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Maybe Is No

(By: Zeus Salazar)

In the Philippines, yes is yes, maybe is no and no is rarely heard. A- a Filipino a yes or no question. Whether tria1 (Are you coming to my party?) or serious (Can I borrow money?), one is likely to get a yes, if the idea sits well with him. If it doesn't, he won't say no, he'll say maybe. His response, irresolute as it may seem to non-Filipinos, doesn't necessarily reflect an inability to make decisions. Rather, it shows a well-mastered tact of protecting the other person from hurt. He says maybe though he means no to soften the force of a direct negative and thus immediately assuage the other person's feelings.

A description of Filipino society may be culled from what anthropologists call a high-context culture, one in which the modes of behavior are not explicitly stated but are instead inferred in many different ways, such as tone of voice, body language and the idiosyncrasies of the linguafranca. (By contrast, the low context behavior of Western societies is seen as abrasive, uncouth and impersonal.) In a high context culture, interpersonal communication operates both on personal feelings as well as upon the anticipated reaction of the other person.

This explains the Filipino's sharp intuitive sense or what he calls pakiramdam. It is a skill, learned from birth, which enables him to grasp nuances, much like a trained musical ear distinguishes secondary and tertiary themes in a dense symphony.

Pakiramdam, the level on which Filipinos carry on day-to-day relationships is the externalization of an inner sensitivity called damdam. Damdam is made up of sentiments that collectively form the Filipino's sense of self. Thus hurting the feelings of a Filipino is the same as hurting his self-esteem. It is tantamount to destroying the person himself. And when he loses face, he rises in defense of his life.

Philippine history is replete with examples of how far Filipinos would go to salvage wounded pride. Many of these occurred during the Spanish period, the archipelago's first contact with the West, an encounter between a people secure in their island-world and a people who were the product of the brutal age of colonization. Poles apart, their twains never met because they failed to read each other.

Although forced labor was an underlying cause of an 85-year revolution led by Bohol Island chieftain Francisco Dagohoy, it was the refusal of a Jesuit priest to give his brother a Christian burial (the insult and loss of face) that triggered it. Apolinario de la Cruz, a lay associate, was refused admission into the religious order because he was an indio. He rebeled against the Spanish priests and founded a religious order exclusively for natives.

In more recent times, the Filipinos' need to regain their pride led to the EDSA Revolution of 1986. Their parliament in the streets removed the Marcos regime and restored the nation's democratic processes. How did Filipinos develop their own brand of sensitivity and how does it perpetuate itself in modern society? Certa.a aspects of Filipino history and culture offer some clues.

Then, as now, Filipinos tend to move in small social circles. Their groupings began with riverine settlements called barangay populated by families belonging to the same clan. In the barangay society everyone knew each other by name and by personal history, followed the same traditions, fought common enemies.

Through the years, the barangay became a village, the village became a town, the town became a city and so on. But the quality of interpersonal relationships barely changed. Today, even in a megapolis like Metro Manila, Filipinos mingle in close, almost incestuous societal units.

It is not unusual in Filipino society for one's best friend to be a sibling or a first cousin. When moving outside the family unit, the school or profession becomes the next societal grouping. These bonding groups are close enough to be considered surrogate families. As with any close group, whether it be the family, the community or an entire nation, shared behavior patterns form.

Everybody knows the basic tenets of behavior. In the Philippines, as in most of Asia, these tenets are based on respect, another outward manifestation of pakiramdam. Only in the Philippines would one find a young executive addressing the company messenger, a much older man, in the third person plural and using the respectful term po.

Language has trained Filipinos to distinguish between intentionality and non-intentionality. For example, the word suntok, which in English has the neutral meaning to hit, changes color when infixed or prefixed: sinuntok means was hit intentionally, nasuntok means was hit unintentionally. Because directness is considered impolite, Filipinos use indirect speech to convey a need or desire. If a guest so much as talks about the heat, the host's rejoinder must be cold drink.

Filipinos also have their own body language which, oftentimes, they alone can read. They can detect an insincere smile, which'they call ngiting aso, the smile of a dog; a dour disposition (mukhang biernes Santo, or a face for Good Friday); honesty (maaliwalas ang mukha,or a clean, fresh face.)

If in the West a declaration of decisiveness is I mean what I say and I say what I mean, in the Philippines it is watch what I do and you will know what I mean.Through a highly developed sense of person, the Filipino has extended communication from a me/you model to a me/ you/us model, internalizing the person he is trying to reach. It is communication which heeds the Filipino saying, Kapwa ko, kapatid ko.My fellowman is my brother, therefore, the person in him is the same person in me.?

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