In defense of Juan Tamad: Why we need to cut the slacker some slack

Art by Ina Jacobe

Summer brings afternoon siestas. I doze off half-sprawled on our sala’s couch, and awake with light headaches, the stale taste of fruits on my tongue.

In short, many of my summers open like run-of-the-mill “Juan Tamad” tales ― a young boy lying on his back beneath a guava tree, eyes closed and mouth agape. He waits for the fruit to come to him, but it never does. He, deservedly, goes home hungry, our teachers tell us. Nothing good comes out of lying down.

Filipinos ― especially millennials ― have been fighting this stereotype for decades. We are bombarded with press that calls us the laziest, most ungrateful, most inattentive generation of Filipinos ever to walk the face of the Earth. As such we are often told to work hard. “Ikaw,they tell us, “ang aahon ng ngalan ng pamilya.” We are then told as such to work tirelessly, take our hustle to its most “go lang nang go!” extremes. This mindset leads to some worrying outcomes.

Check Twitter around 2:00 in the morning, and you’ll find scores of teenagers furiously hashtagging their way through Kopiko 78C-fuelled work binges. Yesterday, one of my good friends tweeted a blurred stockroom photo around that time. Her caption: “jeez tryin squeeze in a quick nap, ate guard stop starin at me thru door. #parasainyo.”

Juan Tamad we aren’t. With the internet, we often hustle from our bedsides: scouring internship listings, learning new skills ― anything to keep from returning to the proverbial guava tree.

But is a world where eyebags are status symbols worth living in?

To us, Juan Tamad is our favourite bum. He’s always angling for the easy way out of any task. When his mother tasked him to sell her rice cakes in the market, he fed them to their pond’s frogs instead. His reason: the market was too far away. His origins however weave tales of laziness and wily triumph.

His original 1919 incarnation (Buhay na pinagdaanan ni Juan Tamad) crowns him a nap-happy King of Spain. It writes him as his family’s savior, helping to cure his father’s illness. His coronation comes by tricking the old king into believing that his house could never levitate, then by tricking his witch friend moments later to do it for him.

That’s what we’re missing. In our eagerness to chastise Juan Tamad, we forget how his story ends: with laziness, and more than a bit of wit, leading to success.

Oftentimes, we as a generation far too often mistake busyness with goodness, demonize rest for its own sake. We forgot that working smart doesn’t always mean working hard and sometimes being willing to fall ass-backwards into things, bend the rules, and mine a system.

In our eagerness to avoid becoming like Juan Tamad, we forget that often, what separates Juan from the Pilandoks and old Adarna hermits isn’t necessarily a difference in principle as it is in outcomes. Chill out and succeed, and we look like geniuses. Fail and we end up as cautionary tales. It’s just how it is.

Too often we think of productivity as some life-or-death construct, when in fact, a lot of what we’re chasing after ― success, redemption maybe ― don’t follow one hard-and-fast rule. As seen from our tales, if anything, predicting both goes either way. Hard workers and quick-witted slackers alike have succeeded and failed, Kopikos and tweets aside.

In this manner, I suppose our preoccupations with preoccupation borders on unhealthy. I’m not saying we ought to all be bums, but it’d be good to dial the work back a notch. I mean, sometimes guavas do swing low from trees. Sometimes a willingness to rest does us good.

So yes: go take that nap. I mean, it is summer.

Image of Juan Tamad from the film Si Juan Tamad (1947) via Video 48

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