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You scratch my back and I scratch yours

I don’t remember when scratching my back became a daily nighttime habit to bring my weary body to sleep after work. It was not a habit before, but scratching became an acquired regimen soon after I got my senior citizen card. Is back scratching a natural body adjustment to hormonal changes as one age? Or am I caused by infection, allergens, or other internal diseases like liver, kidney, or thyroid imbalance? I believe mine is food-driven.

But who cares? What matters is how I enjoy scratching my back, especially when the itch comes when you least expect it. You get frustrated when you cannot reach one itchy spot alone. It’s so funny, but the time spent scratching that unreachable spot was well worth everything. A sense of gratification comes to me as the scratching lands right on the target spot! 

Last January, I received a belated Christmas gift from the executive director of CenPEG, a cute green-colored back scratcher that she bought online. Natalie must have thought that for busy bodies like us, having one is a good stress reliever like my natural ESense essential oil stress relief. She was correct. Since then, the green extendable scratcher has become one of my dependable body comforters. I put a dab of a refreshing concoction of my ESense essential oil reliever with coconut and mint lotion on the tip of the scratcher, and the comforting sensation I get from the scratching is enough till I fall asleep. The scratcher has also become a handy back, scalp, leg, and arm massager I cannot do without every night. (If you are reading my column, there is nothing to lose if you try it).

When the scratching became frequent, I had to discover the root cause: an allergy to scaly fish, which I began consuming more than necessary as a healthy option over animal meat. With my obsession for healthy scratching cum massaging, I upgraded my scratcher, too - I have a classic bamboo back scratcher and hope to have another one with exfoliating spikes or soothing bristles in expandable, ergonomic designs.


Scratching is an act of self-gratification. In Philippine politics, scratching on your own is not enough or gratifying. You scratch my back; I will scratch yours is a popular idiom that means “I help you, you will help me.” If someone does you a favor, you’ll do one for them. It is not the literal meaning of scratching the itch, but figuratively, scratching each other to benefit from cooperating. That is backscratching.

It conveys the notion of mutual support and cooperation in varied contexts. Every election, for example, this figure of speech becomes alive and well practiced. Politician A comes to your home to visit and gives you a sack of rice, some groceries, or maybe a certain amount of cash to pay off some of your debts. In the cultural context, when this happens, the understanding is that you will do something for the politician in return; either you vote for him or deliver more votes so he wins. Among top government officials, the so-called old boys’ club mentality is the prevalent form of backscratching each other to pass a law in exchange for a mutual deal. This backscratching has plagued the corridors of power for so long.

It’s a relative of utang na loob or the Filipino feudal culture of debt of gratitude. In Spanish, it is deuda de gratitud. If one fails to reciprocate a “good deed” of a powerful politician or a political favor, a debt of gratitude may mean gratitude or death! Conflict of interest is an essential modern ethical concept, and “backscratching” is common. Returning a favor is generally an ethically good thing. However, compromising the greater good or the general interests of the majority of the population becomes a very challenging ethical question. Then, the question arises: what are the general interests of the majority of the people, or what does “greater good” mean?

Reciprocity plays an essential role in our ethical order. Take the concept of reciprocity, for example. A significant commercial landowner takes over the 10 hectares of agricultural land planted to rice and corn, pays off the farmers and their debts, and then converts these to a big broad subdivision through legal processes and the cooperation of national government agencies to benefit future middle-class families to have their own homes. There is a promise that the dispossessed farmers will become workers constructing buildings and houses. There is nothing legally wrong with the takeover. Still, specific ethical and moral issues certainly put the dispossessed farmers in a more disadvantaged position in the long term. In this case, there is what could be considered negative reciprocity. The landowner scratches the farmer’s back, but the farmer’s scratch is not the same as when I scratched mine with my scratcher! I get my gratification and relief. But in the farmers’ case, backscratching has further marginalized them.

Oh well, it’s the end of my scratching story. We may only be scratching the surface. The best remedy is to heed the golden rule. When you scratch others, ensure they also get gratification like you do. Scratch unto others what you want them done unto you!


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