The ‘te mo’ generation
We Ilonggos have a quick answer to almost every why: “te mo.” The stress is on the te. Pronounce it correctly to achieve the desired effect.
Like every other child, I grew up asking questions, mostly directed at my grandmother when she was cooking. Why are you adding more salt? Te mo. Why do you chop vegetables that way? Te mo. Why do you measure rice water with your fingers? Te mo. Still, a lot of things were left unexplained.
Te mo simply translates to “just because.” As I encountered more of the world, it turned out that te mo is more than just an Ilonggo notion of convenience. It’s an escape route for anyone who lacks an explanation for an action, a practice, an attitude, a behavior, a phenomenon, a belief, or basically any question that starts with why.
A generation grew up on te mo and vague answers to fairly inquisitive questions about beliefs, practices, and attitudes. We are the descendants of generations before us who, in one way or another, were brought up in the same way. Today, it seems that we, too, are failing at giving healthy answers. At some point, some of us just stop asking questions altogether.
I salute the few who stand and fight for the things they believe in. But while there are truly brave souls among us who aren’t afraid to break the silence and swim against the current, there are lives that have shallow roots, swayed by even the gentlest of floods amid adversities. Usually, it’s the idle who smart-shames the brave. Discussions beyond memes and “hugot” are frowned upon, treated as topics for show-offs and the smartypants crowd.
We have become a generation highly dependent on others’ convictions. Ask about an issue and many will answer with the most popular stance picked up from the internet. This is not to say that agreeing with popular opinions is wrong. What’s sad is when we choose not to exercise our own capabilities to think for ourselves. Whether this is out of laziness or sheer submission, I do not know.
Our questions eventually get bigger, but are silenced by the same answer. Why do you catcall? Te mo. Why did you vote for him/her? Te mo. Why don’t you segregate your garbage? Te mo. Why do you think rallies are rebellious? Te mo. Why don’t you agree with same-sex marriage? Te mo. Why do you criticize environmental activists? Te mo. Why don’t you recognize animal rights? Te mo. The list goes on.
So you see, there is danger in addressing — and swatting down — small questions with “te mo.” Eventually, the child will grow up and accept te mo as something normal, without critical thinking or reinvestigation. And that child will become the adult answering little inquiries the same way, thus continuing to build the legacy of a society satisfied with te mo.
Convictions will eventually become a thing only for the learned, because in that kind of environment, going against the status quo will be rare and, in its rarity, will be considered invalid.
It’s a little dystopian to say that this is how we will end up if we continue to nurture our te mo mentality. But such a scenario is also avoidable.
I’m shooting for the moon when I hope that te mo ends with our generation. I suggest we first address all questions within us, those that have long been smothered by te mo, buried and forgotten at the backs of our minds. Then we can start answering the questions of others, young or old, with our own stance on issues, with reasonable and ethical premises, and the confidence to stand by every word we say.
It all really boils down to our capability to make a choice every day. Either you will choose to ask more questions and look for the right answers, or you will let another sunrise and sunset pass by while settling for te mo. What will you choose today?
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Niza Cañedo, 22, is a firm believer that we are all capable of change, with the right amount of bravery and faith.
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