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Big Country Small Heart

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Ask our government officials on their response to the ban of all Indonesian aircrafts to EU countries and one can be sure to receive vocal protestations, cries of ‘unfair’ and expressions of indignation. Even the normally critical parliament members are quick to hop on their nationalistic wagon and talk of retaliatory measures.

Forget the fact that so many planes have fallen off the skies sending numerous passengers to an early grave and that given the choice most Indonesians would opt for a foreign airlines to their country’s own flag carrier, or that none of our airline flies to Europe anymore anyway, the point is the country has been insulted and national pride injured by the ban so lets beat the war drums and show them we’re not afraid of their attack.

And speaking of flags, what about those ungrateful people in Maluku and Papua who dare to wave a flag other than our sacred red and white? Surely this is an act tantamount to sacrilege and the perpetrators must be eliminated at all cost. Indonesia after all is a big country and woe to those who attempt to belittle her.

Our neighbors are often amazed how easy it is for us to take offense, perhaps even when none was intended, and how quick we are to react to comments that might hint at our incompetence even when the evidence is there for all to see.

It goes without saying that any attempt at criticizing or patronizing this country by outsiders will be met with belligerent defensiveness. (Singapore and Malaysia for instance often wonder why they get the stick from us when it comes to problems of corruptors and migrant workers since they see those issues as of our making.) A lot of our officials think it’s their moral duty to show to the public their patriotism in the face of criticisms by other countries when all that is required is more seriousness in getting the job done and less finger pointing.

Moreover, in their eyes, the press is also increasingly to blame. The democratic press is seen as less patriotic than a controlled one. Both the transportation and tourism ministers ingenuously complained that if we reported less bad news about our own country then we wouldn’t get this image problem. It never seems to occur to them that the press doesn’t create the bad news to begin with, but only reports it.

As the Vice President often says, ‘big country, big problems’ so too Indonesia is beset with crises that are inevitable and difficult to hide. Whether in the shapes of natural and unnatural disasters, conflicts and corruption, these have become routine issues that we’re not only used to but should be expert at handling by now.

So why is it that we get so easily upset when others try to point out the things that we already know as if we’re hearing it for the first time? We know for example our transportation system is a real mess. After all, even the president had to bring on a new transportation minister if only to show that something is being done to clean up the department if not reduce the number of unnecessary deaths. The authorities even acknowledge that none of our airline is particularly safe, something that the public are already fully aware of through seemingly endless images of disasters if not through their own traveling experience.

Perhaps our propensity to be on the defensive is due to the fact that even though we are a big country, we are only blessed with a small heart. A smallness that is best reflected in the pettiness of our representatives and the pusillanimity of our leaders: a smallness that comes from the inability to take responsibility for our own actions, preferring instead to blame others for our mistakes and misfortunes.

It is because our smallness has its source in insecurity; the suspicion that others are conspiring to put us down even when they’re not; that behind every show of concern and attention lies contempt. And what else behind that suspicion other than the fear that perhaps we do deserve the put down and the criticisms.

This is indeed a pity, for what use are our riches if we remain poor in spirit and incapable of looking at ourselves for what we really are. Unless we start opening our hearts and minds and learn to acknowledge our mistakes so we can grow and be the wiser, we shall end up drowning in our own shallowness.