How to save the nation

The Jakarta Post | Sat, 05/31/2008 12:08 PM | Opinion

Anand Krishna, Jakarta


In the special National Awakening Day issue of this paper (May 19), Perbanas director Harinowo challenged us to ask whether our souls and our beings were still capable of "dreaming", while India, China and even Brazil are already realizing their dreams. Harinowo is an economist, and he knows well where we and this nation stand on this point.

On Wednesday, this newspaper quoted President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono as complaining that he had several sleepless nights in the last several weeks before he eventually announced the fuel prices hike.

This is a real tragedy.

Having sleepless nights is not a solution. Indeed, that would make dreaming impossible. One must sleep, and sleep well to "catch" -- I am borrowing a Native American term -- a good dream.

Good dreams, as Native American wisdom maintains, are caught by "sound and relaxed minds". We become sleepless primarily due to unresolved issues during the day. We become sleepless due to our inability to resolve such issues. When you are having sleepless nights in a row, and in between you doze off, you are almost immediately awakened by a nightmare. This is exactly what is happening to our nation and to all of us.

The result of such nightmares can be seen clearly. Take the current oil issue: What is our solution? By giving out cash subsidies to our people who live below the poverty line, we are turning them into beggars. We are not helping them at all. We are making them accustomed to begging.

Let us see the condition of our brothers and sisters living in the slums. Whenever I pass by the Jembatan Tiga bridge on my way to the airport, I see hundreds of television antennas rising up from the slums below the bridge. They live in what we call kolong jembatan, under the bridge. Most of their illegal houses have only one room, occupied by up to 6-8 persons. But they do have television sets, even color ones.

Our brothers and sisters living in those slums -- perhaps recipients of the above-mentioned subsidies -- are living in a confused state of mind. Their minds have been weakened by our equally weak social structure and education system. As a result, not only our slum dwellers but also our middle class is unable to set their priorities.

We are also consuming more cigarettes than our regional neighbors. A man who earns not more than Rp 600,000 every month can shamelessly and without any guilt burn a substantial portion of his hard-earned income on cigarettes. Again, he may qualify as the recipient of the direct subsidies from the government.

Our middle class is easily lured by advertisements like, "Do not delay, own it now -- we are there to finance you!" They are no longer able to make use of their faculty of discrimination. They may buy unneeded things just because they are available in easy installments.

When we come to high society, things are even worse. We meet with people who have lost their sensitivity. Just look at them coming out of our ultramodern mega shopping malls, look at the shopping bags they carry. Unfortunately, many of our officials, their wives, even our parliamentarians and their families are joining this crowd of insensitive beings.

To "enhance" this nightmare -- our very own Indonesian nightmare -- we have mobs selling heaven and promising salvation, "Suffer now, enjoy later!" The greater our suffering in this world, they maintain, the greater our enjoyment in the world hereafter. Unfortunately, our youth is buying this idea. To ensure a plot in heaven, and a couple of fairies, they could kill and be killed.

What is the solution?

How do we save this nation?

We must learn to resolve all our issues on a daily basis. We cannot sleep on them. Indeed, we can never "sleep" with unresolved issues in our heads. Lately, we have been keeping things in limbo. We are unable to make decisions on the spot. We delay our decisions. So, we incur the interest of more troubles and more problems.

We must learn the art of clearing our minds on a daily basis so we may have enough space to think of other things, other issues. Right now, our minds are overcrowded. Yesterday's issues are not resolved, and today we have some new issues. Insanity is just a few inches away from us.

We have some very serious religious/sectarian issues to resolve, which if not addressed in an intelligent manner may disintegrate our society. We have people who simply do not believe in and respect other peoples' rights. We have some very violent elements in our social body which are being fed and kept alive by our own brothers and sisters for whatever reasons.

We can no longer afford to waste a single moment. We must set our priorities. We must educate our people to do the same. And we must do it today, starting from our family members, from our neighbors, from our maidservants working in our houses, from our chauffeurs and from our staff working in the office.

What we must immediately work on as a short-term remedy, or rather as an emergency aid, to save our economy from crumbling further is to shun all unnecessary imports. We do not have to wait for our government to take any step or make any move. We can do it ourselves starting today. We can survive without imported fruits, vegetables and other edibles.

We can survive without imported clothing, furniture and many other things. We must learn to save our hard-earned foreign exchange.

The writer is a spiritual activist (www.aumkar.org, www.anandkrishna.org, www.californiabali.org).