Mon, 08 Mar 1999

No absolute goodness

I always remember the people of our country to be warm and wonderful. Once, far from home, as evening neared, I became worried as nowhere in the village was there a country inn. Fortunately, a peasant gladly took us -- my wife, two little kids and me -- into his home for the night and even shared his food. It was dark in the room, we had only one bed for the whole family, and had to go to the bank of a rushing river in the night -- there was no toilet -- and yet we all felt fine. It was an adventure and we really were very grateful.

Another time I dropped by to watch a very old toothless farmer work in his field, when a young woman, perhaps his granddaughter, brought him food. "Just come and sit down, have a chat and let's share this food together," he invited me. And I imagine how good it must be, to have one's food almost every day served as though on a picnic. Or what about being surprised with a bunch, like flowers, of fresh, red rambutan by two young girls when I was tired and thirsty after running in the country? That was certainly the most refreshing of the most refreshing drinks.

I don't believe Japanese, European, American people to be better than we are. Who can pride himself on being without fault?

I remember arriving too late at the office and going home early, or chatting or reading a newspaper instead of doing my work. Who has never felt the obligation to satisfy someone's request, to repay a debt of moral goodness, as Indonesians say? If by chance we receive a gift of bananas, we certainly won't forget to return some oranges or a pineapple. And who has never treated his children first, before others? What is wrong with this? A mother hen would rather forgo her food for her chickens. It's natural to think of our children before our relatives, our close friends, community and the nation.

I even can't trust myself to resist the offer of those luring, luscious forbidden fruits. Why search so ardently for someone who is without a moral stain? This is merely for those who believe themselves to be above a fault to prove their own superiority.

When we have a bad system and flawed rules, people are prone to bribery, collusion and nepotism. Rather than force moral education upon people and watch over their secret unlawful deals, it would be better to devise better methods, a better system, to avoid the corruption. For example, suppose payments could be arranged through bank accounts, perhaps there would be fewer occasions for bribery. If the president is limited to a short period in office, he would have less opportunity to abuse his power and authority.

In a system with a free exchange rate, possession of foreign currency does not make a person an outlaws, but in a rigidly controlled system, foreign money savings are forbidden. Anyone who keeps hold of his foreign exchange is seen as a criminal and a scoundrel. This system is fertile soil for bribery and open to a black market in foreign exchange.

I remember Sir Talfourd's saying: "Fill the seats of justice with good men, not so absolute in goodness as to forget what human frailty is." Man is certainly not a divine being, nor is he a superman when he fails or falls to some temptation or forbidden fruit, except perhaps if he is made of air, wood or stone.