Dear Clara


I don't know if it is your story or if it is your writing, or may be both. But, your e-mail is remarkably riveting and engaging, as evident from the passion with which it is written.

T is going through a phase which is not very different from what you are going through - strange land, huge opportunities, new relationships, uncertain future. It is natural for people in the school to see both of you and form their own understanding of where you both are in terms of your academic careers. As for you, it is important to recognise the signs of competition, and to acknowledge the feelings and frustrations that accompany them. Instead of having to score points to assert dominance within competition, one can go a long way by saying to themselves that they have nothing to lose. Your life is ahead of you, many opportunities are ahead of you, and competition can only make your life better if you are able to handle it healthily by seeing opportunities through them. I always use the analogy of the government and the opposition. You govern your life. Outside competition although, can influence your life which you govern. Whilst most governments tend to defend their point of view by justifying their views as better, a good government takes the criticisms and challenges as opportunities for shaping and expanding their vision. There is nothing here for you to prove, nothing to defend, nothing to lose and a hell of a lot to gain. So use this T episode to identify what you have learnt through this, and utilise it to shape your vision for your life. It could even include simple things like: who are my real friends? How do I learn to handle competition effectively? How can I handle situations without running away from them, denying them or sweeping them under the carpet? etc etc. I think you are learning lots through this, and I am very optimistic that you will learn more as days go by.

Coming to your questions about me. Yes, I am applying to Oxford and Cambridge for a Master’s degree which will eventually lead into a PhD. My topic of research will be to expand on the God/humanity/creation interrelation in the Old Testament scriptures, focusing on psalms, proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Job. I will certainly be applying for scholarship, without which, I will find it very hard. I stare at Sophie's world every day. It is on my bed, begging to be read. I have been getting 2 hours sleep each night of late, which is why Sophie continues to wait for me. The same applies to Le Petite Prince, which is why I am kind of looking forward to the Christmas holidays.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the simplest things. I love to read and hear your stories, and I never see them silly. As a matter of fact I feel privileged that another person's experience can inform and influence my own life. So you and your stories are welcome as ever.

Good luck with all your preparations for Fiji. Have a blast.

The Piano Man

Dear Piano Man

Dear Piano Man,

Not sure why I write this email. Maybe because I feel guilty letting our catch up time consumed with my silly stories (and oh that good 15 mins of me crying my heart out and losing all my guards). and I do want to hear your stories. But thanks anyway

So, what's happening in your life? You told me you're applying for PhD? Where? Which universities? What's the topic of your research? Are you applying for scholarship too?Did you read all the books I gave to you? Sophie's world? Le Petite Prince? If so, how do you find them? Is there any interesting bit? Guess, for me those two fictions significantly framed my world views, my narratives (although, the narratives, of course, are constantly changing)

Hmm, alright, guess I know now why I'm writing email to you. I need to talk to someone, someone... you. Today has been of a bit of emotional turbulence. I met with my professor who helped me finding and arranging my internship in Fiji (he even arranged accommodation for me, such an ace!!)He introduced me to some members of the organisation that I'll work with. It was nice and good.

Then he told me that T came to him and asked him to endorse her internship. Guess I was a bit irritated because of that. Feel like I couldn't escape this girl. And my prof hinted something like, 'I smell you both are so in competition with each other'. Hate that!! I mean now the whole school knows. I just feel it’s inescapable now, everyone will compare us. and I am not strong enough not to resist to be consumed in this pointless comparison and competition.

I am so afraid that I would lose my track, and ability to actually 'be here' and enjoy things that I have. I guess in competition, you always look forward to score points, to affirm your advancement against others. This is so pointless and will hinder me to have a genuine interaction. It turns my 'friendship' with T into self-serving interaction to satisfy a selfish and egoistic affirmation of fragile self-definition. Maybe i don't really have a friendship with her since the very beginning. I don't know

Well, now I feel better. I've put it into words and I can observe my feelings. I feel lighter and I guess I can start building up my effort to get out of this silly frame.I just feel sad, for the fact, that what I thought was a real friendship or at least what could have been a real friendship is probably a fake one. Will there be any real friendship? how could you tell? Will there be any sincere unselfish relationship? how can you tell? All these things with T make me even more sceptical. I felt I've been fooled.

Anyway, now I don't know whether I should hit the send button or not? (click it actually). I decided to send it, for I would like to believe, friendship can happen

Have a good day


Narratives and advocacy

It was slightly out of expectation. Policy Advocacy would not provide their devotees with practicalities of advocacy. There would not be tips and tricks in effective persuasion. Rather, it taught us different attempts to make sense advocacy, to dissect it and its assumptions, to look beyond what is seemingly an obvious matter. Before, I always thought that advocacy was straight forward. Advocacy for me was demonstrations, strikes or boycotts. Advocacy is telling the reality that your government is too blind to see! Indeed, they are examples of persuasion at play. However, advocacy is more complex and subtler than those examples. One thing for sure, advocacy is so pervasive in our lives that we are actually advocates, often unconsciously.

Yesterday, I met my boyfriend and talked about the military violence that is happening in West Papua, Indonesia. I told him how paralysed I felt for not being able to do anything. His suggestion is for me to start gathering support from Indonesian students and plan a protest. He suggested that I should write articles, to persuade the Indonesian Student Association to release an official statement to the Australian and Indonesian media. The key, he said, is to wait for the right moment, when the condition gets worse, to execute all the strategies he mentioned. Aha! That's what John Kingdon's calls 'window of opportunity'! All the strategies he formulated are perfect examples of persuasion as 'manoeuvres' of an advocate. He understood that I, an ordinary student, do not have a 'claim to a hearing', a prerequisite of Kingdon's policy entrepreneur. Organisation like the Indonesian Students Association and the media will help me to grab attention. Intelligent as he is, he never heard of Kingdon’s eloquent idea of policy entrepreneurs. But we can see how ideas and practical ways of persuasion are every day’s conversation. One grieve observation is, often to ‘sell’ your cure you must wait until your patient is about to die. Is that a justified trade-off? How can we tell the right moment to push our prescription?

Come to think of it, what he did is an advocacy in itself. He was persuading me of what he thought was the best ways to advocate my cause. He was performing an advocacy on how to execute my advocacy. The way he did it was to appeal to my reason or ‘logos’. He laid out the argumentative analysis of how those moves he suggested are the best ways I could possibly exhibit. He also has that ‘ethos’ dimension as an ex-journalist in Australia. He knows how the media works and to utilize it. Add to the ethos his charms and we can tell now whether I was convinced or not.

The question then is how to persuade the bulk of mainstream Indonesian students to support my cause to stop violence in Papua? Their ignorance frustrates me. For me, it is obvious that what happens in Papua are human rights violation, developmental failures, and structural discrimination by the state. The evidence is crystal clear. How could most people be blind to those facts?! The answer seems to lie in the narrative approach on advocacy. In fact, the concept of narrative significantly changes my understanding of policy advocacy.

Politicians often say, ‘Let me tell you a story’. Indeed, to understand the policy, we need to ask the story first. Narratives help us make sense of a problem by encompassing and interweaving disjointed ideas and values and justifying the decision and policy action (Feldman et al 2004; Fischer 2002). In doing so, narratives blur the boundaries of personal stories with grand theme of a policy and the grand narrative of identities. In narratives, we find a complex interaction between the personal, professional and the public stories. Narratives serve as lenses to filter the ingredients of our construction of 'reality' and truth; so called facts and evidence. Facts and evidence only serve as justification for our narratives; ideas of ‘reality’.

Born in an activist family, I have a different narrative from most of my Indonesian peers. My father was a labour activist during Soeharto era. He told me stories of workers who suffered under Soeharto’s policies and his military atrocities. When I was 12, my father told me that my grandfather, his father, was murdered by the military in 1967 because he joined the communist teacher’s movement. So I grew up with deep antagonism toward the government, the military and the dominant narrative of Indonesia as a national identity and a nation. My story is part of the big narrative of struggling victims of government, including Papuan rebels (or heroes?). Now we see how my narratives shape my previous understanding of advocacy. Individuals are the culmination of public and personal stories, a dynamic negotiation of many interrelated narratives.

In advocacy, often we need to change the narrative which neither easy nor quick. We need to persuade people to step outside their narratives in order to observe and analyse the narratives onto which they attach personal stories and public roles; to identify and question the assumptions of the plots and values embedded in the grand story. The next step is to convince them that our counter-narrative is worth adopting; that this version of reality will make sense of the problem, and solve it.

In Papuan case, this means questioning the grand narrative of Indonesia. What is Indonesia? Who are Indonesians? How did we come to this idea of Indonesia? How do ideas of Indonesia shape my personal story, my identity and political stance; my opinion on Papuan issues? What is my version of Papuan story within the story of Indonesia? The advocacy continues by offering, and convincing people to adopt the counter- narratives where Papuan rebels are the brave protagonists against cruel authorities; that current ideas of Indonesia and being Indonesian are misleading and need to be redefined.

Most people will refuse to confront their narratives, let alone change them. To question our narrative is dangerous, both at individual and collective level. At personal level, it shakes our self-definitions and construction of reality; the meaning of our personal lives and roles in public domain; our identities. At collective level, it disturbs our foundation of our imagined collective identity, collective actions and its ways of making sense of our changing environment.

At this point, I am so perplexed. If policy heavily depends on narratives, where that leaves advocacy? How to change deeply pervasive narratives? If evidence, truths, facts are instruments of our narratives, what can justify such advocacy to convince others that our narratives, thus our ‘reality’ and evidence, is better (or more real)? Policy Advocacy course leaves me incompetent in answering those provocative questions; questions that might never be answered, or maybe, should not be answered.