The English word “finesse” is defined as “subtlety in action and skill in handling a difficult or sensitive situation”. Winston Churchill described it as “the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip”.
The loose Filipino equivalent of finesse might be pagkapino but the problem is that only a few entries away in the dictionary is the word pagkainis, with again a loose translation into English as “disturbing.”
Another way to illustrate the point might be to compare a balisong with a bolo. The former requires a somewhat delicate and nimble approach to carve an opponent into pieces without them knowing what happened until it is too late. The bolo, on the other hand, is a brute force weapon that the adversary sees coming but cannot avoid.
President Duterte would never be accused of being subtle. When he has said “go to hell,” no one smiled back and pleasantly asked for directions. Perhaps, the President is reflecting not only his own personality but the psyche of the Filipino that is not attuned to picking up on subtlety. That may be why satire—which requires reading between the lines—is not well understood or appreciated in the Philippines.
Brutal honesty and blunt words have a place even in the highest office of the land. However, if language is used like a bolo too often, it dulls the senses and loses its intended impact. Presidential Spokesman Harry L. Roque Jr. recently was quoted, “I have been saying again and again, do not take the President literally but take him seriously.” The reality is that sometimes you cannot have one without the other.
If a person says he’s going to jump off a bridge, do we take that person literally, seriously or simply ignore the statement?
The speaker has an obligation to make sure that the listener knows exactly the intended thought or what is being communicated. If the listener still has to interpret what does a particular statement mean, that is not direct communication. Maybe we could call it poetry. In Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the following conversation takes place.
“Then you should say what you mean,” the March Hare went on. “I do,” Alice hastily replied; “at least—at least I mean what I say—that’s the same thing, you know.” “Not the same thing a bit!” the Hatter said. “You might just as well say that ‘I see what I eat’ is the same thing as ‘I eat what I see’!”
There is a proper time for rhymes and riddles but all the time is not the proper time. We have no doubt that the President’s advisors have his best interests at heart. Likewise, each of us has our own style. But Roque’s comment on “literally” and “seriously” should warrant some reflection. There is a time for the bolo and a time to use the balisong.
The President is perfectly capable of using both effectively. However, if his message is being lost or distorted, then his words become ineffective and that is neither to his nor the nation’s best interests.