My brother and I were in grade school when my mother introduced the concept of business. She’d buy Christmas greeting cards from Divisoria and ask us to sell them in school and then pay her back for her capital.
I would sell the cards every break period at the quadrangle, where everyone was. At first, my brother and I averaged about the same sales per day. I wasn’t happy with my sales performance. I figured I could do better. Then I had the bright idea of segregating the cards from what I perceived as plain or special.
I then categorized my product as “plain”—for ordinary recipients—and “special,” for cards meant for mothers. Naturally, “special” cards carried with it a special price, triple the price of “plain” cards. Immediately my sales tripled and inventory movement was brisk.
My mother was surprised that I could pay her back her capital in full within a selling day. She asked me how I was doing it. I told her. She was shocked at my method and screamed at me. “That is usury!” She then took away all my cards.
Usury is a word used to describe an exorbitant interest on loans. I didn’t know it then, and it doesn’t matter now. But between the then and the now, I wasn’t able to function well in the area of personal finances. I had the idea that I were to financially profit from something, I would be committing a sin. “Pera pera lang iyan,” I’d tell myself.
I couldn’t connect the use of talent with money. To barter was ok, and so was utang na loob, but to equate the use of talent with cash was “wrong.” ”Mukhang pera” would be our reference to this attitude.
Looking back, although initially with good intent, my mother didn’t have the necessary competence to teach me two things, namely: first, financial literacy, and second, developmental esteem needs. What she unknowingly taught me was guilt in making money. Apart from money, property, religion, and a family name, financial literacy and self concept are what our children inherit from the family. Consciously or unconsciously, these are what are passed on to our children.
Mina M. Ramirez (“Reflections on Culture, Asian Social Institute,” 1993) claims that the ordinary Filipino has yet to consciously make a connection between work done and it’s equivalent in money.
An example of this is the ordinary Filipino’s response to a direct inquiry on service rendered. “Magkano aabutin ang trabaho?”
The response, “Kayo na po ang bahala.” Or, silence with a smile and eyes cast down.
“Hiya” is a usual dynamic that plays (or is played up) in these transactions. But “hiya” must be taken in context to fully appreciate its message or intent. Self-worth is one factor of “hiya” that under-values one’s appreciation of one’s time and skill.
Another factor is grandiosity where one overvalues one’s time and skill but feels awkward in articulating it.
In either case, the appreciation for the value of time and skill in money terms would be dependent on how money is gained or earned. Money is gained from inheritance, dole-outs, interests from inheritance, etc. and therefore how does one measure the value of what is gained without work?
Money however, that is earned from labor, the use of skill and knowledge, by the sweat of one’s brow may be measured by the time put in the work, the level of skill used to complete a task (the higher the skill, the less time to complete a task).
Developmental Esteem Needs
Now, psychology has a term for it: positive reinforcement.
The time when I most needed it, my mom could have listened to my story from my perspective and maybe she wouldn’t have judged and mislabeled my intent or behavior. My character was attacked and therefore there was no learning—only guilt prevailed.
Families especially parents must be able to help their children develop enough self-confidence to go through the next step of development: self assertion, creativity, the courage to learn how to learn.
But as the saying goes, one cannot give what one doesn’t have. Perhaps my mom at the time didn’t have the competence and therefore the necessary confidence to help me through my esteem needs. Such is life, I guess. We can’t have everything; nor do we need to know everything. But did I need to inherit her guilt as well?
How about you? Tell me what you think.
• Roderick Marfil, RGC, is a family therapist. He is available on Thursdays by appointment only at the Ilaw Center, Miriam College in Quezon City. For inquiries: (0939) 211-0403; (+632) 520-5400 loc. 1134