Sunday, January 23, 2005

Titles for self-esteem

Titles for self-esteem

Posted 02:56am (Mla time) Jan 23, 2005
By Isagani Cruz
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A12 of the January 23, 2005 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

A READER with more scorn than logic chides me for my article on "A weakness for titles" (PDI, 12/4/04) as another proof of my "usual" derision for the Filipino people. He probably resents me for occasionally finding fault with our country, which certainly is not perfect despite his jingoism. In his preface to the "Noli Me Tangere," Rizal spoke of the ancients who took their sick to the steps of the temple not to deride them but so they could be cured by the gods. That was his purpose when he recited the ills of the nation that he hoped would be healed by their exposure.

I had a similar intention when I wrote of the vanity of some of us for exhibiting their titles in life and even in their obituaries to impress the public. They don't want people to forget how important they are, or were. The customary titles of Mr. or Mrs. are not good enough for them; they must be addressed as Attorney or Engineer or Architect or their names must be suffixed with a Ph.D. to inform everyone that he is dealing with an erudite person over and above ordinary mortals. Sometimes they even have stickers of "Ph.D."on the rear windshields of their cars for all to behold and admire.

This know-it-all critic would have me know that titles are accepted in England, where they have kings and queens, princes and princesses, dukes and duchesses, barons and baronesses, and other royal distinctions. The key word is "royal," my dear fellow, which we are not, being citizens of a republic unlike the subjects of the maharajah and the maharani, who are also of majestic blood in India. And he says that the French use "Monsieur" and "Madame," which, for his information, are the equivalent of the humble "Mister" and "Missus" to which I do not object. What is hoity-toity in my view is to substitute these usual prefixes with professional titles to impress unpretentious people who cannot, or will not, make similar displays of their importance.

In any case, the fact that other peoples use high-sounding titles is no argument that we should do the same. That is abject imitation. If we should imitate, it should be the best in others, like, in my example, the practice in American courts of addressing counsel as Mr. Proper instead of Attorney Yabang as in our courts, including the Supreme Court. One does not need to advertise our profession, unlike doctors who are allowed to use prominent signs or shingles for their easy accessibility in case their services are urgently needed. I remember that at the gate of the multi-titled Jose P. Laurel's house on Shaw Boulevard in Mandaluyong, there was a small metal shingle that simply read under his name "Abogado."

Whenever Don Claro called me up on the telephone when I was a young lawyer, he would begin with, "Mr. Cruz, si Mr. Recto ito." Another person who does not proclaim himself is former Senate President Jovito R. Salonga who, with all his academic and political achievements, signs his letters to me simply as "Jovy." By contrast, there is that tycoon who liked to be addressed as "Don" by his lackeys but now prefers to be called by the title of "Doctor" conferred upon him honoris causa by an obscure but presumably well-rewarded university. It takes all kinds, but I prefer the humbler of the species.

As far as I know, Alexander who conquered the civilized world during his time, never called himself "the Great." He massacred hundreds of thousands like Hitler, who signed himself only with his surname without more for history to condemn him. Thomas Jefferson, in writing his own epitaph, described himself as the author of the Declaration of Independence, a defender of religious freedom, and the founder of the University of Virginia. He did not mention that he was the third President of the United States.

Our national hero, who excelled in many fields, ended his letters with "Rizal," probably with the foreknowledge that his country would remember him without more specific identification. He was a patriot, writer, doctor, linguist, botanist, painter, sculptor, sportsman, lover, among many other distinctions, but he often omitted to write his full name and even the erroneous middle initial P. He did not trumpet his achievements like some of our current Ph.D.'s who believe that their degree alone, no matter how acquired, entitles them to the adulation of the masses.

I have not mentioned the name of my angry detractor because that may give him the prominence he wants but does not deserve. Is he Attorney, Engineer, Architect, Ph.D., or Censurer or Nag? I hope he will be satisfied with Mister for that is honorable and respectable enough. He may have a weakness for titles that will require a more bombastic appellation to suit his inflated self-esteem, but I will not oblige him.


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