A Problem of Trust in Indonesia: Learning from Meeting with a Stranger

Few weeks ago, I had a chance to be interviewed by one of my friends who is currently working on a social project promoting tolerance culture in Indonesia. In short, she asked me to give some comments about tolerance culture and also about the current political situation in Indonesia. Once the interview finished, she then finalized the draft and put it on the website. I was then quite impressed knowing the title of the article. In short, the summary of my thought that is put as the title is about my statement saying that Indonesia is never running out of good people.

Encountering a kind stranger

My statement actually comes out when she asked me about is there any particular situation that makes me really falls in love with Indonesia. I then recalled my experience when my friends and I were planning to hike a mountain in Indonesia. In the middle of our journey, we then met a stranger in a bus. The stranger then asked where we would like to go and he then continued talking while also kindly offering us some salak (snakefruits) to be eaten together. It did not stop there since after that he also offered us to have a rest in his house. We then spent one night in there and ate together with his family. The next day, he and his friends also kindly accompanied us to the nearest village before we started hiking the mountain.

When I reflected back this moment, I just realized how kind such a person. It just started as a real stranger in a bus. Just because he knew that he could help, without any hesitation, he just offered us a hand to help. I could not imagine such a thing to happen because in any metropolitan cities like Jakarta -the city where I was born and have been living- meeting a stranger and offering a help is something that is uncommon. We never know exactly what is going to happen when offering such a help since we do not know what is the background of the people whom we offer help. Something bad that we do not want to happen might just happen because of this. On the other hand, the person whom I met just jeopardized all of my prejudices. And so then I think why Indonesia is just never running out of good people.

Problem of trust

However, there is one real problem here. While an optimistic feeling rises when such a kind thing happens, it is also true that this kind of situation is uncommon or even rare as what I have said before. People living in metropolitan cities rarely trust stranger. This indeed does make sense considering how often criminality does happen and the nature of the social lives in such cities as well. This might probably not the case in rural villages where people still know each other quite well and thus they are also able to develop a strong bonding of trust among themselves. So the question is how can people really increase the trust among themselves? In particular, how Indonesians start to trust their fellows?

Trusting each other is not something that can be developed overnight despite the fact that it will bring numerous benefits towards the society in the long run as has been completely explained by Francis Fukuyama in his treatise ‘Trust’. The problem with developing trust is about how to start to trusting other who are not from our ‘circle.’ For Indonesia in particular, this situation is undoubtedly challenging considering the diversity of the people living in Indonesia. This might also be worsened by our disposition for not trusting our policy makers who should have had a capability to promote trust among Indonesians. In fact, it is often the case that those who are in power are more keen to loosen the social trust by encouraging sectarian thinking.

Developing trust can then only be done by putting those ‘good people’ in the front line. A man whom I encountered during my journey above, for instance, did not have any bad prejudice at all towards my friends and myself. He opened up his arms to kindly know and help us since he knew he could help. Only by doing this could Indonesians -and human beings in general- start to trust each other. Promoting sectarian thinking is definitely useless since it basically only says that the other are not worthy of our attention because they are not ‘us.’

So, to close this writing I would like to return back to where this writing begins: that Indonesia is never running out of good people. Now the homework is then how to bring these ‘good people’ to be leaders so they are able to give higher impact to the society in general. Only by doing so could Indonesia then start to be a better place for everyone, regardless of their background, because we now start to trust each other and make a better social cohesion.

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Do Human Beings Need Gods to be Good?

One of the most interesting questions in philosophy that I like is Euthyphro dilemma. In short, the dilemma is a question about morality, “Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?”

If we think that an act is pious because gods love it, then it somehow makes gods are so arbitrary and it also elucidates our dependency to gods. On the other hand, if something is pious because it is pious in itself, then why bother having gods? We should be able to reach the knowledge to be good in this particular case without the presence of gods. So the big question is: do we really need gods to be good?

Regardless of what people have in mind, I really do not like to dictate which one is correct. Many religious adherents may still think that the presence of gods is indeed necessary even though the act is already pious in itself. They can argue that only by the grace of gods could human beings conceive the idea of what is really good for them. However, this begs a question: why human beings are not able to grasp the idea of the good by themselves? This can still be answered by saying that it is due to our imperfection -and probably related it back to original sin- resulting in our incapability to have a perfect and clear idea about what is good. That is why we still need gods to help us with this.

However, this argument could still be then objected unfortunately. If gods really help human beings to conceive what is good, how can human beings conceive an act solely done by gods which they cannot think that the act is good, for instance a destruction or an asking to kill innocent people? Why sometimes in any story of a bible, there is a situation where the idea of the good seems to be contradictory to what human beings can perceive? Again, such a question can be easily answered by saying that gods may have a grand plan that we do not know anything at all. Or we might probably do not know, at the time being, what is good about such an act. Later time, we should be able to know and conceive the good behind what currently seems to be contradictory with what is good.

But again, this answer does not seem to help at all. If we really have to rely on predicting the aftermath of the event, it seems to be endless for us. We might probably run our of time to decide what is good for us. Also, there is no way human beings can control the effects of the that they have done. To some extent, they might be able to do it but how about the unexpected outcome? If gods are really perfect, for sure they have already known what the outcome would be including the unexpected one. This is probably the main reason why human beings are sometimes not able to understand gods’ act. But how about human beings? We tend to make everything does make sense for ourselves and others.

So back again to the above question: do human beings need gods to be good? This is still to be an open-ended question but personally speaking, I am at some point sure that there must be a moral fact and knowledge that should lead us to be good regardless of the gods’ existence.

The New Banknotes: The Importance of Acknowledging Pluralism in Indonesia’s History

It seems that 2017 would not be to friendly towards tolerance culture in Indonesia. By the end of 2016, Indonesians have experienced persistent intolerance issues. It was started in Bandung where a Christmas event held by a Christian group was forcefully disbanded by a hard-liner group. As time went on, during the Christmas time, there were also few cases reported regarding the arrogance of Islamic Defender Front (FPI) to do sweeping in some places to uphold the Indonesia Ulema Council (MUI) fatwa regarding Christmas attribute. The GKI Yasmin people, the intolerant case that seems to go nowhere, also had to celebrate their Christmas in front of the State Palace because of their building permit issue. Sadly, this intolerance case does not stop at the level of building permit and Christmas celebration. Another issue that has just recently sparked Indonesians in social media is a statement from a legislative candidate who protested about the presence of “kafir” national heroes in the new Indonesia’s banknotes.

The last case is quite interesting. She rises the protest because she thinks that it is for the interest of the majority. Although she does not deny the fact that there are national heroes who had minority background, it would be good not to include national heroes whom she regards as “kafir.” This case has brought intolerance case in Indonesia to a new level because now intolerance case is not only confined in building permit issues but also has another objective in building an intolerant perspective for the history of Indonesia. This is a worse situation since by changing the perspective of Indonesia’s history, minority voices would probably no longer be heard. A question then may be asked: what kind of history that is actually at stake?

I am pretty sure the deliberation process regarding who should appear in the brand-new Indonesia banknotes was a long and exhaustive one. It is because the banknote should be the representation of Indonesia as a whole nation and not only represent it in particular. Since diversity cannot be taken away from Indonesia, putting on “kafir” national heroes is indeed a good idea since it means that the nation recognizes their service for the country. What is then the importance of this?

People across the world are aware that Indonesia is the country with the largest Moslem population. However, they may not be aware that Indonesia is actually also comprised of people from different background: people that we call minority in this country. By saying so, it is very easy to assume that the Indonesia history should be full with heroes with Islamic background. Thus say, very few people, even among Indonesians, are aware that we actually have people who have given their lives for this country who come from minority background. And as people use banknotes in a daily basis -even for tourists who are visiting our country-, they may then be exposed to the fact that diversity really builds this country as represented by the national heroes appearing on the notes. They may then start to look for an information about the heroes whom they do not know before and then be aware what kind of service that they have given to Indonesia. Hence, diversity posed in the brand-new banknote is actually a very effective way in promoting tolerance culture because Indonesians can then learn about their history from another perspective: a perspective that they might not be aware of before about the presence of non-Moslem national heroes.

However, this move would be at stake when some people start to rise a protest about the appearance of “kafir” national heroes on banknotes. This is because they are trying to alter Indonesia’s history in only one direction and not the other. Isaiah Berlin, a British philosopher, once argues about the importance of plurality in history. This is because human beings are very capable of creating a story that does make sense for them although the cause and effect between each particular case sometimes is not indeed necessary. Having said that, it does then make sense to build an Indonesian history that is solely based on one single component: Islam and Moslem people. It is because majority of the Indonesians are Moslem. However, by neglecting another historical perspective and solely clinging to one perspective, Indonesians may then be misled to think that only Moslem people were actually struggling for Indonesia. We then can easily neglect the fact that people from minority background have also contributed in building Indonesia. In fact, what is actually happening is most Indonesians just never hear about another historical perspective from a minority who has served this country. Their services to the country get blurred by the insistence to only put some figures that may be regarded as majority. They never have any chance to tell their story because there is rarely no any chance to have a plurality in Indonesia’s history.

If this situation continues to happen, we are just worsening our intolerance culture because now it has been brought to a national level with justification from a historical point of view. This phenomenon can also be misused to justify the importance of changing Indonesia’s ideology from Pancasila to be an Islamic state. Sadly, such an attempt to alter the importance of pluralism in our history was conducted by a legislative candidate who is supposed to represent Indonesia as a whole nation.

It is then Indonesian’s responsibility to maintain plurality in Indonesia history. This is because it is important to maintain pluralism in Indonesia and to build a tolerance culture. At the very least, the government has tried by exposing the relatively non-well-known and “kafir” national heroes on the notes. By doing so, the government has unconsciously promoted pluralism and thus not letting the minority’s voice to be shut off. The only task remaining for Indonesians is to further enhance this effort. We must be aware the pluralism of Indonesia history not only from the Islamic-based perspective. Starting to learn history from minority’s perspective is a good way to understand Indonesia better regarding its diversity. We should not let any hard-liner sweep away the pluralism existing in Indonesia’s history. And by doing so, pluralism in Indonesia can hopefully be maintained.

Notes: I actually intended to publish this opinion when the new banknotes were firstly issued. However, since I did not manage to do that, I hope that my thought could still be relevant for other issues.

The Parenting Paradox: Where the Love-Hate Relationship towards Family is Built Up

A couple of days ago, I had a chat with one of my friends. The topic was around the paradox in family, in particular about parenting. Our discussion was about the paradox in parenting and how it can influence the kids once they grow up.

Our discussion started by him saying that he dislikes their parents as much as he loves them. When asked about the reason, he further said that it was primarily because he thought that there is a bipolar nature in any parenting. He then recalled his memory when he was in junior and senior high school. During that time, it was very difficult for him to obtain a permission from his parents if he wanted to join any club. “Although the fact is there is no something wrong with the club, my parent just did not allow me to join,” he said to me. I then continued to ask him what is the reason of his parents to not allow him to join the club. He answered that it is for the interest of safety. In short, he thought that his parents did not allow him to do something that was challenging at that time while in fact he actually loves adventure and trying something new.

He then went on to say that, “even when I started my college, my parents were still over protective to me. I do not know what the reason is but my mother in particular kept saying to me that do not join any activity that will potentially harm you.” He then argued that it does not make any sense at all for him since he was already an adult and really would like to try lots of different things.

Unfortunately, he could do nothing for one reason: dependency.

The story then went on from hate to love. After complaining about how overprotective their parent, and his mother in particular, I then asked him why he could not do something on it. The answer was very straightforward. It was because he was dependent towards their parent at that time.

“If you want to join any club, for sure you have to spend some money to purchase the essential things. Since I did not have enough money to do that, I would just end up for not being able to do something. My saving was not enough to buy me complete essential things. Then I just decided that I would not join the club because even my parents would not give me a penny were I ask them what the money was for.”

I continued to ask him what about other things. And he answered undoubtedly, “extremely generous.” He said that his parents would like to try their best to fulfil what he needed at that time. Tuition fees, foods, transportation, room rent, clothes, books and the list still goes on. His parent and in particular his mother just did not want him to involve in any activity that they consider risk his own life while on the other hand, he really loved it. So that is the beginning of our discussion: the parenting paradox.

The parenting paradox

In general, family is a place where you can lay your back and trust on. It is the one who loves you as who you are. In particular, people start this feeling when they were kids. They knew that their parents love them since they care so much for them. A mother in particular, probably has stronger affinity with her kids since she is the person who gives birth, breastfeeds, and watching closely as her kids grow up.

I then remember reading a book about becoming a man some years ago written by a Jesuit priest. In the book, he admits that there is a stark difference between parenting as a mother and a father. A mother tends to be protective while a father tends to let his kids explore. I cannot remember exactly the example given in the book but it was about how to responding to a simple accident. For instance, when watching their kids falling off from a bicycle, a mother will be very likely to approach the kids and to protect them, even to say that not to try it again because it is dangerous. In contrast, a father has a tendency to say that that is just normal and encourages his kids to try again. He is still going to take care of anything injured but not to discourage and become overprotective. When recalling about reading the book, I was then not surprised hearing my friend’s story complaining about her mother in particular.

So the question is: is there really a win-win solution for such parenting? The problem here is about my friend who has started to hate their family while at the same time loving them as well. Since he is now living apart from his parents, he said that,

“Sometimes I just think that I am very grateful to live alone here while not really establishing any contact with my parents. I start to think that my family is actually just an obstacle for me to reach my dreams. I really hate myself, especially remembering that I was not allowed to join a club that I wanted when I was teenager and when I was in the college. I really hate them but I know at the same time I just cannot ignore them because they actually have showered me with love that I cannot probably get from somewhere else.”

Since I am not a parent yet, I could barely give him any advice. I could only say to him that he has learnt a lot from his experience how hurtful it can be to be overprotective to your own kids. While at the same time showering them with love, it just makes an inconsistency which can be problematic once the kids grow up, like what is happening to himself. I then said to him that even God cannot change any past so the only thing that he could so is to just go on with it. But he has to remember that once he becomes a parent, it is not a good thing to be overprotective. As long as he is sure that his kids will not do any wrong like becoming a drug dealer or something that is prohibited by law, what he can do is to support and also to provide safety net if considered necessary.

At the end of the conversation, he was then wondering how normal it is to have such a hate-love relationship with the family like this. I can only answer to him, “You know how hurtful it is, so just contribute to not make it a normal condition once you become a parent.”

On Suicidal Phenomenon: a Useless Religious and Weak Person Judgement

Sadly speaking, it seems that suicide is becoming a new trend in Indonesia. Just recently, a video went viral showing two siblings committed a suicide by jumping off from an apartment in Bandung. People then started to argue that the siblings actually had a mental illness after their mother passed away several years ago. Such a grievance then led to depression and it seemed that the burden just became unbearable leading them to commit suicide.

However, what I would like to discuss here is not about whether they had made a right decision by committing suicide. After the incident occurred, I just surfed some online forums in Indonesia. From what I read during the time, quite significant number of people are able to say things such as ‘lacking of religious faith that leads to suicide’ or ‘hell is waiting for them’ and other varieties of religious-based saying. Such judgements actually imply that (1) they did suicide because they were not religious enough or not close enough to God and by doing so (2) there will be no place for them in heaven. The question is:is this something really appropriate to shout out such judgement?

In this discussion, I would not like to discuss whether suicide is actually allowed from religious point of view. I am pretty sure such a question leads to a definitive final answer. My discussion here is more about the appropriateness to handle suicide problem. Although I am not an expert in this area, I am pretty sure that a humanist approach is undoubtedly universal rather than making a bias judgement.

One day I had a chat with my friend talking about suicide. I said that if life is so unbearable, suicidal thinking can easily come across. Then my friend argued that it cannot be if you are religious enough. In addition, he said to me that such a thinking may probably never come to me considering that I am religious enough and keep myself close to God. My experience does not then significantly differ from what I read on online forums after the suicide phenomenon I described above. I also had a similar experience when talking about that. Even anyone can experience it when talking with their parents.

Form my perspective, suicidal thinking is actually a really difficult situation because a person maybe in his/her lowest state. The most important thing when finding someone who has a suicidal thought is just to talk to them and listen. I do not think such people really need any judgements from us, in particular a judgement saying how far they are to God. I won’t say that religious consultation does not work. I would rather say it is just not for everyone. If they think that they might get relieved after going to a church or a mosque, then there we are to help. But if it is not, who we are to say that they are not close enough to God and the hell is waiting for them? What we actually need to do is to find the most appropriate intervention to prevent them from committing suicide.

A weak person (?)

Another point to highlight aside from judging them from religious point of view is how a person who would like to commit a suicide is often regarded as being weak. From my point of view, to some extent a bravery is actually apparent from such a person.

First of all, they have been actually bearing the burdens that they think are no longer bearable. We might not know completely how much is it the burden but bearing a burden and facing it even for a moment in life requires strength and bravery. Another thing, I just never think committing suicide is easy. They really have to think to choose the least painful option. But what are the least painful option? Even the most instant and calmest way to kill yourself requires time to get the result out. And do we really think that during this period, the victim does not feel any pain at all? They must face that crucial moment with bravery since they know they will end up their lives. The last point is to think in the opposite way. If, normally speaking, we want to live and enjoy more from our lives and they think to end up their lives, is it not a bravery? They even choose to do something that we avoid. Therefore, I do not think such people are really weak: they are actually strong enough to have a suicidal thought.

Thus say, neither religious nor weak person judgement really helps at all. What we actually need to do is to help them and find any appropriate intervention so they might get relieved from their burdens. Only by doing so we have made a positive contribution to someone else’s life. If we are to judge, we just have to make a judgement that is useful to contribute to make them better and not worsening their current condition.

Note: Into the Light Indonesia actually opens its hand for anyone who has any suicidal though.