Happiness and Humor in the Philippines

Possibly you read about the survey on happiness a couple of weeks ago that reported that the Philippine ranks low on the happiometer of the surveying institution. That seems to conflict with the popular expression by so many Filipinos that the Philippines is a friendly, fun-loving place.
I don’t think there is conflict myself, and will try to explain why.
First of all, at one level, the Philippines is a brusque, rude place, not friendly for sure. Government offices, banks, on the road, in line anywhere. You run face to face with un-funny, humorless people ramming their power down your throat. Power is everything here. The Golden Rule’s courtesy is a sign of weakness in the Philippines, where even women adhere to macho rules of dominance if they have power. Even if you don’t have money, you have the power to threaten or gossip with intent to diminish others. With money, you can bludgeon others mercilessly, run them off the road with your big black SUV, or in other ways show your superiority. With a little control over others – like the bank or government office worker has – you get to be King for a minute. Or however long a wait you decide to impose on the poor suckers who need your help.
Even intelligent people who should know better, like doctors, make you wait for hours. Out of respect for their diploma, I guess. They should put it on the shelf of the waiting room like a religious idol so we can sacrifice a few pesos as we bend in humility and subservience before it. Proctologists can put the idol in the examination room and work while we worship.
On another level, at fiestas and holidays or special occasions, you find the smiling Filipino, the jokester, the happy, generous host, the music and singing and dancing, the flags waving and the pigs squealing. Eat and be happy, the unstated motto of the day. This is, what, about two weeks a year of party happiness? Rifle shots of happiness. Not persistent, everyday happiness.
On another level, you find Filipinos following their happy stars about, the shouts of glee and fun on Showtime, the warm family style jokes from our friendly newscasters, the snickering glee of gossip on The Buzz, the cheering celebrations after a Pacquiao fight. Like party happiness, it is fleeting, and once the cheering dies down, people go back to their humdrum. Or their misery.
On yet another level, the broadest, you see a nation of too much poverty, where people live serious lives behind the temporary masks of happiness, trying to figure out how to get the next meal or the medicine the baby needs to cure his upset stomach. Or how to afford college for Junior or get Mama out of that shack. I would guess that is what the survey tapped.
If you only survey during the fiesta, you indeed find a fun loving, happy people.
Regular readers know I nag about Filipino backbiting gossip where people in the local community whisper the failings and troubles of their neighbors as if envy were the main reason for living.
But there is, in much of this nagging, a strong current of harmless humor or hilarious ridicule, camaraderie on the point of a spear. People tease others, and get teased back. Filipino humor is keyed to incidents. Taking a flaw of behavior and turning it into a joke at someone else’s expense. Even the subject of the ridicule rolls with the punch, laughs, and ridicules back.
I once watched kids at the beach doing back flips across the sand and into the water. Amazing. These guys could be Olympics tumblers if someone worked with them to get their floppy limbs aligned better. I filmed the best of them, a boy who did about six back flips and in the final gigantic double flip, landed flat on his ass in the sand, one flip short of the water. A great roar of jumping and laughing went through the pack of boys. Can you visualize it? 10 skinny brown boys. Teeth gleaming, bending and slapping and jumping, twisting and laughing?
I showed the video to the boys and they howled. Positively howled. I roared, too. And so did the champion tumbler.
Such joyous incidents take five minutes of time during the day. Good days, more. The rest of the day is mostly drudge. 23 hours and 55 minutes of drudge.
Somehow millions of Filipinos across the nation have the strength of character to turn 5 minutes of joy into another day of hard work or edge-of-poverty subsistence.
Can you imagine what they could do with an hour of joy? Or 24?
The Philippines needs to do a better job of giving its youth real opportunities. And it needs to do a better job of giving the “working stiffs” more pay, better benefits and more appreciation. The nation’s well-being – its security and its independence – rests on the strong, aching shoulders of its broad, laboring masses, and they ought to be treated like America treats its soldiers.
With honor.
No joke.

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