In an era that puts so much emphasis on stardom over wisdom, the spectacle of messy transitions has become commonplace. A few days before the Indonesian presidential elections, I could be talking about politics, but it doesn’t stop there: the problem permeates to all aspects of life.

If you spend a lifetime getting to where you are, then work all out to give it your best, thereby lifting everyone up to new heights: hats off and we are behind you! But if you stop and just try to keep your seat, that’s the first sign that it‘s time look for replacement. In Indonesia we had a bad case of this during the New Order, and those in power did little to substantially increase the quality of governance (quantity is another story). If anything they set the scene for even more degeneration by cultivating and breeding political lies.

But we as citizens do share a little complicity in all of this. How did a relatively uneducated soldier hold us all in thrall for 32 years? Imagine: after nearly four and a half decades, we still are not completely clear on what happened the night of the 30th September. Somehow, we all share a bit of the blame. Somewhere inside us, we seem to like to hold on tight to the comparatively safe same old same old. The end result is that we don’t have any arms free to embrace the new.

Yes it is time to move on. But moving on means not repeating the same mistakes, which in turn means understanding 1.what the mistake was, and 2. what the mistake means to us. When it is convenient, Southeast Asians like to do a little repression whilst claiming a faux social tolerance for the good of all: it usually ends up in flames, to the detriment of many. Thailand, land of smiles, is the latest example this.

In the case of the New Order, time marched on – even the strongest castles fall to the siege of time – and regimes changed. Yet there are still a significant few players out there from that era, clinging to old ways and getting a way with it. Some have even been major actors in past transgressions of human rights. A friend of mine said during an online chat session: “We Indonesians have amnesia”. Do we really have to be The Republic of Indoamnesia to keep things peaceful? And is it only pols who are displaying this despotic behaviour?

Where do we find these residues? For a start, everywhere there is bureaucracy. Take culture: there is still a strong tendency to have bureaucratic mechanisms of approval that tell us what is culture and what isn’t acceptable. Most of what gets approved is pretty safely ‘traditional’ or within fifty meters of it. And most of us just nod our heads and murmur assent.

It is extremely rare that you get a government official like the current mayor of Denpasar who actually contributed to the expenses of a local “rockabilly” band (The Hydrant) who had been invited to tour in Europe. Yet it makes perfect sense – after all it’s not just Legong happening in Bali*. Thinking outside the box doesn’t happen frequently enough.

It comes back to wisdom over stardom: knowing when you really can still contribute, and knowing when to hand off the baton while things are still running well. Allowing for young blood to rise through the ranks and develop their own capacity is paramount. To do this there is a need to give them extraordinary opportunities and responsibilities. If they don’t learn, then who are you going to pass the baton too? And if they don’t know their own strengths and weaknesses, how are they going to hold on to the baton?

Bali, 4th July

*sidenote: another local band, the punk group “Superman is Dead” is currently touring the USA.


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