he can do what’s right and moral from a place of integrity, consciousness and awareness.

“Simulain” and “batas”

In the Tagalog language there is a distinction between the words batas (law) and simulain (principle): this means that the idea that a person can be driven by broad principles rather than strict rules is not foreign to the consciousness of Filipinos.

Because these words do exist in the vocabulary of the Filipino language this means that Filipinos do have the concept of what a principio or simulain is.

It is just that many Filipinos need to be trained to reason in terms of principles and understand the value of being internally driven to do what’s right…. whatever that means.

4 thoughts on “Principles vs Rules

  1. Sadly, even much of the developed world is abandoning principles of common sense, morality, and respect these days. It’s really refreshing to visit a country where people still live by principles. I was particularly impressed with Japan.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I haven’t been to Japan but I was impressed by South Korea: an incredibly clean and efficient country, way better than most European countries. Japan must be interesting to visit, perhaps next time I visit the Philippines I could consider visiting nearby Japan as well. I am impressed by the orderly behavior of Japanese tourists here in Italy, they have high principles indeed


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