Friday, October 21, 2011

Altruism: A Rare Jewel

Nearly a week ago, on a street in Foshan, China, a two-year-old girl was hit twice in the middle of the traffic with no one having enough compassion to rescue her. Eighteen passers-by simply ignored that dying toddler lying on the road. The nineteenth picked her up and called for help. After spending days in a state of comma, the little girl was declared clinically dead.

A year back, in the same country, a different kind of accident took place. On July 28, 2010, a factory in Nanjing exploded, resulting in 13 death and 300 casualties. The interesting story was: A camera unintentionally recorded a monkey rescuing a puppy during the incident. It ran away from the burning factory with the puppy cradled in its arms.

Ironic, isn't it?

Whereas the morality of man is under question nowadays, animals prove themselves to be more altruistic than we are!

Altruism, the unselfish concern for the welfare of others, seems to be lacking from human civilization. Compassion is a rare jewel in our hustle-and-bustle world. Humanity has turned cold and heartless, even to our own kind.

But the two contradictory examples above knock upon the doorstep of our hearts to turn from the coldness of human life to the warmth of nature. They invite us to rediscover the meaning of being human -- of having and showing compassion, understanding, and love.

Perhaps the reason why we do not care for the welfare of others is merely because they are of no value to us. We are not attached to them, or they to us. In the coldness of modern life, each man minds his own business.

But, this is not entirely true.
In the social structure of society, man is always linked to one another. Our life and the meaning of our existence is only as true as the relations we have with other people, be they colleagues, partners, friends, or strangers we meet on the sidewalk.

Yes, every one of us is a working individual: scientist, businessperson, entrepreneur, employee, employer, government staff, professional, you name it. But each of us is also a parent, a child, a friend, a trusted person to somebody else.
We can develop altruism within us by understanding that each individual is precious to some other people close to him/her, and by thinking that the less fortunate person could have been someone dear to us.
We certainly don't want anything bad happening to our loved ones with no one around to show enough compassion, do we?

Let's start shaping and polishing this rare jewel within us.
Learn from the altruistic ways of nature.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Live, Let Go, and Let Live!

The story I’m about to tell you is true; it happened over a decade ago.

There was a woman my mother and I once knew: Mrs. A, a widow with two children.
No, her husband didn’t die. He had an affair with another woman and divorced Mrs. A before marrying his mistress and settling down in another city.
As would any betrayed (ex)-wife, Mrs. A was deeply hurt and drowned in bitterness. In her hatred and anger, she cursed the other woman, praying that God would strike her ex-husband’s second wife with an illness as lethal as cancer.
She then occupied herself with work, bringing up two kids on her own and getting involved in Christian ministries as a faithful church-goer. Years turned into decades, as she waited, waited, and waited for God to fulfill the curse she cast upon the other woman.

Guess what?
Mrs. A passed away due to breast cancer in her early fifties!

You might feel a slight chill running down your spine after reading this.
You might even be thinking, “Did the curse backfire on her?”

Well, scientifically speaking, medical researches have shown that nurturing bitterness is a fine way of triggering the onset of malignant cell growth in the human body. Cancer is basically the mutation of healthy body cells into malignant ones through certain triggering factors, such as radioactivity, carcinogenic agents, and distress.
As mentioned in Cancer Helps, distress is an emotional state that disturbs the body's cellular balance. When we are constantly in distress, this state potentially incites our body cells to turn hyperactive and malignant, triggering the onset of cancer.

Biblically speaking, let’s read what our Lord said in Matthew 6:44, “I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.”

It sounds quite impossible to apply in daily life, doesn’t it?
Nonetheless, this is not an admonition. It’s a command!

Apostle Paul was the man who followed this command to his last breath, and he had proven that the Lord’s word is not impossible to perform. If it were, surely Paul wouldn’t say, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ!”
In his letter to the Romans, he explained on how to behave like a Christian, “Bless those who persecute you; bless, and do not curse!”
Again, he wrote, “Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men,” and “do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. Therefore, if your enemy hungers, feed him; if he thirsts, give him a drink; for in so doing, you will heap coals of fire on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Paul was elaborating Lord Jesus's command to love our enemies and do good to those who did us wrong. Simply speaking, the apostle was filling up the details for us to practice kindness – not bitterness – toward others, and our enemies in particular.

Thus, we can conclude:

• Loving others, even those who hate and mistreat us, is God’s command for us to perform. We cannot be justified before Him by living against this command, no matter how much and how great the service and faithfulness we offer Him in return.
Honestly, we can’t bribe God!

• Human vengeance is basically an act of rebellion against God’s supreme control over the universe.
We might wonder why God said, “Vengeance is Mine.” We are the ones who are wronged (not Him!), surely we have the right to avenge ourselves!
Uhm, not really.
Let’s put it this way, through a more universal perspective: when something wrong happens in the universe, it means that one of God’s law had been broken. As a result, an imbalance take place (we see this whenever evil seems to triumph over good; we can read Asaph’s complaint in Psalm 73 and Habakkuk’s groaning in the first chapter of his book concerning this).
Nevertheless, however dire and long-lasting the imbalance might be, there is another law that God had set since the beginning of time. It’s called the law of sowing and reaping.
The law of balance.
Whatever imbalance taking place in the universe must sooner or later right itself (to the Greek, it’s known as “nemesis”), and God always provides the agent(s) of righting the imbalance and restoring the universe to its previous, balanced state – without interference from our part.
Thus, we see that vengeance is purely and solely prerogative to God.
Who are we to challenge His sovereignty?

• Yes, it’s true. It’s much easier to curse and hate those who despise us and did us wrong.
But, then again, try viewing it this way: what good does cursing and hating bring us? By doing so, aren't we simply proving that we’re no better than they are?
The Lord’s wisdom stands!
o Bless those who curse you.
Perhaps, after being blessed, they would change and stop being so hostile toward us.
o Do good to those who hate you.
Maybe their wrong impression would alter afterward, and – who knows? – we might even be friends or allies.
o Pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.
“The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous person avails much,” wrote Apostle James. It’s very possible that through the prayer of faith, God opens the eyes of those who persecute us, so they’ll gain a brand new insight and follow the Lord’s way in uprightness.

In short, bitterness, hatred, and vengeance truly don’t pay.
Live and let go – and let live!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Significance of the Name

“What’s in a name?” Shakespeare proposed.
This saying of his has made its way down the generations to the present time. Whether he stated that question out of romantic context in his tragedy, Romeo and Juliet, or simply out of ignorance, one can never tell. But, it sure sounds foolish in the hearing of the Orient.

“What’s in a name?”
When you ask this question to an Easterner, he/she will tell you there are loads of precious things a name contains.

For instance:
• To most (if not all) tribes in the East, a name determines one’s rank and status in the society. This is especially true in patriarchal, feudalistic communities.
The name “Siregar” in Northern Sumatra, “Raden Mas/Raden Ajeng” in Central Java, and “Ida Bagus” in Bali indicate prominent position by birth.
• The Javanese do not give their children names before they are born, since they need to consider the day and the time of a child’s birth in order to ensure that the “weight” of the baby’s name does not exceed his/her “capacity” of lifetime fortune. Otherwise, it will bring bad luck upon the child (so they say).
• The Japanese, who preserve the roots of their culture and tradition even to the era of post-modernism and sophisticated technology, also hold fast to the sacred giving of a name – this is recognizable even in their pop culture.
Take the manga Bleach by Tite Kubo, for example. In the Soul Society universe, it is known that within every sword (katana) lives a sword-spirit (zanpakuto). A sword will remain a sword and will not reveal its true potential before the wielder learns the name of the spirit dwelling within it. Only after discovering (through years of arduous training) the name of the zanpakuto, the wielder will be able to “release” his/her sword actual power.

In his book, The Mysticism of Sound and Music, Hazrat Inayat Khan wrote about how all mysteries remain stored within the meaning of name. All knowledge of all things stands ultimately upon the knowledge of name. Without knowledge, there can never come power, since one cannot have power over matters he/she does not know.

For this reason, at the creation of the world, when God first created man from the dust of the earth and blew His spirit into him, He gave Adam the task of naming all creatures that had been created before him – a privilege He didn’t give even to angels!
After Adam had finished giving names to all living creatures, God commanded mankind to “be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
With the knowledge of the name, comes power!

Is it any wonder for Christians that at the Name which is above every name, “the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father”?
By His glorious name, the Church was born, the gospel of peace was preached all over the globe, millions of lives were saved from Satan's clutches, new hope shone forth, and divine light finally dawned upon civilization.
By His victorious name, we are given a new life, overcome the power of darkness, destroy the fortresses of evil, save souls staggering toward perdition, and triumph over all tribulations.

“What is in a name?”
There is power in the Name of the Lord!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Public vs. Private

The ways people post in Facebook are sometimes bewildering, if not dumbfounding:
• A university graduate wrote curses as his status.
• A notable bank employee shared a promiscuous note on her wall.
• A middle-aged businessman created a photo album of himself making love to a voluptuous woman.

The list goes on.

While it is true that one has the right to express himself/herself, the freedom of expression – in whatever manner suitable to one’s own liking – depends largely on an absolute dimension one calls “space.”

The virtual world, whether we realize it or not, is a world nonetheless – a world where space and time exist. Similar to its reality counterpart, it also possesses “public spaces” and “private spaces.”
Facebook, Twitter, weblogs, forums, and mailing lists are public spaces, where people meet, share, and exchange information openly. They are sites that allow access to any and every information, exactly like coffee shops, markets, and libraries in the material world.
E-mails, inbox, and instant messengers are private spaces, where the information shared is strictly confidential between two parties or a group of exclusive members. Any exchange of conversation or information made through these private lines is not accessible to all, similar to letters or phone calls in the real world.

Being real – though virtual – these spaces also have what we in the material world call “ethics” or “manners.” As part of the global society, we are expected to act and react accordingly to these codes of ethics. Just because we are not talking face to face under the same roof, doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be as true and well-mannered as when we are.

One of the underlying rules is this: know your place.
We must know exactly what to write/post/comment in one particular space:
• Is the issue public or private?
• Is it offensive to all or to an individual only?
• Is it private and confidential, or open and informative?

Understanding this rule, though extremely basic as it may seem, can prove essential to gain other people’s trust of our credibility. The three examples given at the beginning of this post show evidences of people who do not seem to understand some of the most fundamental manners. If they do not know how to behave in virtual public spaces, how will they win people’s trust in the material world?

Thinking (more than once) before posting or re-posting is of great importance:

You have something against some other folks?
Send them e-mails.
You want to share something private to certain people?
Start a closed group.
You need to find a date?
Join a matchmaking site.

IMHO, as adults we truly should know what to say or do, in the right way, at the right place.
If we haven’t understood how to do so, perhaps thinking thrice before stating our minds out-loud could help.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Disappointment = A Reason for Giving Thanks (?)

"Better cry for a month than a lifetime."

A friend once told the above words to cheer up his good buddy, who had just completed her divorce papers and had to raise two kids on her own.
I have another idea:

"Better a heartbreak than a divorce."

Do you notice the difference?
Statement #1 = let go, don't cry over spilled milk.
Statement #2 = thank God, you needn't cry over spilled milk.

Happiness and disappointment, success and failure, joy and sorrow, are normal, everyday happenings we face through life. Besides, people can't fully understand the meaning of "happiness" when they have never been acquainted with "disappointment," or grasp the meaning of "success" without knowing what "failure" is. Such is the joy and sorrow, ups and downs, gloom and brightness of life. It's what makes life purely colorful.

Over a decade ago, during a Q&A session attended by youths and senior mentors, a troubled girl proposed a question, eager to know what to do when facing heartbreak.
One of the senior mentors replied, "Give thanks! That means, God is planning to give you a better life-mate!"

When we broaden the scope, the above admonition also applies in other areas of life: "Give thanks for your present disappointments/failures/setbacks, for it means that God is planning better things ahead!" -- as long as you look beyond the present anguish you're experiencing.

Sometimes, we tend to focus too much on whatever we have in sight. We struggle and strive for something we think as best for us at the present, without realizing the hidden negative potential it contains, which might just be a time-bomb ready to explode in the future.

God is good.
He unravels the hidden threats long before the countdown stops and routs our plans from the very beginning. Indeed, it may plunge us into great disappointment, but disappointment is much more useful than regret. When we're disappointed, we turn to God so as to cling to His plan and His way, whereas regret is incapable of bringing any meaningful impact for the betterment of our situation.

Are you facing heartbreak? Has your proposal been turned down? Did the other party cancel the project or contract?
Whatever you're facing: Give thanks! God has already planned something (much) better ahead!

[Read the Indonesian version: My Facebook Notes]

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Fat: Doesn't Always Fatten (?)

Some women just never grow fat, even after giving birth and nursing children. They simply don't, albeit they're not supermodels or celebrities. On the other hand, other females who always avoid taking dinner every night seem to never be able to gain ideal weight.
How come?

David Zinczenko, author of "Eat This, Not That!," and his colleague, Matt Goulding, stated that slim women unconsciously apply some rules that keep them from gaining weight. When you hold onto these two simple rules they follow, you might end up with the similar results as they do.

(1) Never go on a diet

Several studies propose that the major cause of future weight-gain is the present habit of going on diet. By limiting calorie intake, we are basically reducing our physical strength, and also bones and muscles mass and density -- whereas muscles are the ultimate calorie burner. By going on a diet, we are actually ensuring future weight-gain.
The latest study published in the Psychosomatic Medicine Journal also shows that tracking your consumption pattern by using a journal can also increase your level of stress. As a result, the level of cortisol in your body shoots up. Cortisol is the hormone that has often been associated with weight-gain.
So as to keep your body slim, try taking 25 grams of fiber, daily. It equals three portions of fruit and vegetables. Sufficient fiber intake will increase fat burning up to 30%.

(2) Never opt for non-fat food and beverages

A study that involves nearly 90,000 people in Europe for several years discovers that the participants who consume low-fat food have greater risk to grow overweight. It means that there's no difference between them and those who eat whatever food they want to consume.

The key of this consumption pattern, Zinczenko says, is that fat does not fatten you. On the contrary, you need fat in your daily consumption pattern to help your body process some nutrients, such as vitamins A, D, and E. Food and beverages that are labeled "non-fat" or "low-fat" often contain more sugar and, therefore, store greater amount of calorie.

The American Heart Association also states that "non-fat" labeled foods basically only cause greater intake of unhealthy sweetening agents. Fat tends to keep you feel full much longer, whereas non-fat foods drive you to feel hungry much faster. Eventually, you will look for more food to satisfy your hunger.

[From Tribunnews]

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Primordial = Prime Ordeal?

Once upon a sunny afternoon several years ago, I visited my cousin, a beautiful fair-skinned 24-year-old with six older brothers. We were planning to go to the movies with her boyfriend and some other guys. A nice fellow, her boyfriend was. And I particularly liked him for his good sense of humor and responsibility – not to mention his bright intelligence and wonderful personality.
But there he was, as I stepped into the house, sitting on the sofa all by himself, while her brothers and parents walked passed him without even trying to look, or simply notice his presence, as if he was but a phantom unseen.
When I brought it up, my cousin just gave a sigh and a faint smile, replying, “Oh, well. It’s just the ordeal we have to face. You know, he is not of our kind.

Sounds familiar?
Many people throughout the country seem to share the same experience, at least once in a lifetime. Yes. We try to deny it – in public, at the very least – or conceal it, or speak against it. But many of us, deep within, echo the same comment, “They are not of our kind.” They are not of our tribe. They are not of our color. “They” are not “us”.

Anthropology defines it as primordial behavior – a term we are not prompt to react against. Yet, put it to its popular terminology, and we will have screams of hypocritical denials from those who claim “not to be so”, but then again…

Racial discrimination!

Or, shall we call it Primordial Behavior in this essay?
After all, racism sprouts from the root of primordial behavior. “Primordial” derives from the Latin “primeval” (primus [first] + aevum [age]). It is the prime culture that exists from the birth of a primitive tribe and is preserved from generation to generation down to the modern era. It is the sign of our tribalism – or, in other words, the mask by which we represent our tribal identities.

Talking about tribes is talking about segregation.
We have the primordial point of view that says, “We are better than they.” It sounds so much like a refusal to stand on common ground. It places a tribe on higher ground than others – in the eye of that particular tribe. And, in this case, subjectivity is objectionable.

Every tribe, actually, has its own set of moral standards and norms, by which the members of that particular tribe organize the proper conducts acceptable by whole. And there is nothing wrong by setting moral standards and values of good and bad – as long as we attain the essence of the teaching. The teaching is always good. It keeps the balance in the community. It makes sure everything is in order.
Thus, every tribe is fine. Every culture is good.

But things turn unfortunate when people of one community comment against another community by claiming, “Our standard is better than theirs.” Do we have the right to say so? If we happen to have such point of view, let us be ready to hear other people – better, mightier, stronger people – say against us, “We are better than you.” They, in their sight, are standing on higher ground than we do.

When people are trapped in primordial behavior and claim to be higher in level compared to others, they are in fact never come to their root. They never grasp the essence – or ever will be. None of them stand on higher ground – for all are under-the-ground.
The aftermath is inevitable: segregation.

Let's face it: throughout the decades, our motto “unity in diversity” has never actually been manifested. Worse, it even comes closer than ever to separate autonomous territories. Prime ordeal! So long as the tribes within this country obstinately hold onto their primordial point of view, unity is but a dream away. (We might as well reconstruct the constitution and establish a new form of government: autonomous states, instead of united republic.)

Primordial behavior is continuously-denied yet ever-cherished, ever-preserved (otherwise, we won’t be talking about SARA [tribal, religious, racial, class] issues behind other people's back, will we?). Some prefer to call it latent. Some even find it tolerable. But in my opinion, it is all a sign of immaturity. And we all love our immaturity so much it makes us forget we are grown-ups. Our country is over six-decades old. And we have a prime ordeal to solve.

I am not a politician. Neither am I a journalist or member of a particular party. But when an ordinary woman plainly sees the invisible walls built within the society, I believe it is obvious to each and every one of us that we are living in separate flats. We are building walls, not bridges. And we ironically call ourselves a United Republic.

I find it so pitiful, yet satirical at the same time. Will we hold onto this primitive tribalism while the whole world is unanimously heading toward globalization? Are we ready to be a jest for the world to see? It’s high time we grow up!

[PS: This article was actually written several years ago, early in 2005. After giving it a little editing touch, I decided to post it here instead, rather than let it rot in my essay folder.]