Bahasa Indonesia as "Fast Food" vs. Français "Aged to Perfection?"-- National Language Creation As Violence --
I have spent the last two weeks in Yogyakarta 8:30am-9:30am in a Bahasa Indonesia language class. This language has no gender, no conjugation and no past tense...you just add on "yesterday"-- Phrases are simple " Saya dari Amerika" (I from America) There is no "to be" there is no "être". The language is only hard to learn because there are so few cognates. You just have to memorize it.
This language was "created" to help nationalize indonesia - bringing together islands that have well over 300 dialects. The whole creation of Indonesia was from what I am learning a Dutch construct, used to secure their trade and build the infamous Dutch East Indies Trade Company. After independence, the country had to figure out if it was a country at all but could not do that if they spoke different dialects. So this language was created.
After spending 4 years living in French-- a language aged to perfection...filled with such wonderful ancient expressions, subtly and conundrums - I found indonesian a shock. You cannot learn the funny little idioms that tell you about a simpler time. Like when you're telling someone in France to mind their own business you can say "occupe toi de tes nignons" -- mind you own onions...or in other words "get back to your own garden" -- or if your business meeting goes off on a tangent you can say "revenons a nos moutons" -- let's return to our sheep. This to me is just delightful-- you can be talking about software development one second and then referring to your to-do list as Sheep. History, time, our relation to land --- all tied up in little phrases...
But if you pull those away and "construct" a language to force people to come together, you rip them from their cultural roots. That perhaps is the goal-- your words now are truly determined by the state. They have ripped you from your past and given you their construction of the world to make it easier to control people. I have not yet done much research on Indonesia's official transition to a national language and how people feel about it, but were I to do another research project here, I would surely focus on this.
English, while less romantic than our latin partners, at least has its charming old expressions "get into a pickle" or "whittle away the time"
"If you are neutral in situations of injustice, then you choose the position of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality" - Desmond Tutu
Nafi made this wonderful point today that, in indonesia, freedom is more available for the people in the cities than the people in villiages. In villages people are more dependent. This feels true in the US as well...I assume there are more forces as work in rural areas to keep people the same-- lots of cultural and social pressure, even if freedom is protected by law.
He also made another point that colleagues of mine have been feeling but he articulated so nicely, "paths of peace are easier to attain for those who are educated." During this research methods course in Indonesia I think many of us have felt that peace research is a tremendous luxury. To have the money to come here, consider conflict, write about it and ask questions is only because our basic needs have been met. His comment inspired me ever more to make sure that the tools of conflict resolution are shared with those who would like them..and maybe even those who don't. I wonder if some communities are as in need problem-solving skills as they are of clean water. I can hear the voices of all those telling me I'm being an arrogant westerner in saying this, but I think there are plenty of westerners who need the same education and have not had the interest or ability to acquire it. Sure all communities have their mechanisms to resolve conflict, I just wonder how much of global chaos could be sorted out with some problem-solving education. You can say it's imperialist to share this education, or one could say not sharing it would be cruel- saving peace only for the educated.
So, class was not nearly as exciting to the students as it was to me. I'm thrilled by the opportunity to examine my beliefs on a piece of paper and then decide if those are the beliefs guiding my life. Though I am more practiced at this and have experienced the benefits of taking the time to do so. Yesterday, in doing the exercise of "What I believe about conflict" -- I realized that I can and often do (though not often enough) think of conflict as an opportunity to be more of who I am , live according to my values and wake from the slumber of easy living. Conflict can be uncomfortable, but sometimes that is just because we're going from being asleep to being awake. It's a similar transition. Everything is going along and then BAM! something wakes us from the slumber. We have to deal, address, engage. Without "conflict" we might just be able to slide by each other, smiling, nodding and saying "thank you" and "please."
But through conflict, we can find out and decide who we are and either move closer to others in our lives or push them away. We're making those decisions every day. When we let it slide or don't engage, we're hiding away. Or maybe we think that we're not because we're complaining to a friend- not the person with whom we feel the conflict.. Sometimes that choice is "choosing silence" to "preserve the status quo"-- that too might come at a cost. I do it. Less, I hope than before...but when I see and meet people who in the face of tyrannical regimes stay true to what they believe-- face ostracism, threats, and poverty for those goals, I am humbled.
The class, our class, actually helped me articulate my view that conflict is the natural result of both having a separate body and being in relation to others.
We're together, but we're not. We have our own thoughts- even if "group think" is a powerful force, our own cellular health-- and our own bank accounts. So we are separate, but we're together...now, i the US we're together on healthcare....we have united at another level. We are more linked with each other on health than ever before. This was the conflict-- are we separately responsible or are we one? Supreme Court thinks we are one. I don't want to become political on this issue, this post is simply to reflect upon our beliefs about conflict and how those beliefs guide how we handle disappointment, offense, outrage, betrayal, etc. If we believe conflict means pain, versus conflict is an opportunity to wake up and live a better life, then we will most likely avoid it -- almost at all costs.
I wonder, I'll have to get more practice teaching others..working with groups...I want others to have their own "ah-has"Then what solutions do not get discovered?
If we cannot address conflict, we cannot think of solutions...we just slither back to our respective corners and hope things will change. And they will, change is inevitable-- but that change will feel quite different if we have been the ones with the courage to instigate it. Most of what you see everyday is the decisions of others made real-- brands, tv shows, flight schedules, menu options, clothing options...etc. those are all the results of other people's choices and actions. They overcame struggles and made something happen. Every material thing we see is the result of someone facing and overcoming conflict. So, it's really hard to complain if we're still just sitting quietly on the benches. Conflict, someone mentioned in class, can be thought of as a sport...let's play.
Today will be teaching a class in Yogykarta with Haverford and Indonesian students looking at the language of conflict. We're going to use an exercise from Paul Lederach's article "Preparing for Peace." To raise students awareness of language, we will first have each student free write for 5 minutes answering the questions "What I feel about conflict..." Then we will have them get into groups by institution (e.g. language) and for 15 minutes write up all their associations around conflict. This will include metaphors like "if you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen" or Roosevelt's "Speak softly and carry a big stick". They can be metaphors and associations both with how conflict is resolved and what causes conflict. At the end of that time, we will return as a group and create a single list. Indonesian students will share their words and expressions as well. We will unpack our metaphors see if we see any cultural differences and also consider how our understanding or associations with conflict might affect how we address conflict. For example, if we associate conflict with "uncomfortable feelings" then we may be less likely to engage than if we think of conflict as an opportunity to express our highest values.