Kemungkinan dan kepastian

Allah menciptakan segala sesuatu secara berpasang-pasangan. Hidup dan mati, terang dan gelap, siang dan malam, dan lain sebagainya termasuk diantaranya hal-hal yang bersifat ‘mungkin’ dan hal-hal bersifat ‘pasti’. Dalam tulisan kali ini, saya akan mengajak pembaca untuk merenungi makna dari dua sifat ini: antara kemungkinan dan kepastian.

Secara logika, yang ‘mungkin’ itu cenderung tak kasat mata, tak teraba, dan samar-samar. Sementara yang ‘pasti’ itu cenderung kasat mata, tampak bentuknya, dan jelas. Walaupun begitu, dalam kehidupan sehari-hari, manusia sering terbalik melihat yang ‘mungkin’ sebagai hal yang pasti dan yang ‘pasti’ sebagai hal yang mungkin. Contoh, hidup itu sifatnya mungkin sementara mati itu sifatnya pasti. Ketika ditanya apakah kita akan hidup esok hari, jawabannya adalah ‘mungkin’, tetapi ketika ditanya apakah kita akan mati, jawabannya adalah ‘pasti’. Namun begitu, banyak manusia yang menjadikan hidup sebagai kepastian sementara mati sebagai kemungkinan. Akibatnya, ambisi manusia pada yang hidup dapat membuatnya lupa pada yang mati. Contoh lain, status pekerjaan itu sifatnya mungkin sementara status sebagai anak, ayah, ibu, suami, atau istri itu sifatnya pasti. Status pekerjaan bisa datang dan pergi, tetapi status sebagai anak atau orang tua, misalnya, akan melekat sepanjang masa. Jika tidak hati-hati, ambisi manusia untuk mengejar status sosial and ekonomi bisa membuatnya lupa untuk menjalankan tanggung jawab moral dan spiritual terhadap keluarganya.

Manusia itu hidup dalam alam kemungkinan dan hanya bisa menawarkan kemungkinan. Anehnya, ketampakan manusia sebagai makhluk yang mungkin membuatnya seolah-olah mampu menawarkan sesuatu yang pasti. Pada sisi yang lain, Allah itu Yang Maha Pasti dan merupakan sumber segala kepastian. Anehnya, ketidaktampakan-Nya oleh manusia sebagai Dzat Yang Maha Pasti membuat sebagian manusia mengira bahwa kepastian-Nya hanya berupa kemungkinan belaka. Wallahua’lam bishowab.

The two worries of young parents

Couples with young children often worry about two things:

1. “Oh, I have to take care of my children, how can I work to make a living?”

2. “Oh, I have to work to make a living, how can I take care of my children?”

Yes, raising children is a difficult task. Unlike formal work which has definite opening hours, raising children (or parenthood) is always open for business until you breathe your final breath. The enormity and endlessness of the responsibility are scary. Therefore it is understandable that some couples (if not most) worry about how to go about in continuing the life as parents. Not to mention that some young parents reject the reality and decide to quit being parents by ending the lives of themselves or their offspring—may our Lord save us from such calamity.

Yet, it might be that such worries can be easier to accept by understanding the nature of the worries themselves. I will go back to the two points above and try to unpack what is happening in each. But before that, I’d like to underline two inevitable situations that young parents must agree and accept: (a) parents are responsible to raise and nurture their children, and (b) parents are responsible for supporting the continuity of the family.

Having accepted the two inevitable situations above, the most fundamental issue in each worry is then the trade-off of time in the face of the risk of not being able to carry out one’s duty. For the first, if I spend most of my time taking care the children, then I will not have enough time to work and earn money for a living. The same goes for the second, if I spend most of my time working, then I will not have enough time to take care of my children. The problem to be solved, then, is to achieve a situation where: I have to take care my children, and I have to provide for my family.

Curiously, there is no one-off answer to these tensions. In one moment, parents may prefer to work more than taking care of the children, and in another moment, parents may prefer to take care of the children more than working. What seems to be right in one moment is contested on a daily basis with the temptation to do the other. Parents move from one worry to another in trying to balance the seemingly unsolvable equation.

But maybe there is a way to satisfy both proportionally. In the way I see it, maybe the answer lies in the word ‘responsible’ and ‘enough’. Maybe that if we parents—with our best endeavour—strive to be responsible to those that we are bestowed as parents, we will be given enough time and provision to make a living. Maybe.

Selfless is another form of selfish

People usually don’t like selfishness. Selfishness manifests in many forms, sometimes as actions which neglect the need of others but sometimes also as inaction and ignorance of others.

By contrast, people admire selflessness. To be selfless often means to be in service to others, and to act with care and concern towards others.

One is often seen as the opposite of the other. It is selfish to be first. It is selfless to be last. Thus selfish is ‘self-first’, and selfless is ‘self-last’.

But what if both selfishness and selflessness share a common ground? What if the basic reason why people display such behaviours is the same?

One of the basic reasons is that either selfishness or selflessness is an attempt to satisfy the self. Selfishness thinks that I will be satisfied when I have or consume something here and now. Selflessness, by contrast, says that life has given me enough and now it is my turn to do something to others. Both forms try to satisfy something in the self. Hence it may as well be said that being selfless is another form of being selfish. Being selfless is not having less interest in one’s own self. On the contrary, one becomes selfless because one knows well what will satisfy the self. Although of course, whether or not the self is eventually satisfied by selfishness or selflessness is a quite different story.

Life has given us the capacity to do good to others

If one wishes to be very simplistic about life, then life can be defined into two terms: life itself, and death. Life is a journey towards death and everything that lives will die. Simple.

But for some people, the question is not so much about whether we will die but about how we live.

There are many ways to live, but one that I feel important—and liberating—is to live our lives by doing good to other people. I am a firm believer that life is fair and every human being has an equal chance to do good. From bankers to construction workers, from religious leaders to corporate CEOs, from teachers to students, from homeless persons to persons with multiple houses, we all have an equal chance to do good.

Defined in this way, life is fair. No one is less able to do good than others since it comes back to the intention to do good and the action of doing good itself. A person does not need to wait until she becomes a professor, a CEO, an entrepreneur to do good. Nor does she need to wait until she gets a certain amount of money to do good. Of course, position, status, and wealth help in doing good—more people could be reached, more goods could be done. But a mere possession of these things do not determine that someone will actually do good. If anything, being a professor, a CEO, or an entrepreneur should be seen only as a side-effect of doing good, and people who genuinely do good see themselves as nothing.

I am giving a particular emphasis on “position” because I see many people (myself included) are not being proportional in giving priority in life, i.e. between what is possible and what is certain. Using myself as an example, undertaking a PhD degree normally comes with an expectation that it will pave ways to the possibility of a career path, which are post-doctoral researcher, lecturer, assistant professor, associate professor, professor, etc. In my case, however, not only I am a PhD student, but I am also a father of two little kids and a husband. I may be separated from my work but it is in no way that I am separated from my family. They are my blood no matter what. My family is a certainty to me whereas my work, my position, my career, is still a possibility. It will be a great miss if, in pursuing the possible, we lose sight on what is certain. A Javanese proverb says: “Mburu uceng kelangan dheleg”, pursuing a trivial thing but losing the essential.

This means that the doing of good should manifest, firstly and more prominently, in the way we treat the people closest to us: our family members. Do we have time for them? Do we care about their concerns? Do we listen to them?

I am not saying that one should take care of the family and forget the work. Nor am I saying that doing good is something we do once and for all. What I am implying instead is that we need to ask ourselves a question: Do I wait for something to happen to me before I can do good to others? Or, can I do good to others regardless of what happens to me?

I know it’s complicated and not easy. I have asked this question many times quite recently. And the more I ponder upon it, the more I see that a great person is not a person with positions, wealth, and possessions, but a great person is a person with a capacity to do good to others. A capacity, that is, not in terms of material and status, but a capacity in terms of time and action.

Possibility or certainty?

Intuitively, people choose certainty over possibility. Just like there is more appeal in the ‘certainty of help’ than the ‘possibility of help’.

But the problem is people are attracted more to what is visible than what is not. And the certainty of things are sometimes less visible than the possibility of things.

Humans are visible beings and they live under possibilities.

As possible beings, humans can only offer possibility. Yet their visibility makes possibility appear like certainty.

A Certain Being, in contrast, offers certainty. Yet His invisibility makes certainty appear like possibility.

And the guide is clear … 

“Behold the Book! No trace of doubt in it.

A guide to the pious;

To those wh believe in the Unseen; who perform prayer; and who spend from our bounty;

Those too who believe in what has been revealed to you; and what has been revealed before you; and who know for certain that there is an afterlife.

These are truly guided by their Lord;  these are truly saved.”

— Qur’an Surah al-Baqoroh (1–5) 

Dignity and tradition in our contested world

Dignity is an appeal to self-worth and/or group-worth.

But before making a step to appeal to worth, the notion of ‘self’ or ‘group’ must be defined. This is supplied by the notion of identity.

Worth is instilled by asserting value judgment to a particular identity.

Assertion of value has an appeal if it is ‘grounded’ to a characteristic (or characteristics) that is (are) shared with others (usually those with a similar identity).

One of the many possible grounds is tradition.

Tradition has multiple meanings. Here I will only discuss one of the meanings, which is ‘origin’.

The interplay between tradition and dignity can be stretched to explain the current political tendency that filled the headlines in the media. Dignity is asserted, rhetorically, by referring to tradition in the sense of ‘origin’ and ‘the past’. Public are presented with (and accepted) the idea that they can reclaim their dignity if they go back to ‘the origin’. This is usually accompanied by a contrasting depiction where the ‘natives’ are losing their worth due to the departure from the tradition (origin). Social tensions emerge when the discursive assertion of dignity for one group is coupled with the move to de-value the ‘out-group’.

But tradition in the sense of ‘origin’ is problematic since it privileges one point of origin over the many points of origin. For if origin is to be taken seriously, all must agree that our origin is something far from pompous—i.e. a sperm drop. Therefore, tradition as ‘origin’ is more precisely described as that ‘glorious origin’.

But dignity has a double ‘dignity-effect’ for both the addresser and the addressee. When a group discursively undermines the dignity of others, their own dignity is also, by effect, undermined in the eyes of the audience (who are outside the group).

By contrast, when a person or a group is willingly act to serve others (sometimes even to the extent to be a servant, or servant-like), the dignity-effect that is produced is not of a devaluation, but of an elevation. This act thus elevates, by effect, the dignity of the addressee and the addresser.

Shades of reading

Our ability to see is fundamentally defined by our ability to perceive differences. Our eyes can distinguish between black and white because we can perceive the difference between the two. We suspect that an engine is not running smoothly because we perceive the difference (of sound and vibration, perhaps) that it produces. Our appetite is aroused when we smell good food because we can sense its difference from the not-so-good food.

The same applies to reading: depending on each individual’s degree of sensitivity, there are as many shades of reading. And by reading, I mean the relationship between the reader and the text.

The first shade is to consider that there is a direct relationship between the reader and what is said in the text. Here, the content of the text is given a privilege. A reader’s attention is usually given to the different topics that are discussed in the text. Here, the text is treated like a flat surface---no other, and no deeper than a single sheet of paper. What is written in the text is what the text is.

The second shade is to consider that the text says as much about the author than the content of the text itself. At this level, a reader is able to sense the deliberation and clumsiness of the author in stitching together different thoughts. A reader is able to sense how the author may or may not follow a certain structure in organizing the text. What is written in the text starts to convey different senses of meaning through the different ways of expression.

The third shade is to consider that the text says more about the author than the content of the text itself. Now some warnings must be given since reading at this shade may lead a reader either to blind admiration or hasty denigration. For a reader to continue reading, it is important to suspend his or her disbelief and appreciate why the text is written the way it is. A reader’s value judgment of the text (in a simple term, either it is ‘good’ or ‘bad’) is not to seal off an interpretation but as an opening point to explore whether multiple interpretations are available. This is neatly summarized by the late literary theorist Umberto Eco. He asserts that to read (and to interpret) a text is “to decide whether it has a fixed meaning, many possible meanings, or none at all” (Eco, 1994, p. 23). In other words, our ability to sense why a text is written gives more depth to what is written and the ways it is written.

Throughout the three shades above, our perception of difference is sensitized from seeing text to say something about itself to seeing text to say something more about its author. The beauty of seeing is, of course, when we can perceive how different colors intermingle and complement each other in a harmonious dance.

Reference

Eco, U. (1994). The Limits of Interpretation. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Berkehendak untuk tidak

Perlu dipahami bahwa kekuatan itu, besarannya, bukanlah diukur dari besar kecilnya realisasi namun melalui bagaimana potensi dan kehendak itu berpadu.

Termasuk di dalamnya adalah kehendak untuk tidak merealisasikan potensi.

Namun kebanyakan manusia mudah terkecoh dengan mengatributi kekuatan hanya kepada sesuatu yang nampak, terlihat, dan terasa. Yang tidak nampak, yang tidak terlihat, dan tidak terasa dianggapnya tidak ada, tidak memiliki kekuatan. Padahal bisa jadi untuk membuat sesuatu itu menjadi tidak nampak dan tidak terasa membutuhkan kekuatan yang jauh lebih besar.

Potensi dan kehendak adalah dua hal yang mirip, namun keduanya perlu dibedakan. Kehendak bergantung pada potensi. Ketika potensi itu ada, maka realisasinya bergantung pada kehendak. Dalam keadaan ada kehendak namun tidak ada potensi, maka yang harus dipenuhi terlebih dahulu adalah potensi. If there is a will, there is a way tidak berbicara mengenai kekuatan, ia hanya menyinggung perihal jalan menuju potensi.

Betul, bahwa manusia memiliki semua potensi. Dan sudah semestinya manusia itu berkehendak untuk mengembangkan potensinya. Dalam kondisi ini, kita mendapatkan skema sederhana berikut: potensi –> kehendak –> potensi –> kehendak. Kita bisa meneruskan skema linear ini ad infinitum dan kita akan menjumpai hal yang wajar. Namun yang menarik adalah ketika kita mendapati skema berikut: potensi –> kehendak –> potensi –> kehendak untuk tidak. Di sini, tibalah manusia pada titik belok. Sebuah titik dimana terdapat jarak antara kehendak dan perbuatan. Titik dimana ia sedang bertransisi dari kekuatan kecil menuju kekuatan yang lebih besar.

Berkehendak untuk tidak bukan berarti tidak berkehendak. Saya berkehendak untuk tidak makan tidaklah sama dengan saya tidak berkehendak untuk makan. Yang pertama adalah niat untuk tidak, yang kedua adalah tidak ada niat.

Manusia yang berkehendak untuk tidak artinya ia berniat untuk mengendalikan dirinya. Niat itu selalu bersih. Kehendak belum tentu. Niat ‘jahat’ itu sejatinya adalah potensi yang dibakar oleh kehendak. Dengan berkehendak untuk tidak, tidak hanya kita bisa mengurangi kadar jahat yang kita lakukan terhadap diri kita sendiri, namun boleh jadi kita juga memberikan kebaikan kepada orang lain.