I sat at dinner once in the home of very good friends. It was a casual dinner. No trimmings. No special food. Just being with each other. I was enjoying myself listening to the children’s requests for help with their respective homework. What got the whole family’s attention, though, was the homework of the family’s teenager. He was tasked to write a love letter to an unknown object of affection in Filipino. It seemed like an interesting assignment for someone who visibly was not yet that interested in girls. When his father, mother, and I were having fun trying to put our two cents worth into this letter, we were all jolted by the younger boy, pretty much in his preadolescent stage himself, who was passively seeking some help for the autobiography, which he had to come up with. Unfortunately, we had some laughs from putting this love letter together that the younger boy was somehow overshadowed. He was not going to take this too quietly. So, he made sure we knew how he felt by withdrawing from the discussion but remaining seated at the far end of the table with his head bowed down. He made his angry presence felt by occasionally stomping his feet. The atmosphere was very strained, of course. We all seemed at a loss on how to handle him. It was not a tantrum, as we all know a full-blown tantrum to be. There was no kicking, screaming, or big movements. He was passively aggressive. In fact, no direct English translation is suited to describe this state. The best word for it is “tampo.” It is not sulking either because not much talking was done. Though you could call it that more and less, but not quite.

I was told by a Guatemalan Religious Sister many years back that she only observed this reaction among Filipinos. It frustrated her no end because sometimes she did not have a clear idea why some other sisters in the same congregation were simply not paying attention to her but were banging things around. They refused even to make eye contact. How she preferred it if they just spoke up regarding their hurts or resentment toward her and the other parties involved. She felt she was the object of indifference because there was a previous incident with another sister that did not seem resolved. So the next day, she sees the sister concerned make “tampo.”

What goes on in “tampo?” Why does it seem so peculiar to Filipinos? Why is it so difficult for Filipinos to confront another person with his ill feelings in the most loving way? I have to underscore “in the most loving way.” Letting out our ill feelings can be abused too. We could very well unload all our anger at someone without meaning to resolve anything or help the other person or the relationship. It could be a self-serving exercise. An ego booster. This does not count. Ill feelings that need to be expressed have to be done in a fair exchange, in dialogue. The objective of the dialogue is to restore a relationship or to strengthen its bonds. A monologue of words or insults hurled at another cannot strengthen friendships. It will just widen the gap and deepen the hurts. It does not help to solve any problem. It creates new ones.

So here we are, badly hurt by someone at home. Do we make sure our “aggressor” knows how badly we feel by banging on the room door or forcefully pulling our clothes out of the closet? No. No more silent treatment. No more “tampo.”

Let us try it this way. Let us look for a nice, quiet time and place to discuss what really happened. Then, before we start insulting the other person, let us try to look into our feelings. Once we get in touch with these feelings, we express them in an “I” statement. Meaning we own the feeling. We do not start throwing things at the other person and enumerate as the wrong things the person has done Mus. We express how we feel about a specific behavior. No harsh judgments. No jumping to conclusions. Simply, “I feel disappointed whenever you come home late for dinner, especially because I prepared dinner for you. I was eagerly waiting for you.” How can anyone be on the defensive and want an all-out war with such a sincere “I” statement? At least this way, we make ourselves clear. People are not left in the dark about what really happened. People understand what statement or action it was that sparked hurt feelings. As is the case with “tampo,” sometimes, the one that hurts us is not even aware of what they did. They know something is wrong when they get the silent treatment or when “tampo” comes into the picture. Let us put a handle on the situation. Let us call the ill feeling by name. Take responsibility and express the feeling lovingly. It takes practice.

Jesus Our Light

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