“At least” (part1)

By ACC Delen

“ You can not walk in a bookstore and not find a self-help book that extols the benefits of living a life with optimism ”

This piece was composed on a borrowed laptop. My trusty MacBook that had seen me through years of research, three summers of intensive post-grad work, and months of working remotely, finally decided to retire. I wasn’t surprised when it did but I am grateful for the time it has served me. My biggest regret is that it happened here. Had it happened in Shanghai China, things would have been simpler. I could’ve brought it to the Apple Center or been able to acquire a new one without it costing an arm and a leg. Since I am here, I’m working on a borrowed laptop and borrowed internet. The latter having gone kaput last Saturday. I’m still patiently waiting for the PLDT technician to come and replace my 5 month old modem and hopefully restore internet connection.
Don’t get me wrong, the Philippines is not the worst place to be. Compared to places plagued by civil wars, famine, and pestilence, this country is far better. Did you notice how I compared the Philippines to other places that have worse issues? This brings me then to a mindset that I had hoped to have disappeared in the time that I was gone…what I’ve called, the psychology of negative optimism. Confusing isn’t it? Let me explain…A writer once pointed out that there is a certain mindset that allows Filipinos to weather calamities and misfortunes with a smile. That is, the ability to not dwell on the negatives even in decidedly negative situations. However, it could very well also be the reason why this country continues to flounder and no, this has nothing to do with politics as we know it.
If you’ve lived long enough in the Philippines or have been with Filipinos for quite a while, you must have heard the phrase at least once or twice followed by what you would naturally assume as seeing the silver lining in an otherwise bad situation. For instance, if a house was robbed, Filipinos would be apt to say, “At least your house wasn’t razed by fire otherwise nothing would’ve been left.” A super typhoon flattens entire villages leaving barely enough for the villagers to survive on. “At least they’re still alive and can start over again.” Thousands of Overseas Filipino Workers are repatriated from other countries with no jobs or prospects awaiting them in the country. “At least they get to go home and spend time with their families.” For someone who is not easily offended, I especially take offense to the last observation. Being an O.F.W myself, I bet that given the choice, we’d be more than happy to be back in our work places, secure in the thought that we can provide for our families back here, even as we try to survive this pandemic. I could go on and on…there are enough examples to fill up my column space with just a list and then some. This is the mindset that I have left and come back to.
On one side, this mindset is lauded as being optimistic. Optimists are not only admired but are sought after in the work place and social circles. You can not walk in a bookstore and not find a self-help book that extols the benefits of living a life with optimism. People gravitate towards optimists and shy away from their opposites, the pessimists. Like I mentioned, optimists find something good even in a negative situation…which brings us back to negative optimism. Somehow, we have brought positive thinking to a whole new level and made it our own and to our own detriment. I shall expound on this in part 2 of this topic.
I am no expert in psychology nor have I come upon any extensive research on this Filipino way of thinking. For all I know, we may not even have a monopoly on this mindset. What I do have are experiences and observations of this phenomena among Filipinos both here and abroad. I wasn’t intentionally raised to look for silver linings and neither were many people I know. Sure, my generation has had to memorize sayings such as In every cloud there is a silver lining. AND When a door closes, a window opens. Apart from committing these to memory for future recitations, we were not overtly programmed to apply it in our daily lives. Yet, we ended up living it… At Least.

Note: The errors are mine alone as are the ideas being the product of a cramped attic of a brain.

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