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Jakarta post

by Jennie S. Bev

In an interview with a tabloid, I once answered, “I write for the love of it. I do business for a living. I volunteer for love of humanity.” I find writing valuable for my own mental health and increasing public awareness on certain issues. In short, writing is therapeutic and provides an avenue to advocate causes I dearly believe in.

The good thing is, writing is a learned skill. The rule of thumb is: the higher one’s education is, the better they write. Is it a fact or merely a misconception? Also, how can one use writing effectively for therapeutic and advocacy purposes?

First things first. We need to recognize what kind of writer we are. And yes, every individual who can read and write is a writer. Cited from an article by Ignas Kleden a long time ago, there are three types of writers: functional, technical, and cultural.

A functional writer is one who uses writing and reading skills to function in everyday activities. The fluency and sophistication level is considered at the basic or low-intermediate level. A technical writer is one who uses writing and reading skills in everyday activities and their job, which are an important and integrated part of their job description. The fluency and sophistication level is considered middle intermediate or low advanced.

A cultural writer is one who uses writing and reading skills in everyday activities and in their job, and is obtaining mental satisfaction and achieving spiritual ecstasy. Most authors who have published significantly and those who enjoy reading and artistic endeavors as paths to self-expression belong in this category.

Thus, the premise that the higher one’s education translates to better writing is true to some extent, even though we can find many highly educated individuals, whose cultural expression and appreciation, are somewhat mediocre.

For writing to be therapeutic, one does not need to belong to the “culturally literate” category. One can simply write for the purpose of sharing with an imaginary audience. And one does not need to be well-versed in psychoanalysis.

As a form of therapy, writing allows me to release deep thoughts about myself, the people around me, and the society in which I reside. Most are beautiful, but many are bluntly honest and bitter. After all, we live in an environment with both bright and dark sides. And what is better than writing to release both our protagonist and antagonist sides.

As a person with double Diasporas, writing is a way to express the longing to belong in two places far away yet so close at heart: Indonesia and China. These two cultures and countries shaped who I am today. Now, writing allows me to look back with a sense of thrill and awe.

As a woman, the world looks quite colorful and relatively different from those who use their patriarchic pair of eyes. And as a child who was abandoned by her father prior to being born, self-sufficiency has been the name of the game. In short, my writings have gone through multiple filtrations which may either provide more objectivity or, even, more subjectivity.

Advocating causes require more than patience. Tenacity, intellectual intelligence, and sophistication in conveying messages are to name a few of required traits. A good writing skill, of course, is a major plus.

Unless a lobbying activist brings a good proposal, or at least a good background illustration on why an issue requires immediate attention and action, it is unlikely that a cause can be propelled to be heard in meetings or hearings.

Christopher Kush, an advocacy expert, argued that it is extremely important to understand what issues would make legislators’ ears perk. There are at least five issues that most legislators would like to hear: local statistics on a certain issue, real-life stories illustrating the statistics, specific legislation actions and policies that would address the issue, how the government money (from incoming taxes) was spent at the grassroot level, and the activist’s visibility and connection in the represented region.

Thus, for an advocacy letter to be read with interest, these five issues — or at least a few of them — must be clear. Of course, to be read is one thing, and to be acted upon is another. A well-written advocacy letter opens doors at multiple levels.

Kush further distinguishes two styles to master: the formal argument and the personal story. While formal arguments work well as an opening, personal stories give glimpses of constituents’ lives. How an issue becomes a nuisance or even a life-threatening element should be clearly described, explained and argued with strong illuminating variables. Preferably, the arguments show how the issue would affect the legislators’ families as well.

According to UNICEF, Indonesia is a country with a high literacy level at 91 percent. This number, hopefully, also reflects a high percentage of therapeutic and advocacy writings. We can start with this awareness now.[]

The Jakarta Post, December 19, 2010

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