Mommy Talks

Just how important are family credentials?

“Family credentials” refer to the reputation attached to a family name. It is the concept behind the thinking that the son of a qualified statesman is qualified to be a statesman himself. We see this in every election and I’ve written about it so many times. It is like saying that family name determines the strength, weakness and skills of an individual. That’s why when there’s a famous ancestor, many people love to trace their family roots to several generations as though to tell the world that the qualities of the ancestors have been passed down to him because they are of the same bloodline. Sometimes, even when there is no blood relation but simply a case of having the same family name, people still try to create an illusion of relationship. That’s just one of the blatant ways by which people exploit the concept of family credentials.

Conversely, it is also the very thing that builds prejudice against an individual where he is judged based on the reputation of his family. A person from a family of corrupt businessmen might have a hard time proving that he is made of different, and better, stuff. Why are job applicants asked if any member of his family has been convicted of a crime? An employer is not likely to hire an applicant who counts among the members of his immediate family people who have been convicted of estafa or qualified theft. We Filipinos are so fond of the saying “Kung ano ang puno, siya rin and bunga” and we rarely realize how we become so biased and arbitrary when we apply this reasoning subconsciously.

Family reputation, therefore, is an asset that can be put to good use or exploited for other purposes. But it can also be a liability.

Now let’s view “family credentials” from another angle. Let’s say Juan and Petra want to buy real estate and they need a loan to finance the purchase. They apply with a bank and the bank requires them to submit documents to gauge their capacity to pay. Is it family credentials that are being considered here? If Juan and Petra are husband and wife, loosely speaking, yes. They are a family, and their combined credentials are scrutinized.

But if we look hard, we will realize that it is the credentials of each individual that are under scrutiny. Does each possess an unbroken employment history? Does each have a good credit background? Family has nothing to do with it. Juan and Petra might be business partners rather than a married couple and their capacity to pay will be gauged in the same manner.

Another scenario. Pedro and Juana are husband and wife, they have a twelve-year-old child, Iska, about to enter high school. Iska takes the entrance exam in San Pedro de Dios and passes with flying colors. Meanwhile, Pete and Jane’s daughter, Janet, barely passed. Only one slot is left and only one girl, Iska or Janet, can get in. The school chooses Janet because her parents presented enough credentials to prove that they can financially sustain Janet’s four-year stint in the school. Pedro and Juana do not have the same credentials.

In an ideal world, it is the more deserving of the two girls who should get the slot. A conscientious and progressive-thinking school administration will see Iska’s potential and will present various options to ensure that she is able to enroll. A scholarship, perhaps, or a different payment scheme. But we don’t live in an ideal world. In many cases, another family’s more impressive credentials become a stumbling block for the more deserving individuals.

Even in the professional world, it is true, and there are instances when family credentials become akin to clout and influence. A law office has a slot for a new graduate. Ramon, a consistent honor student, and Raymond, the son of one of the firm’s senior partners, both apply. In a not so screwed scenario, the firm will open another slot to accommodate both young men. They get to hire the candidate who has the qualifications to do good work for the firm. At the same time, they neutralize the risk of dealing with a breakaway (Raymond’s father quitting, forming a new law firm and taking with him some of the old firm’s clients) which would be the likely scenario had Raymond’s father been irked if his son had not been accepted.

It’s not a pretty world that we live in. People can be full of biases and twisted sense of values. The belief in the importance of the family as a social institution can be twisted in so many ways that it loses its real meaning. I cannot support the thinking that one must only act after considering all the possible effects on one’s family because it hinders personal growth. A male child, for instance, who discovers that his passion lies in designing women’s clothes will repress his talent because he might ruin his family’s good name and social credentials – a probable consequence because people love stereotyping and they are likely to label him a homosexual.

I cannot condone the thinking either that an individual is only as good, or as bad, as his family.

What, then, is the significance of family credentials? For people without personal credentials, it is something to exploit. For people who have good and sufficient personal credentials, it is something nostalgic – something that does not define him but something to feel good about anyway.

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