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What, really, is ‘delicadeza’?

By Conchita Razon
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 20:40:00 08/22/2009

Filed Under: Lifestyle & Leisure

DELICADEZA is a Spanish word. It derives its almost intangible quality from the word, delicado, which means delicate, fragile, easily broken, irreplaceable, precious.

Delicadeza was once enshrined in Philippine culture. Like a precious diamond, the word has many facets. When it applies to how we handle objects, it denotes ?care.? The Spanish synonyms are cuidado or miramiento.

Miramiento is closest in essence. It implies consideration, a deliberate effort to forego one?s pleasure to avoid someone else?s pain. It can also mean circumspection, a quality totally alien in today?s society.

When dealing with people, delicadeza is kindness or attentiveness. It suggests gentleness ? the exquisite qualities of sensitivity, tactfulness and refinement. All these virtues are born from a sense of propriety and decency.

At the very foundation is character: doing the right thing when no one is looking.


In recent weeks, we have heard the D word spoken like a mantra to describe and commemorate a fallen leader who in life manifested it in abundance. It has also hit the headlines to disparage and chastise personalities who are perceived to have none at all.

Two cases in point: The latest selection of National Artists and an extravagant dinner in Manhattan. Let?s not even go there, as both events have been written up, argued about, Facebooked, blogged, Tweeted and twittered ad nauseam.

In spite of heated debates and fiery accusations, no one seems too surprised. Has it all become humdrum normal?
Does delicadeza still exist? And if it does, where do we find it?

A writer says that it is ?an excessively traditional virtue and a relic of the past.? Some people swear that like many of our institutions, delicadeza has been destroyed and lies rotting in a grave with the rest of our values.

Please say it isn?t so!

Elusive attribute

For the still uninformed about this magical and elusive attribute, let us imagine that there is government department under investigation for missing public funds. The person in charge assumes command responsibility. He opens his books and then resigns. That is delicadeza. Get the picture?

Imagine again, and this is easier, that the president of a firm is my compadre and owes me big time. My grandson just finished college. Guess who I call to give him a job interview. Of course it will be just a formality. He won?t even fall in line. Oops! Delicadeza just left the building.

There is no precise definition for the D word. You either have it or you don?t. It is undefined etiquette for human behavior. Propriety comes pretty close. It is refinement at its noblest.

What makes a judge inhibit himself when the case involves a friend or an enemy? Delicadeza. It means restraining the urge to take advantage or seek favor. It is choosing to give up privilege for the sake of one?s integrity.

But when was the last time we saw this happen? Just asking.

I come from a generation where delicadeza was up there with honesty, integrity, transparency and honor. In its name, I have seen big-time politicos, principled businessmen and prominent artists turn away from a plum award or a coveted promotion. What people said about them was of paramount importance. They believed that a good name was their best legacy.

It mattered then. Today no one seems to care.

Groveling in the muck

But when did this happen? How did we lose it?

I venture a guess. Maybe it started when we began promoting ourselves to get ahead. We couldn?t wait for someone to say good things about us. So we said it ourselves, even if we had to make it up.

Maybe it was when we realized that no one really cares what you are as a person; that your wealth speaks for you, and that it is who you know that counts. When did the butt we kiss become the measure of who we are?

In our rush to the top, we fell from the high pedestal of our ancestors and we grovel in the muck without knowing or caring how low we have fallen. We traded honor for favor, integrity for position, truth for fame. And in the process, we demolished delicadeza.

In its place, we have settled for kapal. It is a sad state of affairs.

But there is good news. Two weeks ago, drenched by the downpour of rain, tears and yellow confetti, we discovered that maybe, just maybe, the D Word is alive and well. Yes, delicadeza is still in the air.

Take a deep breath. It is good.

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