By Tony Samson
PERIODIC surveys that check how respondents feel about the future show that as a people, we are an optimistic lot. Our scores on having a positive outlook rank us consistently in the top three in the happiness index. The results favor those who are full of hope on what’s coming ahead. This positive outlook persists even through the bad times we find ourselves in.
Is optimism a trait we should project to investors (property boom) and tourists? Is it more fun in the Philippines not just due to the clean beaches and radiant sunsets, but also because Filipinos are just more fun to be with? Underneath the traits of friendliness and hospitality to strangers is a dose of positive vibes.
Our optimism partly flows from religion and leaving our woes to the mercies of divine providence. The word “bahala” is a corruption of “bathala” (or a deity in the ancient belief system). And so, the expression used to confront and shrug off complex situations that can lead to uncertain outcomes is a sigh, “bahala na,” leaving the resolution of pesky problems to cosmic forces coming to our aid. Such an optimistic (maybe even over-optimistic) dependence on divine providence makes for a sunny outlook. Such a capricious attitude can irritate those who look at different scenarios requiring contingency planning.
Still, even John Maynard Keynes concedes — “There is nothing so disastrous as a rational policy in an irrational world.”
Our upbeat nature must be part of our national DNA. The story of the lazy Juan waiting for the fruit from the tree to drop into his mouth is as much a parable of laziness as it is of blind optimism. While this character is much maligned as a role model, it is a worry-free antidote to the stressed-out workaholic. Idleness is underrated as a muscle relaxant, though not to be taken too often in large doses.
12% of the population working abroad send an ever-growing inflow of foreign-generated wealth back to the homeland. This cash is even accompanied by boxes of goodies and gifts to the family. This also explains why a rich relative acts as a mini welfare state taking care of the education of nieces, health care of sisters, and job offers for distant cousins. This same “family first” bias however also underlies corruption (both in the public and private sectors) and the role of dynasties.
Optimism is not a natural state. One works hard to achieve it. It can be a form of self-delusion. A positive outlook needs constant affirmation to explain away the speed bumps on the road to well-being. Optimism takes a beating with drug-related killings, botched rehabilitation efforts in war-torn provinces, attacks on media freedom, and daily traffic jams.
Exhortation for media to report “the good news” smacks of sucking up to the administration. Sure, there are segments of the news that feature returned wallets left in taxis, the humanitarian efforts of NGOs like building homes for the homeless, and the reining in of inflation. News reporting instinctively has a bias for what’s wrong, pointing out that two cable lines are obstructing a walkway, rather than the expansion of utility services that those new cables bring.
In the late eighties, the phone company I used to work for (no names mentioned here) created a sponsored three-minute news segment (not yet called branded content then), appended to the regular news program. The new feature was called simply “the good news.” For content, the news item was produced by an investigative reporting group, highly respected for doing documentaries on issues of a controversial nature. The corporate mandate to these fierce journalists was to dig out and “investigate” success stories. These interviews of managers and owners of small businesses, many of them exporters, who have opened new markets abroad and making headway in their entrepreneurial efforts. Other segments featured NGOs helping the community. The program ran for almost two years and accumulated over 300 success stories featured in the evening news. It was positively received by the public.
Maybe, it takes the same journalistic zeal to look for what’s going right as it does in investigating what’s going wrong. Looking for something to be optimistic about is not automatically government propagandizing. It is about what’s good about our country, and about us as a people. It’s about having faith in ourselves and our future.
Tony Samson is Chairman and CEO, TOUCH xda