by Jennie S. Bev
Post Sept. 11, the world is getting more polarized and more religious as well as anti-religious. This tiny blue planet is getting more divided and Indonesia is no exception. It is a reality check to acknowledge, to reflect and to act upon. It is true that we do not live in a utopia, but we certainly can do our best, no matter how small, to bridge differences and to develop better understanding between each other.
It might sound aggrandizing to say: Let's make the world a better place, one breath at a time. But it is, contrary to unpopular belief, doable. By you and me.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said, "We do no great things, only small things with great love."
The concept of citizen diplomacy pivots around the notion that any individual has the right and the capacity to shape the course of history by engaging in politics directly and indirectly. And one of the best avenues is through humanitarian and human relations efforts. Oprah Winfrey, Lance Armstrong and Maya Angelou are excellent examples of very successful citizen diplomats, as they bridge differences and spread kindness and other positive traits without having to sacrifice their lifestyles.
One can work in any profession and be passionate about anything while making a splash worldwide. And with the burgeoning of the Internet, any linguistically and digitally literate individual has a good chance to make great leaps.
A good example is a Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez (desdecuba.com/generaciony) who was named one of 2008 Time magazine's Top 100 Most Influential People. She writes her daily musings in Havana, Cuba.
Indonesians abroad, such as those who work in academia, as entrepreneurs or executives, indirectly represent Indonesia in the international arena, regardless of the negative label they are given –"brain drain.” This term is degrading and baseless, for only those who have never experienced the hardship of living away from one's homeland would have said it out loud.
Other than derogatory, brain drain is also an obsolete pessimistic concept based on parochial nationalism, in which a person's worth and nationalism is simply seen as where one resides, geographically. While I have never claimed to be a patriot, I have lived outside Indonesia long enough to acknowledge and admire those who thrive, not merely survive, with dignity.
After all, impressive language skills are not the only requirements. A strong work ethic, strong mental stamina, cultural awareness and adhering to the rules in addition to lifelong self-improvement are.
The opposite concept is "brain gain,” which is a notion that acknowledges the dynamic exchanges of human capital across borders. It is a beautiful concept as it provides plenty of room to grow and that by having people abroad means more bridges have been built.
Now what matters is how those bridges can be used for the betterment of mankind, referring to the whole human civilization. After all, no people, no nation, no country can live as a lone tree. We are all part of something greater: the human race.
Understanding the need to build bridges between civilizations, particularly between the often-misunderstood Islam and the West, a group of U.S.-based PhD students who belong to Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), a large moderate Islamic organization in Indonesia, established NU Community in USA and Canada (UN-ASK) last week. Ulil Abshar-Abdalla (Harvard), Sumanto Al-Qurtuby (Boston) and Achmad Munjid (Temple) are among the founders. According to them, this community is a new NU generation.
This new generation claims that NU-ness is a commitment to a set of ideas and thoughts, such as that Islam should be re-interpreted in such a way that corresponds with the current challenges; that Islam is compatible with democracy and human rights; that Islam should work will all religions to come to term with global injustices; and that Islam should engage in a serious and productive dialogue with other faiths and religions.
An accolade must also be given to Eddie Lembong, an exemplary Chinese Indonesian cultural activist, who founded Nabil, a nation building organization based in Jakarta and Beni Bevly of Overseas Think Tank for Indonesia based in Northern California, whose idealism includes the so-called "cross-cultural pollination."
Using flowers as an anecdote, every culture has its strengths and weaknesses, including cultures and subcultures belonging to Indonesia's majority and its minorities, and these are collective treasures of Indonesia as a whole. It would be favorable for each community, which is represented by a flower, to spread its pollen to other communities and vice versa.
By understanding how things work, it is more than possible to study strengths of other cultures and accept them to fortify our own communities. For example, learning the collective industriousness and strong survival skills of the Chinese has united Chinese communities around the globe instead of dividing them under the notion of diaspora. By acknowledging human propensity in exchanging ideas, we all can learn from each other in a dignified way without having to spoon-feed each other.
The good thing is that being a citizen diplomat does not require any formal training or special connections to those who sit at high places, but it does require a heightened awareness of the world's plight for mutual respect and understanding, being the best one can be to set an example to peers, and being open to new possibilities within and without.
Without having to wait for the government to act on behalf of our ideal notions on how the world should be and could be, it is an action ready to be done. Right here, right now.
At last, do things with compassion, because it is what makes us true human beings.
The Jakarta Post, July 9, 2008