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In Search of Identity

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In terms of age, sixty-two is what one would consider getting on in years. As a matter of fact it is an age that one associates with wisdom and the time to reap the fruits of one’s labor as one enters hopefully, the golden twilight years. It is certainly no longer the time to experiment, suffer from identity crisis or above all be confused about the future.

Even as a nation, sixty-two years are ample time to make mistakes and learn from them, to play with silly ideas and get great ones to work and to realize at least some of the dreams made when we were much younger. In other words, this country has been around long enough as a member of the global family to make something of herself – to capitalize on her freedom and independence.

But then again one could argue that even though Indonesia’s been independent for well over half a century, we’ve only been truly democratic for a few measly years. We are in effect a nation of stunted development where we now have to go through a speeded up version of growing up in a world where everybody else is already past middle age.

In the space of less than a decade the country has had to undergo a painful teething problem, the challenge of learning how to walk on her own two feet and the insecurity of being the wide eyed kid pushed around and ignored by the bigger and smarter children in the school. And now, as other countries are either flexing their economic muscles in the global boardroom, or at least on the way to, while some others are on the verge of retirement after a successful career, or at the very least ensuring a firm foundation for their legacy, we are still struggling with the onset of puberty together with its emotional instability, crisis of identity and general unruliness. We are noisy at home and yet quiet abroad. We see ourselves as somebody. Others find it difficult to locate us on the map.

And yet we are not young. Many of us don’t even remember how we got to where we are. Independence day is nothing more than a yearly ritual of putting up the national flag and playing silly games with silly prizes. We all know that at one point our founding fathers proclaimed independence but even the older generation cannot say with confidence what we were and are supposed to do with our independence and what independence was supposed to do to us. Somehow the story stopped when our founding fathers kicked out the colonizers and read out the proclamation. Ever since then we had problems trying to write the ensuing chapters ourselves.

May be independence was so that we would be rich and smart and proud. So that other countries would admire us and want to be like us. May be it was so that we too could be masters of our own destiny and stand tall on our own two feet: so that we could deal with others on our own terms and not because we had to.

Instead, sixty-two years on, the question of the meaning of freedom and independence still haunts our yearly commemoration. We are not truly independent is usually the general consensus. We don’t have economic independence. We are not free from poverty and we are certainly not masters of our destiny. We used to be conquered by the Dutch. And then the Japanese. But then we were conquered by our own people they say, and it was worse because it was difficult to kick them out.

With democracy however, we find that we are still far from understanding the meaning of our independence. Instead we succumb to a more insidious form of subjugation. This time by our own shallowness of thinking and lack of discipline: by our paucity of ideas and lack of meaningful ambition. We hold our heads high and yet it is with the arrogance of those who suffer from an inferiority complex. We speak out loud and yet it is with the protestations of the impotent.

Perhaps the reason why we could never get very far in our nation building effort is because after gaining our independence we failed to establish our identity, to work out who we really are or at the very least who we want to be. And when one is still in a constant identity crisis, it is indeed very difficult to move forward, no matter how old we get to be.

 

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