Editor’s Note: for this month’s editor’s note, we were pleased to have returning favorite, Bilawa Respati. A long time Soydivision collaborator, be sure to read some of his other writing in our archive. Follow us on Instagram to be the first to hear about our first Asoy Radio podcast where we respond to the essay you are about to read in a conversation with Bilawa.
Frogs and salamanders: these are the two animals that come to my mind when I hear the word amphibian. They can live both on land and in water. The origin of the word means “living a double life”. If I can live in both environments, what kind of double life will I lead? Will I work on the land during weekdays and go to an underwater retreat on weekends? It is an amusing thought.
The challenge of the environment makes the amphibians develop specific organs and bodily functions for their survival: to find food, to breathe, to face or avoid predators. If I try to go to the weekend retreats underwater as I am now, I will not survive. I wonder what kinds of things I will learn if I was born that way? What kinds of principles will I hold personally; what kinds of knowledge will I retain?
Living a double life, albeit not amphibious in its biological sense, is probably something we all can relate to. We live in different societal environments. In these environments, we have to “survive”, also morally. How can I retain an inner compass in the midst of competing values and streams of experiences? Should these morals be rigid or flexible?
There’s a saying in Javanese: ngono yo ngono, ngen yo ojo ngono1. It translates roughly to: it is indeed like that, but don’t be like that. At first, this saying seems confusing. But personally I interpret this saying as an appeal for moral flexibility2. Instead of rigidly following a set of principles, one adapts morally according to the situation. This is not a mere bending-the-rule approach to arrive at a solution, but rather comes from a careful evaluation of several principles and perspectives before taking a position.
We learn norms that shape our inner values through imitation and adaptation in society, as well as our experience with it. To be morally flexible, the scope of our experience and knowledge should be wide and diverse. This happens through one’s exposure to various views, cultures, and values. Related to the aforementioned saying is the tepa selira: the act of taking another’s thoughts and feeling into one’s consideration.
Can we be morally amphibious? Is it necessary to do so in a globalized world where society becomes more diverse instead of homogenous? If I continue with my muse, it will not be fair to ask my land colleagues during my weekday to compete with me in a hold-your-breath competition. Underwater during my weekend retreats, I will not make a comment about their moist skins. In both environments, I will stick to the proverbs of the Sasak: reme, rapah, regen — wisely to contribute, to create peace, to uphold tolerance3. I think it will help me live my double life.
1There are variants of the saying. This one is the one I am familiar with.
2The ideas on moral flexibility and its development I learned from Vasile, Cristian. “Moral Flexibility and Adaptation.” In Education and Psychology Challenges Challenges, 316–21. Romania: Petroleum – Gas University of Ploieşti Publishing House, 2019.
3For more on Sasak proverbs and its potential in conflict resolution see Suprapto. “Revitalisasi Nilai-Nilai Kearifan Lokal Bagi Upaya Resolusi Konflik.” Walisongo: Jurnal Penelitian Sosial Keagamaan 21, no. 1 (2013): 19–38.