by Jennie S. Bev
News on corrupt officials, intellectuals who work for oppressive conglomerates, and businesses causing extreme pollution and catastrophe have been selling newspapers and magazines.
Indonesia is in crisis and we aren’t talking about finances or its poor international image. We are talking about of the lack, or even a non-existence, of knights (the closest Western analogy to ksatria) in modern Indonesia.
It is as if not being corrupt is stupid, because corruption has reached a cultural, not merely structural, level. Stealing has become a “last resort” that can be justified. How anarchic such a mind-set is.
Merriam-Webster defines “mind-set” as a mental attitude or inclination or a fixed state of mind. For instance, a winner’s mind-set says don’t give up after losing a match. A loser’s mind-set says give up instead of trying again.
A corrupt person sees handling a budget as an opportunity to steal, while an honest individual sees such a privilege as an opportunity to prove his or her skill and efficacy.
We might have heard about the Betawi legend of Si Pitung, a man with advanced silat (martial arts) skills who stole from the rich and gave to the poor, as some sort of Indonesian Robin Hood.
There are elements of “stealing” and using martial arts in the process, which are not so noble and may be interpreted differently by children and adults.
While I admire Si Pitung’s intentions (the why), I don’t approve of theft or violence as methods to achieve the noble goal (the how), regardless of how rich the victim is.
The notion of legitimizing theft “as long as it is from the wealthy” is unacceptable, simply because a true compassionate hero is a knight who respects everybody the same way indiscriminately.
Those who steal, thus, are not heroes in the full meaning of the word, but a discounted one.
The mind-set of a knight refers to chivalry, a mental attitude in which an individual would choose to use the most compassionate and the most ethical methods in solving problems.
He or she doesn’t hesitate to sacrifice himself or herself for the greater good as long as the attainment process is based on principles of dignity, humanity, and compassion.
Indonesia needs more original stories of courage and compassion that do not have dark or unethical elements.
For instance, western superhero stories, such as Spiderman, Batman and Superman, each have their own strengths and weaknesses. Out of those three heroes, the squeaky-clean role model for children, is Superman.
Spiderman has a dark element, in which alter-ego Peter Parker was bitten by a spider prior to becoming a jumping-and-swinging superhero wearing red-and-blue tights and a matching mask to keep his identity secret.
Batman’s alter ego, Bruce Wayne, is a playboy and the heir of a millionaire. He keeps his identity secret beneath a dark mask and drives a flashy black sports car that looks like a 1960s Impala.
Superman, on the other hand, is an aristocratic orphan from another planet. He was adopted and raised by a loving middle-class couple, goes to school, works as a reporter, and doesn’t cover his face with a mask.
He doesn’t have any obvious dark side requiring secrecy. Clark Kent even has a smart reporter girlfriend.
In society, an elite group of people in power possess privileges are similar to superheroes: They can make things happen. As social contract theorists Thomas Hobbes and John Locke believed, individuals in a society are bound by an “invisible” contract, which is aimed to ensure equality despite different levels of power and ability held by each member.
Alas, it is common knowledge that many Indonesian government officials abuse the social contract. Thus, instead of being superheroes for the people, they become supervillains.
I know several individuals of the Indian Sikh “ksatria” class, which they call sardar. While their appearance doesn’t differ considerably from those of other castes, their mental attitude is obvious. The males tend to sit erect, calm and are assertive.
They serve others in a dignified style. It explains why they were impressive when serving as infantry in the British colonial army.
Sikh women are strong leaders as well, which is reflected in their choices. While it may sound like a generalization, the values instilled in them are similar, if not identical, which are reflected in their choices.
A knight (ksatria) doesn’t require wearing body-fitting elastic outfits like a gymnast, a mask, and a cape. What Indonesia needs is more people with a knight’s (ksatria) mind-set.
These people should groom themselves to bring about positive changes, be living role models whose achievements and actions are fundamentally compassionate and ethical indiscriminately.
In a pluralistic society like Indonesia, chivalry is a must, as it tests the minority to be courageous and the majority to be compassionate and accepting. We can never have too many knights.
Remember, a knight’s voice is a voice of reason.
The Jakarta Post, July 19, 2010