Sun, 28 Dec 2003

Are we part of an animal kingdom?

Most of us are familiar with Minister of Manpower and Transmigration Jacob Nuwa Wea's hissy fit, when he shoved an activist and called him a goat at the end of a live TV show.

Calling a person a goat is a great insult here, even though the animal might have more "value" than others as it is the most popular choice during the Day of Sacrifice (it doesn't cost as much as a cow).

Goats are also supposed to smell bad, yet it does not seem to be a deterrent from digging into a big plate of goat curry or satay for many of us.

"Actually, it is not as bad as calling a person a dog or a pig, because eating the meat of those is haram (forbidden under Islamic law)," my friend said.

"In a way, it is still better than calling a person a buffalo, which is associated with being stupid and lazy."

Still, it came as quite a shock that a high-ranking official took such a crass action, even if he did feel put on the spot by the activist, who criticized his policies on migrant workers.

"How could a minister act like that? If he did not agree, he should have made it clear and explained," my friend said.

Unfortunately, many people are not used to being criticized, especially if it is made directly. And they are likely to take offense if the criticism is made by people who have a lower position, and especially from a younger person.

On the other hand, many people also are afraid of speaking out. During the Soeharto regime, many unfortunates were prosecuted for expressing different opinions from the government line. And even under the administration of President Megawati Soekarnoputri, several activists have been sent to jail for staging demonstrations against the President and Vice President.

There is more room for people to speak out today, but many are still not used to airing their ideas and to using their brain. People choose the easy route, becoming "yes men" and just doing what their supervisors tell them to. To use another animal analogy, they are like ducks simply following the herdsman.

People avoid being too critical, but some legislators also blindly follow the words of the government.

The "yes men" butter up the supervisor by giving reports that will please him or her. Making someone happy is good, but it is not the case if making the boss happy comes through manipulating the facts.

This country has long suffered from the protracted economic and political crisis. The nation will collapse if people act like ducks and critical people are dismissed as goats. Of course, how can we progress if we are becoming an animal kingdom through our actions?

The notion that the boss can do no wrong, simply because of his or her status, is fundamentally flawed. Anyone can make mistakes and bosses should have an open mind and the heart to listen to people, instead of being supremely defensive when it comes to constructive criticism.

Some say that as Indonesians who uphold ethics and good manners, it is best for the people not to launch their criticism harshly, let alone in public. They should act like a good diplomat, who can express views in a refined way without bruising the ego of the other party.

This is good advice but easier said than done. Too much diplomacy, including relying on ambiguous, flowery words, might overshadow the essence of the criticism, and allow the incompetent to continue on their merry way.

The danger is that the target of the criticism, especially if they are stubborn, unintelligent and set in their ways -- a fine description of some decision makers here -- might even take it the wrong way and consider it a compliment.

-- T. Sima Gunawan