Tuesday, April 20, 2010


I am not afraid of death
I just don't want to be there when it happens

Woody Allen

Friday, April 16, 2010

Intellectual Bullying

I've been reading book reviews for my thesis and it turns out, bullies are not reserved for the academically challenged, as psychologists suggest. In the academic field, there are also intellectual bullies. Man, they are scary.

It turns out, in some cases, the more you know doesn't necessarily correlate with the better you are at rearranging your wording so that the delivery of criticism occurs in the most constructive way - the lowest of offense, the highest of insight. It could be the insecure in me talking, but the impression I got from reading the horrifying review is that I am not looking forward to that first book review of when my thesis gets turned into a textbook (it's a common thing to do after the completion of a PhD thesis. Afterwards around 100 people buy the book, most of whom are your students. We're a very sad bunch, aren't we?).

Having said that, shouldn't criticism make us learn, not make us too scared to even try? Wasn't the idea of peer review to ensure the quality of the article, not shut down every idea generated as a way to show intellectual superiority?

If I reverse the logic of the psychological theory about bullies, perhaps these intellectual bullies are those who were athletically challenged. And intelligence became a substitute for muscle. Their criticism is synonymous to taking candy from a crying classmate.

So perhaps, the point then becomes, it doesn't matter which field you're in or which skills you're trained with. The point is in your emotional and spiritual development. The ability to sympathise and empathise and place yourself in other people's shoes.

I know we all have different values and see life in unique ways. But when we need to coexist, the best of instruments are those which ensure common ground, not competition.

And that is another point in how to raise Malik. Sigh, back to my thesis!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Relative Indicators

A short thought before starting my thesis editing for the day and afterwards lecturing.

Yesterday afternoon, I (un)intentionally browsed through a child development website (a US one, mind you) to see the milestones of an 18-24 month old toddler. The table contained the statistics of the skills a child of a certain age should have learned. And I studied them, compared them to Malik's - to no direct gain aside from stressing me a bit.

Some of the milestones he's surpassed and some he is behind. And I tend to emphasise on the ones he's behind. But the thing with these statistics is the fact that they are indicators that are generalised by a sample taken from a general population of children in another country. With different food combination, language, cultural backgrounds and the list goes on.

They are there to guide us, not determine for us. So that we can identify if there's a problem and whether or not this is an issue. I need to be able to see them as that, not solid indicators to the relative journey of a human being's growth and learning process. I don't want to be the type of parent who compares her son's grades to another student - and motivate him to be better based on 'competition'. Because within the concept of 'competition', there is no space for the concept of 'sharing'.

As a mother, half of the unit called Malik's 'parents', I want him to be able to acknowledge his strengths, his passion, the things that make his brain tick and work harder - not because he has to beat someone at it, but because he enjoys learning. From that 'sincere effort' comes great things, I think. From that 'sincere effort' comes the will to achieve not for recognition, but for the sake of learning.

So as long as his pediatrician isn't worried, and he is a very good diagnostician, I shouldn't be. I need to see Malik as a unique individual, with particular interests in reading books, kicking his ball, drawing on the floor (I buy him washable crayons hehe), moving to music and feeding the stray cat that keeps hanging around our porch.

Although these statistical indicators are important to see if he is healthy, they are not absolute. Afterall, his growth is not a target, it's a process. Just like mine, just like Arya's. And as a parent, I should let him learn to be himself. Just as my parents had done with me.

With (intense) love.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Marginal(ised)

To empower people who are on the margins of society
people who have a little say in the direction of their lives
and who are scrambling just to survive

Stuart Hall

via Rinaldi Ridwan

Contextualising Human Beings

As media scholars, in appreciating cultural artifacts, such as literature and film, we are taught to appraise them contextually. For instance, appreciating Usmar Ismail's films, which includes ideas of modernisation and postcolonialism, you need to understand the historical context and his progressive use of film as a social communication tool.

In appreciating art form, one needs to take into account the historical context within which it was produced, which relates to the dominant ideology of that time. How it breaks the barriers and questions authority. The premise led me to think about how we perceive other human beings.

In understanding other human beings, shouldn't we also understand the context within which they were raised? Their dominant ideology, their 'historical context'?

It is much too easy for us, when we are exposed to different beliefs and values, to feel disconfirmed and position ourselves as 'us' and they 'others'.

I think that if we try to understand other people's thoughts and words by taking into consideration the way they were raised, their cultural background or ethnicity, their religion, their gender construction, their social and economical class, their subjective reality - there is an opportunity for us to make sense of their acts and thought process.

That reality is too relative to judge based on a 'single' event. And by understanding their 'reality' it is much easier to comprehend their way of thinking and the actions they take. If we're lucky enough, make ourselves understood.

I've recently come to realise that every moment we refuse to understand, we are actually depriving ourselves from a chance to learn. The moment we stop 'listening', stop 'reading', is the moment where we stop becoming more than we are.

Knowledge of difference shouldn't disconfirm our beliefs and values. If what we believe in is true, then difference should strengthen it. Or at least, help us understand that life isn't about right or wrong. It's about learning how to be, simply, 'good'.

And now, sigh, back to writing my thesis.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Between the Educational Bourgeoisie and the Socially Aware

With Malik growing up in a very fast rate (faster than any parent's preference, really), lately I have been wondering about how we are going to raise him after his toddler years. I reflect this decision by observing some of my students and I must say, it's very difficult to do a cost and benefit assessment when the person taking in the consequences is not yourself, but a person you hope to better than you could ever be.

In terms of our children's education, do you school them in the best of the system (the educational and economical elite) or in public school (a person who is aware of class difference)?

I honestly have not found the answers and Arya and I are constantly going back and forth with the pros and cons, debating on whether, in a country like Indonesia, it's more possible to instill social awareness in a person who is intellectually, emotionally and spiritually sound (by having received the best of educational stimulation) or to intellectually stimulate a person who is socially aware (for being an active participant in a 'heterogeneous' environment).

Having said that, I am fully aware that being the secondary socialisation agents, the education system is only second to Arya and my nurture. The random moments where I read to him and converse with him and consciously answer his curious questions when he steps into childhood. According to the most recent (and consistent) findings in child development, parents remain the most important socialisation agents for children. So when I think about this notion, which school he goes to becomes less of an issue.

But, an issue nevertheless. Sigh.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Thank You

I've installed Google Analytics recently and I am astounded by the numbers coming in on the amount of people visiting my blog, the amount of time you take to read it and the amount of pages you click (don't worry, you appear anonymous). I am intensely curious as to why. I understand why people within my primary environment would be interested. But map overlay shows readers are scattered, literally, around the world.

I feel humbled that you would take time out of your busy day to read my random thoughts. So from the bottom of my heart, thank you. Indeed in this very lonely journey we call life, it's good to know that you're not alone.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Monday, April 05, 2010

Piramida Cari Jodoh

When I was still dating Arya, I remember talking to him about why I think certain relationships work and some don't. I have had my string of trials and errors, and although some of them are good people I couldn't bring myself to the 'I do' stage of a relationship.

I had a theory (or more accurately, a proposition). That inter personal compatibility could be explained by the pyramid below (click to enlarge):

The lowest level, the primary, is the most basic indicator to compatibility. It is the values with which we view life. Two people need to share compatible values in order for the relationship to succeed. Within this level is usually the moral and ethical debate over right and wrong, what kind of person we strive to be, etc.

On the secondary level, you have social fragmentation. Socio-economic class, profession, and nationality are examples. Although they are ideological, they are less fixed than life values and they are adaptive to circumstances. The logic is: an Indonesian could adjust to life abroad but their moral indicators (primary) would stay the same.

On the tertiary level you have hobbies. Music you listen to, sports, things you do in your leisure time. Usually our hobbies determine which sub culture we are part of. Movie buffs, geeks, TV addicts all emerged from the choice of past times but they shape sub cultures.

Having said that, I argue that a relationship could only work if the couple is compatible in the primary level. Afterwards we work our way up the pyramid. A relationship can survive with just primary compatibility, but it would grow more intense if they're compatible on the secondary and tertiary level.

This is why 'pernikahan taaruf' works. You wonder how is it possible that two people that have never met before could build an intimate relationship. It's because that is the basic values they believe in. They adjust the secondary and tertiary level according to their primary 'needs'.

And that's also why the relationship of two people with the same profession and hobbies, which is so easily read externally as 'the most compatible couple since they can talk about work' could fail - because my argument is that they might not share their relationship on the primary, most important level.

To be honest I made this model up based on my own personal experience and it's probably faulty in more than one context. But it's nice to conceptually explain why my relationship with Arya works. Cheers!


When in doubt, Google it

Critical Political Economy (and the Media)

Similar to political economy, this approach examines how media ownership determines the exercise of power play, within its structure and representation of reality (ideological hegemony), impacting social relations and cultural perspective in society. A step further beyond political economy, critical political economy emphasises on ideological analysis of the audience's reading towards the reality presented in text - a structured mode of interpretation. It is a critical combination of political economy and constructivism.

This is what I got myself into. Revising chapter 1 of my thesis.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Trials and Tribulations

One of my favourite students asked me one day: What drives you in life?

My answer was an incoherent ramble.

So now I have more time to think to structure my thoughts (at this moment I think I explain myself better through writing than verbally).

I think what drives us in life changes through periods. I tend to reevaluate myself from time to time, particularly upon those moments where something, be it personal or professional, happened.

I recall gaining a sense of purpose and determination during my early twenties. Mostly driven by the need for self-actualisation and monetary gain (sad, but it was true at that time). Became head of the student body, straight A student, began assisting lectures, got a job. Afterwards I planned the next five years of my life based on this framework.

Then I met Arya. At the beginning our relationship had to coincide with my personal plans. But then slowly my priorities shifted. Yes, I had my personal objectives but it had to be consistent with our plans as partners. Amsterdam pretty much rearranged my views in almost everything in life. Knowledge was no longer inherited but grasped. I reviewed the things in life that I had taken for granted.

And then I had Malik. For the first time in my life something was absolutely dependent on me. Then I functioned accordingly. I embraced motherhood to the extent that I stopped thinking about myself.

Arya dragged me out of this spell. I had to have my own space and balance it (or juggle it) with the others. Afterwards, life wasn't about one or the other. But about priorities, responsibility, consequence and consistency.

Having said that, there has always been an underlying idea behind all these decision making, which is the framework with which I view life. Values, so to speak. It was molded into me for decades, challenged, reevaluated, restructured, rearticulated along with the trials and tribulations (pun intended, you-know-who) that I had gone through in life.

This is the only consistent thing in my life. The glasses I use to view the world, just with experience, I get a tighter focus. Or a wider range of view.

These set of ideas are fundamental, for me. Without it, I think I wouldn't have been able to make sound decisions and accept the consequences - then not dwell in the costs. Through it I found inner peace. That whatever happens in life, I know I will be alright. Because eventually I will learn how to accept the string of collateral effects and come out a stronger human being.

I'm pretty sure that I will go through more changes and reshifting priorities. And I might look back at this post with deep humiliation over my naivety. But for the moment, this is the most honest answer I can give.