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Apr 18

Flattery for self-preservation

Today will be spent at iBlog2, and then advancing work because the next few days will also be devoted to Free Expression in Asian Cyberspace: A Conference of Asian Bloggers, Podcasters and Online Media. So for this week, I won’t be able to do the usual roundups. I’ll focus on putting forward some extracts from a book for discussion, instead.

Among my holiday reading was “The Italians” (Luigi Barzini), which together with “Sixty Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong: Why We Love France but Not the French” (Jean-Benoit Nadeau, Julie Barlow), makes me wish someone would undertake a similar book about Filipinos.

One of the unintended benefits of the Filipino diaspora, I always try to suggest to others, is that the exposure of so many Filipinos both to democracies and undemocratic countries abroad, serves to banish one of the dangers of living in an island nation: the tendency to be insular and unaware and unappreciative of what is going on elsewhere.

Most of all, to examine others is to examine ourselves. To study other peoples is to make possible seeing ourselves in others -the delight, or horror, of discovered similarities. It is also to see how similar problems entail solutions that differ from our own, that may be superior, or prove inferior to solutions we’ve devised.

From Barzini’s book, these passages (from Chapter Five, “Illusion and Cagliostro”):

Polite lies and flattery can be utilitarian on occasion but, most of the time, must be honestly classified among the devices disinterestedly designed to make life decorous and agreeable. They are the lubricants that make human relations run more smoothly… Almost imperceptibly flattery is in the eagerness with which your orders are obeyed, or the obsequiousness with which your advice is sought in matters in which you have no particular experience. It is in the use of academic and other titles; people affix it to your name, as if to prove that you so visibly deserve such honors that it is impossible you have not been awarded them…

Most polite lies, like flattery, are too transparent really to further the liar’s interest. When the shoemaker convincingly says, one hand on his heart, “of course, sir, you will have your new shoes on Thursday, without fail. Do not worry!” he is aware that he cannot fulfill his promise. The shoes will not be ready on time. But he is lying not for himself. He is lying for you. He wants you to feel at peace until Thursday, at least, warmed by the hope that your shoes will arrive…

Even instruments of precision like speedometers and clocks are made to lie in Italy for your happiness. The instrument in your car always marks a figure which is between ten and twenty per cent above the actual speed at which you are traveling. It is meant to make you feel proud of your automobile and your driving skill, but also to make you slow down sooner than you would otherwise and possibly save your life. The clocks on railway stations are all five minutes fast; everybody knows it, of course; and yet travelers, who would arrive on time even if they walked, are stupidly encouraged to quicken their step. Only foreigners are sometimes discouraged sooner than necessary and miss their trains. The electric clocks on the trains themselves, on the other hand, are often a few minutes slow, to give passengers the illusion they arrive on time when they are late, or a little ahead.

“FIlipino time” -it seems less surprising in the light of Italian Time; just as the frustrations of the Westernized Filipino and the Westerner over the honeyed but meaningless words of those who promise, but don’t deliver on time, seem echoed in Barzini’s description of the Italian propensity for making soothing promises.

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  1. Karl Garcia

    On setting clocks in advance.
    It is funny how minds can be conditioned even when aware.
    Even individuals set their clocks to 30 minutes in advance so they would not be late for work, because they live far from their working place and many more weird reasons to condition their minds.

    It is very easy to fool your selves especially if you believe in your selves too much.

  2. sleeping with who

    But he is lying not for himself. He is lying for you. He wants you to feel at peace until Thursday, at least, warmed by the hope that your shoes will arrive…

    This is being nice to the shoeman he is not being nice to you it is a downright lie and if i want my shoes friday or saturday i would have asked that..

    This is soo like this country where you get lied to and the person thinks they are doing it to you for your benefit.. If you cannot supply on thursday then i will need to make other plans, and do that now before it is too late..

    How many weddings and other events are hurried or badly planned because some one wants you to feel good today. Myself i want to feel good on the day.

    This is like the ABS Massacre in Ultra, All will be ok on the day we are sure.. They are lying to themselves to make themselves feel big and they have no intention on making it good for the others involved…

    How many events have we all been to graduations, weddings, holidays. you name it and some one out of their “goodness” has lied point blank to your face that it will be on time..

    This does not ride well with me.. Tell me the facts now and lets see how i can make the facts better…As a project manager many times i have come to no longer trust anything anyone says due to the fact of “Goodness”.. I dont want a warm fussy feeling all over my body before the shit hits the fan.. i want to relieve all the shit before it rises to the level of the fan..

    Please for the sake of all. Tell the facts if you cannot be there on time or deliver on time tell the client…. Dont delay it..

  3. Jon Mariano

    Our politicians are the masters of flattery and lying, really to survive the jungle they’re making and living at.

  4. Robby Villabona

    I’ve also believed for a long time there is something to our being an archipelago that defines our culture. I started thinking this on my first visit to another archipelago, Indonesia.

    When I first went to Jakarta about 13 years ago (and spent six weeks there), what struck me most about the place was how similar the culture was to ours. Only the language, religion, and food was different. Indonesia-time was worse — when our hosts said they’d pick us up at 9am to take us sight-seeing it actually meant 11am.

  5. Steve

    Since the early 1980s I have been touting Barzini’s “Italians,” saying that people could learn to think about the Philippines by substituting “Philippines” and “Filipinos” for “Italy” and “Italians” throughout the book.

  6. genny

    let us just say that the people we vote for are not what they truly are once they are in “power”…somehow it changes them..maybe some….. i am just hoping that their judgement, and sincere want to serve the people doesn’t diminish their trueness…;)

  1. Manuel L. Quezon III » Showmanship as rebellion

    […] In the same chapter (Chapter Five, quoted from  previously), Barzini, in his book “The Italians” (Luigi Barzini), goes on to explain the Italian love for spectacle, for the pleasures of participating in attempts to impress: […]

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