Rob Lancaster
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17 March, 2010

Rob Lancaster
Rob Lancaster
Rob Lancaster from Canberra, Australia, has been accompanying Rajmohan Gandhi on his Voyage of dialogue and discovery. Their visit to Indonesia coincided with the historic address of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to the Australian Parliament, signaling a new phase in the relationship between the two countries.

The importance of Indonesia goes without saying. The role that is played by any country of such magnitude will be deeply influential in the dynamics of world affairs. Speaking as an Australian, Indonesia’s presence is very immediate, particularly through its close association with the vexed and often politically exploited question of boat people. Yet at the same time the relationship remains quite distant – how much do we actually know of our closest neighbour?

Although I’m keen on intellectual ruminations, for present purposes I’m less concerned by the academically international relations angle, and more interested in a couple of striking anecdotal points from the admittedly very short time here.

Sincerity and authenticity are two words that have come up on a number of occasions over the last days, on the whole in reference to various of the young Indonesians who have shared from their own experiences in the different meetings we have had. It isn’t particularly often that you meet people who speak with conviction and humility of their own short-comings and their challenges. There is a general reluctance to make ourselves vulnerable before others; playing this remarkably foolish game where we all try and pretend that life is good and that we’re all quite well-balanced, independent, well-adjusted souls. One young student in the lecture on Wednesday at the State Islamic University in Jakarta asked Rajmohan how, despite all the pain and suffering that goes hand in hand with so much of human experience (for some much more than for others), we can be expected to keep up our spirits. His response was that it is these very experiences, which go to our sense of humanity felt at its deepest, which can become a ‘balm for others’ if we are prepared to share them.

It is an interesting proposition, and no doubt one that may be contested in circles where the sharing of personal experiences is considered gratuitous at best, downright inappropriate at worst. I suspect that this would be the view of many liberals in Australia, and I know it’s becoming increasingly ingrained in the culture of parts in Western Europe, where the divide between public and private (an arguably false dichotomy in any case) is ever-emphasized.

I’m not in any way advocating spontaneous and completely unconsidered outpourings of woe, but suggesting, rather, that perhaps in some of our societies we have now all but completely eradicated any natural space for sharing the deepest churnings of the spirit; not as intellectual debate, or amateur (or professional, for that matter) philosophy, but as the very real – and very human – wrestling with questions of life that preoccupy us all.

At the meeting on Thursday in the State Islamic University, two students shared with a packed lecture theatre precisely in this way – the challenges and, importantly, the responses to conflict in their lives, particularly in the context of family. The sharing was arguably not necessary (although hard to argue any less necessary than most of the banalities we often spend our time discussing), it was perhaps imprudent, and it was certainly shared at some risk. Yet at the same time it offered to everyone an insight into the starkest reality of their lives. And, in these cases, it shared with people the possibility for moving through conflict. Neither was a particular complicated story. Neither was particularly shocking. But each was deeply impressive; for the straight-forwardness with which it was told, for the honesty, for the courage of each to recognize their own part in the conflict, and for the wisdom that they found for determining a path through the conflict.

A humble conviction, simplicity and authenticity that captured the attention of the crowd, and demonstrated the depth of leadership that Indonesia has to offer.

(Rob Lancaster grew up in Australia, but since leaving school has spent long periods in Europe and India. A graduate from the Australian National University with a Bachelor of Arts (International Relations/French) (Hons) and a Bachelor of Laws (Hons), his main academic interest is in cosmopolitan theory, which looks at relationships between different groups of people, particularly across national borders. He’s especially interested in exploring potential for a new ethic in political and social leadership.)

NOTE: Individuals of many cultures, nationalities, religions, and beliefs are actively involved with Initiatives of Change. These commentaries represent the views of the writer and not necessarily those of Initiatives of Change as a whole.

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