“Parliamentary courtesy” is the phrase of the day. We now hear it so often that it has become a joke. When I get a free second serving of coffee in our favorite restaurant, I now wink at my friends and say “parliamentary courtesy, just for me.”
However, another friend with a more acerbic tongue likes to tell it as it is: “Parliamentary courtesy? B.S. That’s simply fawning.”
Fawning has long been a Filipino art. In native parlance we call it “sipsip” or “nagpapalakas.”
To fawn over is to “please and appease” someone important, giving him a lot of attention that might be insincere, in order to get a positive reaction. Example is a yes man who is quick to respond to your smallest needs or to compliment you because he needs a promotion, or a waiter who attends to you overzealously hoping to get a big tip.
Fawning can also mean squashing your own wants and needs just to avoid rocking the boat so as to maintain equanimity in your family or your group. Sometimes the fawning behavior becomes so ingrained that those doing it become incorrigible people pleasers. They are persons who can’t say “no.”
Fawning has long been a Filipino art. Being fawners by nature, we have a problem saying “no.” We avoid saying no to avoid displeasing or disappointing, or worse, arousing the anger of the other person. As one lawmaker said, to explain the reason for the hasty approval of a VIP’s confidential funds, “so as not to shame.”
Rather than incur displeasure or dismay, we would rather give in to the perceived wishes, needs, and demands of intimates, friends, elder relatives, and specially our superiors. It’s more pleasant that way.
I believe it is rooted in three of our best native values, which, if I remember my Psychology 101 correctly, are SIR (Smooth Interpersonal Relations), “Pakikisama,” and “Hiya” but manifested in the worst of ways.
We can’t say no to our “barkada” (gang or group) or co-workers for the sake of “pakikisama,” “hiya” and SIR even if their behavior goes beyond bounds.
We say yes in little increments by accepting small gifts and turning a blind eye until we get ourselves entangled in the web of corruption and find it impossible or dangerous to say no. Remember the fable of the frog that is placed in a pot filled with pleasantly tepid water, which gradually gets hotter and hotter, yet the frog remains in the water until it boils to death.
As a young employee, I used to be a “fawner.” When there was a meeting and the boss would say something I disagreed with, I would feebly voice out my contrary view in a delicate manner, but the moment he would raise his voice to show he was displeased or irritated, I would slink back to being meek and quiet. I wanted things to be easy. I now feel guilty of joining my fellow creatives to enjoy good times by a production manager even though we knew it was all paid by suppliers currying favor from him. Why I couldn’t say no to the tempting invitations was more due to “pakikisama” to maintain our strong camaraderie.
When Filipinos want to say “No” we usually couch it in various non-offending words such as “titingnan ko,” “bahala na,” “susubukan ko” or “hahabol na lang ako.” This is said with a kind of dangling meaning in the understanding that something would be a little difficult to do (understood to mean it would be impossible).
That’s why in a popular song of yesteryears, I can understand the feeling of the exasperated suitor who pleads: “Sagot ka naman huwag lang ewan.” But this doesn’t have to be like this forever.
Sometime ago, there was a picture of a sign on the desk of a bank official that became a meme: “In this office, the word NO is a complete sentence.”
Many motivational writers and speakers are now riding on this statement to inspire people who languish in fawn hell.
It also made me sit up and ask: can we Filipinos ever learn to say “No” as a complete sentence? A direct “No” as in “Hindi.” “Huwag.” Period. End of sentence.
Right now more than ever, we as a people need to say a direct “no” to a lot of sorry messes that we have tolerated and allowed to happen.
One mess is the excessive display and abuse of power and authority. Although we pay taxes every time we buy anything, do we see these taxes work to our benefit? All that ordinary Juans like you and me are allowed to know is that a huge portion of it is tucked away by our elected political leaders under the blanket cover of “confidential funds.” We are not allowed to question, much less voice an objection. Basta! Period.
The other mess is our weak willed-leaders’ inability to give a resounding “no” to those who claim what is truly ours and are destroying our natural sea resources with impunity. When will we ever assert our collective power to say no as a complete sentence (with an exclamation point)?
We must realize that being timid and afraid to say “no” will have lasting consequences. As Frédéric Bastiat warns: “When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men in a society, over the course of time they create for themselves a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it.”
“No” is a sword we need to wield to remove unworthy local and national political leaders who are skilled in the practice of fawning. “No” can be our shield to protect us from the blows of the strong and violent.
Let’s make our leaders fear our collective power to say “no.” In the next elections, let us harness our power to say “no” through our all-important vote.
For by saying “no” we are in effect saying “yes” to good governance and progressive politics.
Decades ago I read a book entitled “The Japan That Can Say No,” which argued that Japan should wean itself from its reliance on the United States and stand up as an equal. My wish is that soon we would see a Philippines that finally summons up the collective courage to say No. Period.
In “no” is our salvation as a nation.