Sunday, August 09, 2009

The Return of Delicadeza

Such a quaint word, delicadeza. In Spanish it can mean many things – ‘delicacy’, ‘kindness’, ‘tact.’ There doesn’t seem to be an equivalent in Filipino or English, but the word evokes a sense of propriety (what is proper and improper) as the situation calls for. The word implies a care for what others think and the accordant behavior this requires from us.

When one does not exhibit delicadeza then one does not care what others think and will behave despite what has been deemed ‘improper.’ Delicadeza, in this sense, can be seen to underline a sense of community - a device to identify what is indelicate, unkind or tactless – things that are harmful to societal harmony.

Digging deeper, why is there need for delicadeza? And why does the community, offended at improprieties, call for it? A harmonious society implies freedom from strife. This, in turn, implies a just community - where a person, ensconced in the networks of family, workplace and the public sphere – is treated and treats others fairly. Otherwise there is injustice, there is disharmony, there is no delicadeza.

These days hardly anyone uses the term. My generation certainly has no use for it. Our Anglo-Americanized culture now puts premium on absolute individualism. The care for community, for what others think are ‘traditional’ views, relics of the past.

But there are limits to the wants and will of the atomized individual. While Anglo-American culture has no word for ‘delicadeza’ it has other cultural devices designed to create the same kind of societal harmony. There are ‘limits to liberty’ and principles of not doing harm to others. There is ‘rule of law.’ The Anglo-American culture also has a deep well of tradition on what comprises ‘justice,’ that is, what is fair and due to each individual within a community.

I am afraid the past few months, if not years, has resurrected the call for delicadeza. I hear it now in response to the National Artist controversy and most recently the 1 million Peso dinner of President Arroyo and other government officials in New York. I am hesitant to attribute the death of President Aquino to the belated calls of propriety, of what is just and fair, especially of high-profile leaders of the country. But remembering Cory and her sense of delicadeza, I suppose it is not out of place to compare.

More importantly, I think the call for delicadeza is a sign that as a collective, we have allowed our leaders and each other to push beyond limits of basic decency. That is, beyond bounds of what is proper, what is just and what is fair.

If we talk of morality, let us talk of these values. I personally, shy away from talk of god. The deity is such. And we, we are human.

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