The Power Of Laugther

Humor. Is it just a diversion or car.:: be a survival kit? In the Philippines, laughter is the way Filipinos cope with natural catastrophes, overcome the burdens of everyday life and cushion the impact of events over which they feel they no longer can control.

The ability to reduce a situation to absurdity is, however, not to trivialize it. Filipinos are not oblivious of despair. Their history is a lament of the struggle against colonization, the atrocities of war, political anarchy and poverty. More than just comic relief from these harsh realities, Filipinos have found in humor a reservoir of psychic energy from which they draw a positive outlook in life. If they can laugh at a situation, Filipinos argue, they can rise above it.

This attitude may lead outsiders to conclude that Filipinos are passive to their fate. But what may appear as passivity to the casual observer is in fact an active social mechanism deeply rooted in the Filipino's collective consciousness.

Caught between a rock and a hard place, Filipinos say bahala na. Literally, it means come what may. Figuratively, it means much more. The phrase derives from Bathala, the ancient Filipino's Supreme Being, caretaker of life on earth and beyond, from whom all providence comes. The invocation of banal na affirms a trust in divine wisdom. Filipinos know that the natural order of events will take their course, leaving no room for angst nor the predilection to f take each event apart and delve for spiritual malaise. So while outsiders were horrified that Filipinos could laugh and joke during the attempted coup d' etat by the Reformed Army Movement in 1989, where soldiers fought soldiers in the streets, Filipinos saw only a series of minor events played out on a larger stage. After all, at earlier times in their past, they have witnessed similar upheavals. And to what end? The Spaniards came and the Spaniards went. So did the Japanese and the Americans. Like the land itself, only the Filipinos, with their passionate Christian belief that suffering is but a stepping stone to a happy ending, endures. Ambition, politics, and men who try to control deserve the reception they get, laughter. Natural forces receive a similar reception. If one listens closely though, it becomes apparent that Filipino humor does not jeer at nature's destructiveness but rather expresses an optimism in its healing powers. Having lived closed to the earth, they know that nature gives and takes in a cycle as eternal as life and death.

Humor has many uses in the Philippines. As leveler, for instance, it serves to expose the foibles of people in high office, thus bringing them down to the company of ordinary men. Humor is also used to circumvent taboos. As one would expect in an overwhelming Catholic nation, the urge to poke fun at the Church is irresistible. As a necessary antidote to their nation's strict sexual mores, Filipinos love to dish out punchlines about their men's sexual prowess. Humor, both irreverent and banal, serves as a soft rebellion against what is otherwise regarded with awe or considered correct behavior.

Others might find burn humor revolving. Not Filipinos, who regard bodily functions as natural. So are are less flattering human traits like awkwardness, physcal deformity and effeminacy. These too come with the territory, and taking them with an earthy jocular stance also means accepting the human condition, warts and all.

Filipinos use humor to diffuse tension. During the 1986 EDSA Revolution, families gathered in the streets feasting, singing and dancing while their lives were being threatened. Jokes immediately sprung out of national tragedies, such as the assassination of Ninoy Aquino, or turning points in history, such as the ouster of the Marcos regime. By treating nothing sacred, Filipinos guard their equanimity from breaking down.

As anywhere else, humor in the Philippines is also used for the sheer enjoyment of a good laugh. Filipinos, who have ingrained joie de vivre, a craving for heroes and superheroes and a propensity for grand fiestas, can even chide their romantic nature in the larger than life irony of a joke. Humor as with other forms of social intercoursein the Philippines, is ruled by nuance and convention. Whether iris used as satire, protest, psychological prop, or just for the fun of it, there are characteristics that L3 , bestow a singularity on the Filipino sense of humor. .

Filipino humor is rarely mean. Because of their strong sense of hiya (shame), Filipinos go to great lengths to be polite. Just as a problem should never be discussed directly, humor, likewise, should never be confrontational. Whether the brunt of the joke is the government or other established organizations, it is usually the impersonal they and not the people who comprise the institution who become fair game.

Filipino humor is often self-deprecating. It is another weapon in face-saving. By turning a mistake or a transgression into a light moment, the teller relieves the injured party of having to correct him and allows him to own up to his mistake in a way that allows him to also save face. What may appear to an outside observer as another example of Filipino superficiality, making fun of a situation which in fact might be extremely serious, is really an intricate social contract between the two parties that will allow them to continue to interrelate in the future. In adjudging Filipino behavior, one must remember that Filipino society is made up of closed circles of relationships and each group member must be careful never to burn his bridges with other group members.

Finally, humor in all its guises and uses, binds Filipinos together, transforming an experience into an event that can be shared by all. When Filipinos laugh at something that is unique to them, their laughter becomes an assertion of their unity as a people.