Sunday, July 23, 2006

Smiles and smirks

THERE’S A FINE line between a smile and a smirk.

Getting a hug from a close friend merits a smile. Having your article dropped from next month’s issue deserves a smirk—the smirk being more civilized than hunting your editor down and pounding her to the ground.

On a road trip this weekend with my Tito Jimmy, Tita Doreen, and their three sons, my jovial tito proudly boasted of the Philippines being ranked the 17th or 14th (he’s not sure) “happiest country” in the world.

He felt that the US’ and Canada’s low ranking (well into the hundreds) only helped the lesson he was trying to teach his sons.

“The Americans and the Canadians are too materialistic,” he said. “They work, work, work…and for what?”

Dramatic pause.

“For money!”

He chuckles.

“They don’t even know their neighbors and they send their parents away when they’re old.”

Haven’t we heard this line of argument before?

“We Filipinos…we don’t need much. We just get what is enough. We’re happy.”

A jeepney cuts him off in front of SM North Edsa at this point.

I don’t know the basis behind the rankings, but I’d like to think that there was some science behind it since it was published in the newspapers.

I also can’t argue about our light-heartedness as a people. If we weren’t so, Lord knows how many civil wars would have broken out by now. We have the innate ability to make heavy situations lighter.

In the face of hardship, we smile—or rather smirk—while just dismissing (or accepting) it by shaking our heads.

If this is what is meant by happiness, is it a good thing?

My horoscope yesterday told me to avoid debate, and even though I’m not much of a believer of astrology, I took it as a sign for me to just take a break from serious conversation. In the car with Tito Jimmy, I kept quiet—smirked—and politely listened.

I’ll take this opportunity now to make quick rebuttals to the statements my tito made in trying to teach virtue to his young sons.

The Americans and Canadians work hard. That’s why their countries are doing better than us. We can blame the richest of their rich for being sinfully materialistic, but we can’t deny the easier availability of basic human necessities in their respective countries for everyone. They have poverty too, but they don’t deal with it on the scale that we do in the “happy” Republic of the Philippines.

Yes, they work hard—but only for a solid nine to five shift. Many Filipinos are in the workplace for over 12 hours a day and still don’t get anything done. We work on hours; they work on efficiency.

Americans don’t know their neighbors? Please educate me on this front. I don’t understand the basis for such a statement. Last time I was in the States, my family had the most pleasant exchanges with the neighbors, as well as the mailman, the pizza delivery guy, and the cashier at the grocery story.

Back to the Philippines. If my Tito Jimmy proposes that being shy, quiet, and sometimes even standoffish among strangers is a sign of being more pleasant or “happy,” then he has a point with this angle on the argument.

I think my tito had a point when he said that Filipinos don’t need much. I think that’s generally true. Whether or not striving for more is a good or bad thing is another argument. My only problem with my tito’s statement is that it doesn’t acknowledge the fact that most Filipinos don’t have enough—the choice of having more doesn’t even exist.

Being a happy, light-hearted people is a good thing. But it doesn’t tell the whole story.

We as humans have emotions that we are entitled to feeling. It’s always nicer to smile but when the reality you face is one of struggle and hardship, and when others take away what is rightfully yours, when they take away what you are entitled to as a human, smiling becomes an empty response—an acceptance of a grim inevitability.

These are the real lessons that need to be taught to my tito’s sons.

Tomorrow, we as a people will watch the annual hypocritical circus of an event called the State of the Nation Address. And as our leader makes superficial statements of our country’s state—often hiding reality behind masks of politics—will we, the 17th or 14th happiest people, be able to smile?

Will we be able to even manage a smirk?


Post a Comment

<< Home