The tribe

A professor once told me this in an informal conversation that Lasallians were not very big on concepts. “They become very apprehensive of concepts. But they won’t even understand the word ‘apprehension of concepts’,” he shared.

We were trying to dissect the Lasallian, and how this Lasallian is very different from his or her counterparts in other universities. In our discussion, we did not take into account the guiding principles of the Lasallian family, the real document which supposedly anchors Lasallian identity towards faith, service and communion; pragmatically speaking, just how many Lasallians actually reflect on these precepts?

“No, the Lasallian is not a conceptual animal,” concluded the professor. Lasallians tend to ground concepts right away – even if Lasallians may not understand, for instance, technical jargon like “diminishing marginal returns”, “clientilistic patronage” or “retrenchment strategy”, the concepts are very real for us. We see these things in society, and sum them up in words like “sawa”, “luto”, “lugi” and other earthy terms that do not derive from textbooks but from the concrete experiences Lasallians have, regardless of their fields of study or disciplines.

Not to demean the mental competence of Lasallians – we have many luminaries among our students and faculty, who win international and national competitions. But for the great majority of the 16,000 students who study in the University, we agreed that most of these people are not for rigid theoretical reasoning and scholastic accomplishment, as the students of some of the nation’s ‘Ivy League’ universities are wont to be.

Nor is the Lasallian by default a patriotic animal, with the onerous responsibility of automatically being an asset for the country. With heavy emphasis on integrating themselves with the corporate world after college – the Office of Career Services is vastly corporate in its outlook – Lasallians tend to be more submissive to corporate interests for the sake of securing a kind of financial independence necessary to attain dreams of social recognition, travel, property ownership, and familial security.

Notwithstanding, it is not rare for Lasallians to scoff at the institution that is the multinational, but seldom would you find the Lasallian who would opt to spend two years teaching for Teach For the Philippines, or take a year off and volunteer to educate kids in Bagac. Such actions are a surefire compromise against a graduate’s eligibility to become a management trainee, or land on the fast track of employment growth.

Practically speaking, it simply will not enable the Lasallian to achieve financial security, given today’s cutthroat job market, high cost of living and other practical concerns. Unemployment is a very real concern, with a significant portion of the 27.5 percent of unemployed Filipinos being those who come from universities with prestigious names like La Salle. This issue inflates given the prospect of marriage, having children and sustaining the education of children. The landscape is very different, and it is very tempting for Lasallians to disregard the prospect of giving one’s life to a vocation for the last, the lost and the least – especially if, in their minds, they might become one of these who are last, lost and with the least.

The professor and I were not, of course, operating on hard data and statistics. But we were operating on empirical data – we both came from families deeply entrenched in the Lasallian institution – and our experiences in the University only reinforced several propositions that we had about Lasallian identity.

And so what conclusion emerged from our dialectic? Is the Lasallian a selfish animal? Definitely not. The Lasallian is not a selfish animal. The Lasallian is a tribal one.

Anthropologists define the tribe as a social group prior to the development of states, founded primarily on kinship ties and familial or clannish relationships. Tribal dynamics are self-sustaining – the tribe, after all, knows only the tribe, hunts for the tribe, loves for the tribe, fights for the tribe against other tribes, and in a gist, exists only for the concept of the tribe.

The Lasallian is not a conceptual animal because concepts only have a use insofar as they might justify the existence of the tribe – whether that tribe is one’s family, barkada in college, or La Salle itself. The use of such concepts in nation-building diminishes; there is no direct stake, especially where the institution can sustain itself, and be a world within itself and its massive networks and linkages. The bonds and support shared by La Salle’s alumni are some of the strongest in the spectrum of human emotions, almost a fraternity in itself.

Imagine how supportive Lasallians would be of the families they are part of and sustain. What more would Lasallians look for in terms of discovering obscure new knowledge, when what matters in life can be seen when you come home to papa and mama, or your kids living the life you’ve dreamed for them?

Similarly, this is a tribe that is jaded with the state of national affairs, a tribe that continues to be critical of public administration. How many generations of public servants trained by the very nationalistic University of the Philippines have struggled with the systemic failure of governance within the public sector? Why should the tribe endanger itself for the foreign idea of a nation, when the family can look after its own, and easily migrate to communities in Europe and the United States where Lasallians are, too?

The tribe, after all, looks after its own, with a fierce patriotism to rival any nationalistic fervor. Nevermind what Amando Tetangco of the BSP does, or what Br. Armin is doing with the DepEd – they are Lasallians, we should support them, for the change that they are striving to bring about is most certainly good.

Lasallians scoff at corporations because these have no real value to them other than what they can offer their families or networks. Nevermind their impact on social development – these remain utilities for financial sustenance, to be viewed in relation to sustaining one’s family. The tribe looks after its own.

This is not an all-encompassing truth, but it seemed eerily true. The professor and I ended our chat not knowing how to feel about the realization. It is not an escapable reality. But it brings to mind the fact that the Philippines is a nation of tribes working with each other. Hopefully, this tribe might see that even if anthropologically speaking, it tends not to.


By Juan Batalla

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