ON DISTANT SHORE
By Val G. Abelgas
It should not surprise us anymore that despite the difficulties of the past few years, the Filipinos remain as optimistic as ever of the coming year. Hope springs eternal for Filipinos as shown by a survey last year by both Pulse Asia and the Social Weather Station that showed 95% or more than nine of ten Filipinos face the coming year with hope.
In the 2009 and 2010, 89% of Filipinos showed the same optimism about the coming year in 2009, which was slightly lower than in the three previous years — 91% in 2006 and 2007, and 92% in 2008.
Hope surveys had customarily been at high levels, starting at 87% when the SWS first polled about hope in December 2000, and 88% in December 2001. In December 2002, New Year hope reached a record high of 95 percent before declining to 90 percent in December 2003. It slumped to 81 percent at the end of December 2004, but rebounded to 85 percent in 2005 and to 91 percent in 2006.
Except for that period following the Garci cheating scandal in 2004 when street protests nearly toppled Gloria Macapagal Arroyo from Malacanang, Filipinos have been traditionally hopeful of the coming year.
It may be worthwhile to note that in Germany, where the first survey about fear and hope was made in 1991, hope among Germans never topped 58% in any year from 1991 to the present. It is ironic that the Philippines, one of the poorest countries in the world, has a much higher hope rating than Germany, which is the world’s fifth largest economy, next only to the United States, China, Japan and India.
Analysts cite the resiliency and the traditionally happy disposition of Filipinos as the reason for their eternal optimism in the face of poverty, disasters, calamities, corruption and inefficiency of government, and the prolonged separation of families because of the export of labor.
That Filipinos remain hopeful despite all these negative factors is indeed a testament to the resiliency of Filipinos, which was first noted by the late President Manuel L. Quezon who described Filipinos as “pliant like a bamboo,” in reference to the bamboo tree, which bends with the wind and survives the storm. This inherent characteristic of the Filipino enables him to survive disasters and calamities that confront him, enabling him to adjust to life’s difficulties and move on.
But whether such eternal optimism and resiliency is good for the country or not is another thing.
The Philippine Daily Inquirer, for example, commented in an editorial in 2005 that “it may well be that Filipino optimism is actually what is holding the country back, rather than pushing it forward.”
The editorial added: “In a year marked by serious scandal, at a time when many of the nation’s institutions came under attack or (under) a pall of doubt, the Filipino seems ready to let bygones be bygones and – to use one of the catchphrases of the year – move on.
“This explanation (one of several, we hasten to add) is what makes the President and her defenders sleep better at night; the Filipino views what’s coming up with more hope than fear because he finds it easy to forgive and to forget what had gone before.”
In conclusion, the Inquirer said: “In other words, we may be incurable optimists because we expect too little of the future, or from ourselves. We let alleged crimes slide because we do not demand an accounting; we are happy to continue eating two square meals a day and call that progress. Enough already. If this is optimism, let’s all get real.”
In a blog, one Totie Mesia said about the Filipinos’ optimism: “We rightly laud our innate positive mentality which helps us cope with the economic crisis. But we have the temptation to look at reality in a blurry prism, sometimes with a tinge of “denial.” Our country is mired in a protracted “crisis” which makes it tempting to rest painful issues at the backburner. Perhaps, the survey should not bring us that much of hope if we understand our situation more.”
And that precisely is the problem with the Filipinos’ eternal optimism. Because we have set the bar too low, we tend to be satisfied with what we have even though it is clearly not enough, and in this situation, it is not difficult to be hopeful. And because of our ever-hopeful spirit, we tend to ignore the problems of the past and move on, only to encounter the same problems in the coming year.
The problem with these hope surveys is that they are usually conducted in the first week of December, when a festive atmosphere prevails over the Philippines because of the coming Christmas season. At this time of the year, Filipinos put their problems under the rug and put a happy face for the most festive of all Filipino celebrations. And besides, many of them enjoy a moment of satisfaction at this time of the year, having just received or about to receive 13th month pay, bonuses and other perks.
While hope is generally a good thing, too much of it can bring bad results. After all, isn’t it a fact of life that anything in excess is not a good thing?