Heroes are human too; they laugh, they cry, they make mistakes. Jose Rizal was no different.
To say he was an invincible champion who could do no wrong would be tarnishing the man Rizal was, for although he had his fair share of flaws, he still managed to overcome them all and become someone great.
Rather than thinking of him as the ideal hero, let’s think of Rizal as someone who was just like us, yet persevered to become the great man we know him to be.
1. He Was A Bit Of A Grammar Nazi.
While not as annoying as those you meet in online forums, Jose Rizal did have the tendency to correct people’s grammar from time to time, as exemplified in a letter he wrote to his young nephew, Alfredo.
In the letter, Rizal corrected Alfredo on the phrase “I and my brothers greet you” (which the latter wrote in an earlier letter) and said the pronoun should have been placed after and not before the word “brothers.” For Rizal, it should have been “My brothers and I greet you” and added that many others would often commit that mistake.
From a bigger perspective, Rizal also wanted to emphasize that people should place others first before themselves.
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2. He Was Stingy Yet Spent Regularly On Photographs.
While living in Europe, Rizal gained the reputation of a miser due to his extreme penny-pinching ways (he supposedly lived on only P50 a month).
Before checking into hotels, he would always opt for a room without breakfast and instead use the savings to buy tea, biscuits, and alcohol. He also rationed his portions painstakingly. In one incident, he and his roommate Jose Alejandrino agreed to split a box of biscuits between them for a month. The result? A starved Alejandrino finished his portion in only 15 days while Rizal managed to make his own last the entire month.
Sometimes, Rizal would also neglect personal hygiene. In a letter to his sister, he revealed that he went without taking a bath for a long time because he found them too expensive. For all his stinginess, however, Rizal made sure to regularly allocate money for photographs. The number of photos we have of him today is proof Rizal loved taking pictures of himself.
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3. He Once Gave A Sermon…While At A Party.
As a result of his stinginess, Rizal also turned out to be a total wet blanket in one party. Irritated because he was assigned to buy champagne for a New Year’s Eve potluck party organized by the Filipino community in Europe, Rizal urged his fellow guests to avoid gambling, drinking, and womanizing (he also did all three, by the way).
At the end of his rant, he told everyone present to chip in for the champagne because he just made an “abono” and expected everyone to pay for their share. Of course, everyone laughed and thought he was joking—until he passed his hat around. In the aftermath, Rizal’s popularity among his peers declined.
4. He Was Too Proud To Ask For Help.
Despite his meticulous budgeting, Rizal’s financial situation did not always go smoothly. After his family’s estate in Laguna was subjected to a dispute, Rizal’s allowances became few and far between.
Nevertheless, Rizal’s “Pinoy Pride” would never allow him to seek financial assistance from anyone. In fact, on the days he was broke and hungry, Rizal would often go out of his boarding house for a walk while cursing his bad luck.
He would also go to restaurants, take a whiff and go back home. Due to the smell of food on him, his companions would then assume he had just eaten out. Interestingly enough, American writer Ernest Hemingway also used this technique while he was living in Paris.
5. He Experimented With Drugs.
To be fair, Rizal was NEVER a drug addict. However, that did not stop him from trying some for the sake of science. While just an 18-year-old, Rizal once used hashish he bought from a drugstore. At the time, the drug—a hallucinogen more potent than marijuana—could be easily bought over the counter along with cocaine, morphine, and heroin.
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However, Rizal later justified his use of hashish in a letter he wrote to German scientist Adolf Bernhard Meyer, saying he just tried the drug for “experimental purposes.” Aside from hashish, Rizal was also known to use mustard plasters and sudorifics (drugs which cause sweating) to treat torticollis (“stiff neck”) when he was just a boy.
6. He Suffered From Bouts Of Depression.
Like a normal person, Rizal also suffered from heartbreaks, homesickness and other feelings of sadness. At one point, when he heard about his family’s land dispute and persecution in Laguna, Rizal even wrote to Ferdinand Blumentritt just on the eve of his departure to Brussels that he would have committed “a great folly” were it not for his faith in God.
While Rizal never explicitly stated what his phrase meant, author Jose Baron Fernandez postulated Rizal was likely thinking of committing suicide because he felt guilty about causing his family pain and suffering.
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7. He Also Had An Inferiority Complex.
Probably part of the reason why Jose Rizal became such an overachiever in his later years can be attributed to the massive inferiority complex he suffered as a boy. Short, underweight, and born with a big head, Rizal was a frequent target of bullying in his youth. It also did not help that he was sickly as a child and spoke with a slight lisp.
However, Rizal did not cave into the pressure and instead honed his body and mind to meet the challenges. By adulthood, Rizal’s inferiority complex had decreased but still reared its ugly head from time to time. He remained sensitive about his height—he was around 5’2”—and preferred to pose for photographs while wearing overcoats to hide the fact that his right shoulder was higher than his left.
8. He Frequently Got Into Fights.
Far from the image of Rizal being a peace-loving reformist is the fact that Rizal often found himself embroiled in fistfights and rumbles.
His first fight happened during his elementary years when he fought and won against his schoolteacher’s son, Pedro, who had earlier mocked him during a recitation. Taught wrestling by his uncle Manuel, Rizal managed to beat the bigger Pedro and earn the admiration of his classmates. However, he was also later beaten by another classmate, Andres, in an arm-wrestling match. In the process, Rizal nearly smashed his head in the sidewalk.
Rizal’s time at the University of Sto. Tomas was not that much different either. Fed up with the discrimination he and the Filipinos had to endure at the hands of their Spanish teachers and classmates, Rizal secretly founded the Companions of Jehu of which he was chief. With his group, Rizal often fought his Spanish classmates in and out of campus. In a romantic twist, Rizal’s sweetheart Leonor Rivera treated him for a head wound inside his boarding house at the Casa Tomasina after one such skirmish.
9. He Was Torpe.
Given the number of women who went in and out of his life, it would seem counterintuitive to think Rizal was “torpe.” Yet for the Don Juan that he was, Rizal experienced a case of cold feet in his liaison with his first love Segunda Katigbak.
Although Katigbak was already engaged to be married to Manuel Luz, Rizal still fell for her anyway, describing her as “bewitching” and “alluring.” For the young lovers, it was love at first sight—one that would be doomed from the start, in part because of Katigbak’s engagement and because of Rizal’s indecisiveness.
It happened like this: Sometime in December 1877, Rizal promised to escort the carriage carrying Katigbak when it passed by Calamba on the way to her hometown in Lipa. True enough, Rizal did show up riding a white horse and spotted Katigbak waving a white handkerchief to him from inside the carriage. Surprisingly, Rizal—instead of following the carriage—turned around and went home.
While we may never know what spurred him to do so, Rizal certainly was heartbroken as could be clearly seen in his farewell poem dedicated to Katigbak:
“Ended at an early hour, my first love! My virgin heart will always mourn the reckless step it took on the flower-decked abyss. My illusions return, yes, but indifferent, uncertain, ready for the first betrayal on the path of grief.”
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