Sejak dalam Pikiran, Apalagi Perbuatan: Berpikir tentang Berpikir Kritis

Artikel ini pertama kali diterbitkan oleh Greatmind.id pada 11 Januari 2021.

Ilustrasi oleh Greatmind.id.

“It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”
–Albus Dumbledore dalam Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Jika Dumbledore benar dan ‘diri’ kita didefinisikan oleh akumulasi keputusan-keputusan yang kita ambil dalam hidup, dari mana keputusan tersebut datang in the first place? Kalau ada frasa ‘mencari jati diri’, apakah berarti ‘diri’ sesuatu yang given dan hanya tersembunyi jauh di dalam lubuk hati untuk ditemukan? Apakah di antara kita ada diri-diri yang secara alamiah mampu membuat keputusan dengan baik, sementara diri-diri yang lain punya kecenderungan gegabah? Mungkinkah kita melatih ‘diri’ untuk mengambil keputusan dengan lebih baik jika ‘diri’ bersifat innate?


Jika kita pecah sampai ke unit terkecil, pada akhirnya keputusan-keputusan yang kita ambil adalah transmisi sinyal-sinyal neuron di dalam otak—setidaknya begitu menurut para peneliti neurosains dan psikologi. Begitu tidak romantis, jika dibandingkan dengan kutipan Dumbledore di atas. Mungkin karena itu, dalam buku Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman memilih untuk menggambarkan proses berpikir manusia sebagai pertarungan tak berujung antara dua ‘karakter’ atau sistem berpikir yang mengaktifkan bagian otak berbeda: Sistem 1 yang berpikir dengan cepat, tidak sadar, dan otomatis, serta Sistem 2 yang berpikir dengan lamban, penuh usaha, dan perhitungan. Kedua sistem berpikir tersebut bergantian ‘ambil alih’ dalam pembuatan keputusan kita, tergantung pada beberapa kondisi.

Misalnya, ketika menerka ekspresi sahabat atau pasangan kita yang sedang marah, kita cukup menggunakan sepersekian detik untuk menginterpretasikan raut wajah yang tidak senang (Sistem 1). Sedangkan, untuk menebak siapa impostor di antara teman-teman yang main Among Us (“Saya lihat dia keluar dari ruang mesin!”), kita butuh menyusun argumentasi dengan seksama berdasarkan penilaian menyeluruh dari informasi-informasi yang ada (Sistem 2). Tentu banyak contoh lainnya.

Saya sendiri lebih suka menggambarkan kedua sistem ini sebagai mode kamera (mungkin ketularan suami saya yang seorang videografer): Mode Otomatis yang mampu menangkap gambar dengan cepat tapi seadanya, serta Mode Manual yang digunakan para profesional untuk menangkap gambar terbaik pun ketika menghadapi pencahayaan yang tidak sempurna. Untuk mereka yang jarang menggunakan mode manual, mungkin rasanya akan risih atau melelahkan (begitu pula berpikir dengan menggunakan Sistem 2 yang hati-hati), sehingga kebanyakan orang lebih suka menggunakan mode otomatis, meski kameranya mahal dengan berbagai fitur manual (sering kita memilih untuk mengambil keputusan dengan cepat menggunakan Sistem 1).

Kedua sistem berpikir ini ada di setiap manusia karena kebutuhan evolusi. Sistem 1 memungkinkan nenek moyang homo sapiens kabur dari serangan predator dengan cepat, sementara Sistem 2 memungkinkan kita membagi tugas berburu. Yang bahaya adalah ketika kita tidak sadar bahwa kita dimanipulasi (oleh divisi marketing produk, oleh influencer, oleh politisi berniat jahat) untuk membuat keputusan dengan Sistem 1, ketika sebenarnya itu adalah keputusan yang salah dan merugikan (kita, keluarga kita, bangsa Indonesia) jika saja kita sempat ‘mengaktifkan’ Sistem 2.

Dengan demikian, ‘diri’ adalah kombinasi sistem berpikir 1 dan 2, sementara ‘berpikir kritis’ adakah kemampuan untuk mengaktifkan Sistem 2 ini secara sadar, walaupun kondisi fisik dan mental kita mendorong kita untuk malas mengaktifkannya.


Kembali ke analogi otak sebagai kamera, kemampuan berpikir kritis adalah kondisi di mana otak kita mampu menangkap gambar (informasi, opini, atau ide yang kita terima dari luar) secara utuh, termasuk bagian yang seharusnya ‘gelap’ karena tak tertangkap mode kamera otomatis. Dengan kata lain, bagaimana otak kita dapat menyaring informasi sebelum mengambil keputusan atau tindakan.

Sebagai mahasiswa kuliah dulu, saya sempat terobsesi dengan metode Socratic questioning, yaitu pendekatan pedagogi yang menggunakan pertanyaan sebagai instrumen belajar. Seperti namanya, ini adalah metode yang digunakan Socrates di Atena, di mana ia akan berpura-pura bodoh dan bertanya kepada murid-muridnya agar mereka ‘menemukan jawabannya sendiri’. Sekarang saya bisa melihat bahwa apa yang Socrates lakukan adalah mengaktifkan Sistem 2 mereka—mulai dari memahami masalah dengan lebih baik, sampai akhirnya mendesain solusinya.


Kenyataannya, tanpa kemampuan berpikir kritis manusia akan membuat keputusan berdasarkan (1) kebiasaan, (2) opini warisan—orang tua, komunitas, kelompok sosial, peer, atau (3) jebakan berpikir seperti bias dan heuristis berdasarkan asumsi yang tidak diverifikasi:

1. Kebiasaan: “Saya memilih/melakukan ini, karena selalu dilakukan seperti ini.” Contohnya, tradisi ospek yang kurang produktif, menggunakan pemaksaan atau kekerasan yang dilakukan di universitas. Padahal dengan informasi baru yang sudah kita ketahui hari ini, program ospek bisa didesain lebih baik agar benar-benar menyiapkan calon mahasiswa dalam menghadapi kondisi kampus.

2. Opini warisan: “Kata orang tua/(interpretasi seseorang atas) agama/senior saya harus seperti ini.” Contohnya, memilih partai atau calon presiden tertentu karena tekanan sosial, dipengaruhi oleh orang lain atau diasosiasikan dengan identitas tertentu. Padahal, kalau kita mencari informasi dengan lebih lengkap, mungkin kepentingan kita lebih cocok dengan partai atau calon presiden yang satunya.

3.  Jebakan berpikir: “Karena statistik A (yang kurang lengkap atau bahkan misinformasi), maka saya harus B!” Kenyataannya, ilmu psikologi sekarang bisa digunakan untuk manipulasi apapun—diskon buat-buatan yang membuat kita ‘takut ketinggalan’, persepsi kecelakaan pesawat yang sebenarnya kalau dilihat secara statistik masih lebih rendah dari kecelakaan mobil, atau hoax yang terlihat legitimate karena menggunakan tautan website padahal website palsu bukan organisasi media resmi.


Menggunakan Sistem 1 selalu lebih nyaman dan tidak menguras energi. Itu alasannya, ketika kita dalam kondisi lelah secara kognitif, kita lebih mudah terjebak pikiran. Menggunakan Sistem 2 membutuhkan energi lebih yang tidak semua orang sukarela membayarnya. Akan tetapi, berpikir kritis bukan tentang apa yang mudah, tapi tentang memiliki otonomi. Kemampuan berpikir kritis adalah kemerdekaan untuk berpikir sendiri. Keleluasaan untuk mengumpulkan informasi secara utuh, memprosesnya secara terstruktur, sehingga kita dapat membuat keputusan terbaik atau mencari solusi yang paling efektif. In a way, seperti detektif yang memecahkan misteri (Sherlock Holmes, Conan Edogawa, Hercule Poirot—pilih jagoanmu). Kemampuan ini sangat dibutuhkan untuk berbagai masalah yang kita temukan sehari-hari baik di level personal, keluarga, organisasional, sampai permasalahan yang lebih luas seperti politik dan kebijakan publik.

Tanpa melihat gajah secara utuh, kita bisa mengambil kesimpulan yang salah berdasarkan bagian tubuh gajah mana yang kita sentuh.

Dengan berpikir kritis maka kita sedang mengembangkan self-awareness, atau kesadaran atas ‘diri’ tersebut. Ketika memproses input dari luar, menggunakan Sistem 2 berarti kita memahami apa saja yang menyusun Sistem 1 kita: trigger emosi atau kecenderungan yang mungkin datang dari trauma masa kecil, tradisi, atau nilai-nilai di mana kita dibesarkan. Pada level yang lebih dalam lagi, menggunakan Sistem 2 juga berarti memahami Sistem 1 lawan bicara kita: trigger emosi, trauma masa kecil, tradisi, maupun nilai-nilai di mana dia dibesarkan. Kita mengenal ini sebagai empati, pun terhadap mereka yang nilainya berseberangan dengan kita (sebut saja millennial dan boomer atau konservatif dan progresif).

Sehingga, kurang tepat jika berpikir kritis diasosiasikan dengan mereka yang sekedar ‘anti’ terhadap ide-ide. Yang seperti itu justru kemungkinan terjebak di Sistem 1 mereka untuk dapat melihat permasalah secara utuh, atau untuk berempati dengan lawan bicara yang perlu diajak negosiasi atau kompromi. Kemampuan berpikir kritis termasuk kemampuan berempati, mengkomunikasikan kesimpulan, keputusan, atau tindakan yang diambil tersebut dengan framing yang dapat diterima.

Melihat pentingnya kemampuan berpikir kritis ini (termasuk di dalamnya empati), saya dan beberapa teman memulai inisiatif Think Policy (@thinkpolicyid), sebagai ruang berproses bagi para profesional muda yang bekerja di pemerintahan dan sektor terkait kebijakan publik. Sejak diluncurkan tahun 2020 lalu, kami mengadakan berbagai bootcamp, diskusi publik, maupun online resources yang bertujuan mengaktifkan Sistem 2 para alumni kami.

Kalau Think Policy adalah ruang alternatif, ruang utama untuk menumbuhkan kemampuan berpikir kritis sebenar-benarnya adalah sekolah dan berbagai kegiatan ekstrakurikuler di usia formatif anak-anak. Di sekolah, kita butuh guru-guru yang menggunakan Socratic method. Di ujian akhir, lengkapi pilihan berganda dengan soal-soal esai yang mengembangkan kemampuan analisis dan menawarkan solusi. Sepulang sekolah, buka ruang-ruang untuk diskusi buku atau film, serta klub debat atau simulasi sidang yang mendorong siswa-siswa untuk berani berbeda pendapat dan melihat berbagai perspektif.

Jika teman-teman tertarik untuk mempelajari teorinya lebih lanjut, saya rekomendasikan untuk membaca buku Thinking, Fast and Slow-nya Daniel Kahneman, serta The Righteous Mind-nya Jonathan Haidt. Tapi untuk benar-benar melatih berpikir kritis, tidak ada cara lain selain mempraktekkannya sesering mungkin, dalam berbagai pengambilan keputusan, kecil atau besar. Misalnya: haruskah saya bagikan artikel yang baru saya baca ini? Apakah ada yang salah dari argumen dalam artikel ini?

Dengan berpikir kritis, mungkin pada akhirnya kita dapat membuat keputusan dengan lebih baik, dan karena-nya juga menjadi ‘diri’ yang lebih baik.

2020: The Year I Lost Myself

All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

I haven’t read Anna Karenina, but that opening sentence had been stuck with me for a while. Last year (2020) was a mess for almost everyone I know (as I realized while scrolling through reflection posts on the eve of December 31), but perhaps it was messy in slightly different ways for each of us. My mess didn’t even have anything to do with the coronavirus per se, although the pandemic might have exacerbated it.

You see, I think a lot. I think a lot about thinking, about being, about why people say what they say or don’t. I do this in my head, silently, making assessments one observation after another. It’s not a brag, not a call for attention, just a fact. Sometimes the thinking gets in the way of doing, but most of the time it helps me come up with a plan/approach which later makes the doing twice as efficient, compensating for the time lost to thinking.

I think a lot about myself. Not in a self-absorbed way (hopefully), but in a way that I have an unhealthy obsession to put a label or to make sense of who I am, what I’m going through, and what I’m supposed to be, what I’m supposed to do. You might have noticed that throughout this blog-memoir. When I was confused about being both a researcher and a spoken-word amateur, I called myself a nomad. Other times I wrote about what being a bilingual or marrying early means, and about arriving at a state of constant sadness. The first time I read about Hogwarts, I was happy to finally ‘belong’ in a house that appreciates intelligence, at a time when my friends at elementary school nerdshamed me. Not sure why, but I keep having this urge to clarify some sort of ‘scope’ or rules of the game as a way to understand myself.

Last year, however, my brain failed to help make sense of who or where I am in life. The year was challenging for a lot of reasons, but more than anything, I felt lost.


Without warning, I found myself hurt pretty badly at the beginning of this year.

Without going into too much details, I kind of hit a new low in the first few months of this year (way before we all realized a pandemic was coming into the picture). I did not realize I could cry so intensely for a few days straight. And even after that, I cried some more still. I’m not sure if I had properly processed it or I’m simply suppressing something that will bite me back later, but I’m glad I came out the other side. I feel much better now, and while there are some triggers that could put me back there, in most days I simply forgot—it almost feels like nothing happened.

One thing I know is that I would never wish it to happen to anyone. But if it does, I hope they get the help they would need to get through it.


I can’t find my authentic voice and cared a little less.

I don’t even remember when this happened, but at some point in late 2019 (?) Twitter got so toxic that instead of letting me—and many others—learn from our mistakes/translation- and character-limit-related misunderstood tweets—I was ‘cancelled’. I’m still recovering from quite a deep PTSD since then. I now find myself self-correcting more than once, deleting and re-tweeting my carefully drafted sentences, and later just not caring anymore.

Because between the options of being misunderstood or keeping some information/opinion to myself, it turned out I preferred the latter. Perhaps it helped that I have other platforms to share on, be it work or personal projects. But even then, I still felt a little hallow (like a weird limbo) where I’m not allowed to have an opinion because it will only be misunderstood or used to attack me out of spite.

Of course I knew that judgments thrown at you say a lot more about those people(‘s insecurity) than yourself, but your System 1 won’t always remember that. So here’s to hoping that this year I could be a little braver and stronger to be myself again, with all my shortcomings as a human being.

___

I lost my soul a little, trying to do too many things at once.

I’ve always been an advocate for generalists (including multitasking ones). I think each of us could become more than one thing, be it in parallel or sequenced in a lifetime. We are three-dimensional after all, and shouldn’t be confined to one role. That said, this year I have split myself too many times that I kind of lost my soul in the process (much like what happened to Voldemort and his horcruxes).

Between doing research and building a community, I almost constantly feel like I barely got caught up with everything. I kept having panic attack, feeling like I haven’t done enough, haven’t put my best on both. Not to mention that I have done at least additional 4-10 webinars per month (which I would normally divulge in, but given the spreading myself too thin, they then felt a little suffocating). All of this seemed to have happened mainly inside my head because apparently most of my colleagues thought I was doing quite well: “Mbak Afu hebat sekali bisa melakukan A-B-C, gimana bagi waktunya?”*

[*The truth is, I got a lot of help from Lidia, who is also my hero of the year, introduced by Ogi to figure out my schedule and everything. It’s one of the few things I’m grateful about this year.]

But it’s not just about doing well. In the last quarter of 2020, a friend’s IG story hit me: “Between the scale of 1-10 of being busy, someone needs to be at 6-7 in order to have enough mental space to innovate, to make great things happen.” The truth is that I have been constantly at 9-10 this year, if not 12. There’s no way someone at 12 could lead/drive something—I was struggling and did not feel good about doing the work I normally enjoyed. I started looking forward to weekends, something I never did in the past.

Another signal that I have split myself too thin: I dropped balls a few times—missed meetings or deadlines, which again was so not me. At the beginning of the year, I said I was going to help a mentor with her recent political appointment, but I ended up abandoning the team completely, barely had anything left to offer. I also talked to an editor about publishing a book, and again I ran away. I don’t want to jinx it this year so I won’t even try to promise that I’ll finally get it done this year.

Twenty-twenty was also the year I realized I hated being called an ‘influencer’ (whatever that means), and contributing to the toxic culture of trying to get people to buy something that you post. While I tried to keep an open mind and set a certain criteria (sustainable local products, etc.), promoting products without actually presenting the full options because the competitors did not pay me goes against the very value I believe in: agency. As much as I tried to ‘inform’ instead of ‘sell’ in my posts, at the end of the day I don’t have the full liberty to review as though I buy the stuff myself. Here’s being able to stop doing that in 2021.


I have been worrying a lot about my family(ies), sometimes it’s numbing.

As millennials entering their 30s perhaps could relate to, we switch roles with our parents. With COVID-19 being around and them being more vulnerable, I worry about my mom, who is still telecommuting Jakarta-Semarang for work. I worry about (but also am proud of) my dad, who has been making peace with his Parkinson’s Disease. I worry about my little brother who was brave enough to decide about what he doesn’t want to do (and consequentially what he does).

I worry mostly in silence, sometimes through sending stuff home through e-commerce. Some nights these worries could be numbing. I hope that this year I could manage these worries of mine, and simply support and be happy for them.


I was late to realize that staying in touch with art could’ve helped me remain myself. I found a new solace in nature.

Art had helped me process my anger, my fear, and hidden feelings in the past. Back in the days I would write fictions/spoken word poems here. Each time I performed (and listened to) a piece, I felt recharged, I felt that my anger, fear, and hidden feelings were understood. One of the symptoms of my losing a state of balance this year is the fact that my last spoken word poem was from August 2018.

I am grateful, that said, that Hamilton Musical was made available on Disney Plus this year, because I finally get to sing along to Lin and the original cast performing what used to just be iTunes albums I listened to on repeat on long drives. Is it weird that I found myself both in Lin (“Why do you write like you’re running out of time?“) and Angelica (“You strike me as a woman who has never been satisfied.”) Can’t wait for the pandemic to be over so we could organize a Hamilton singalong party soon.

Another special part of this year is rediscovering nature in all its glory. Between long staying at home periods, we took a break and hiked Mount Pangrango. It was over 18 hours of going up and down, overcome major obstacles and at the end accomplished something I never thought I could. Can’t wait to do more hiking sessions next year.


I look forward to rediscovering (if not reinventing) myself in 2021. Cheers.

Confession of an Impostor

A few years back I came across this term—survivor’s guilt—it’s the “mental condition of a person who believes he/she has done something wrong by surviving a traumatic event when others did not”. Probably at a very different scale and form, but I think I have been carrying a very similar feeling for a while now—that of being undeserving. I later learned that it’s probably linked to having privileges and another term: Impostor’s Syndrome.

Learning to Deal With the Impostor Syndrome - The New York Times

Not sure when or how it started. Perhaps it was when I was almost the only person in among my SD friends (who came from economically vulnerable families) to make it to Bogor’s best SMP, and it snowballed to where I am, with a dream degree and job. At almost every turn, I feel like I barely worked hard enough compared to my peers, but I always got in while they didn’t. It came with a weird survivor’s guilt too—how do I survive (sometimes thrive) when others struggle, why is the universe kind to me for no reason?

Come to think of it, I almost always had it easy. With no intentions to brag (why would an impostor brag), I listed down some evidence:

  1. On the day I competed in the first round of a national mathematics olympiad for junior high, I came unprepared, having done a sleepover at a friend’s the night before. Yet somehow I made it to the final round, and eventually won a gold medal which led me to a three-year scholarship at an international, English-speaking senior high.
  2. At senior high, I happened to be good in Turkish, went to an international language olympiad, practiced but really was just having a lot of fun, won another gold medal. That, together with another silver and bronze I got from international science project olympiads, apparently can be exchanged with an invitation to go to one of the country’s best universities. I remember feeling deeply guilty, seeing some of my friends at the dormitory studying their asses off and barely made it or did not make it at all. Why me?
  3. During undergrad time, I had so, so many windows of opportunities opened for me—organizationally, competition-wise, while maintaining a 3.8 GPA. Sure, it was stressful, but it also really wasn’t. I looked around and see some friends struggled here and there. How was I fine, barely affected with all the pressure—if anything, thrive? Still unclear.
  4. I stumbled upon my first job, which turns out to be a dream role where I could combine research with impact, and it also happens to pay really well. It was the first time they decided to hire an Indonesian-based intern, and I happened to come across the opportunity and got it, ended up being hired full time, learned a lot for almost two years, before…
  5. I got into Harvard the first time I applied. Did not even take a real course for my GRE. Got almost perfect score on my TOEFL. Sure, the preparation took a lot of time, but also it was fine. I did my best but I also did not want it so badly. There, I got the internship I wanted, approved the capstone project I wanted to do, won things, and overall did quite well.
  6. When I got back, I knew I wanted to explore the World Bank. Apparently someone forwarded my resume from a previous round of application, went through two interviews, and voila. Most people had to wait for a while before they get upgraded from a consultant to a full time position—I got that within a little over a year, for a position/title someone would normally have a lot more years of experience for.

Why does the universe love me so much and why does it bother me???

I have experienced so much joy, I have seen so much of the world, and the only feeling that now left me with is how much I wish I could have my family with me the whole time. I wish my parents were with me when I got to explore the United States. I wish Eyang could’ve visited the Louvre Museum with me. I wish my brothers could’ve seen Hogsmeade with me. After everything they’ve done for me—every single sacrifice—how am I the only one in the family who gets to enjoy all of that???

Sometimes, when a close friend of mine goes through a hard time, I deeply share their pain, but they also come with more guilt. How am I happy and well? Why can’t everyone in the world be? Shouldn’t celebration of anything be banned as long as there’s someone else sad in the corner? Can’t we do something about poverty and inequality once and for all? (Is it possible that I’m simply in denial with my own problems and struggles?)

I’m still learning to make peace with this guilt. One thing that it does is I constantly try to give back—with my time, energy, and resources. But it never feels close to being enough, while I keep feeling burnout in the process. Somebody told me it’s a Messiah complex/first daughter thing?

Anyone going through a similar thing? What’s your trick?

A Plea to Mother Earth

Dear Mother Earth,

My nation gave you a different name and made you ours—Ibu Pertiwi, they call you. But I your motherhood is too vast to be contained in our archipelago’s language alone. It reaches the breathtaking savannas in Africa, to the falling flower petals on busy Asian streets, to the deepest canyons in America, and hiding in the romantic boreal forests of northern Europe. So let me call you Mother Earth, for your love overflows to the entire planet.

Dear Mother Earth,

While your fondness to mankind is universal, neither of us could deny that you play favorites still, and my guess is that we’re right on the top of your list. At the beginning of time, you chose us to be given the lushest of trees, the most fertile lands, and the bluest, vastest seas. Tropical rainforests in the lowlands and the tallest mountains of Sumatra, of Borneo, of Papua giving us everything we need—leaves that cure, fruits that feed, and honey that sweetens, all the while keeping us clean water to drink. From the curve of your ocean waves, our bravest sailors caught fish, made salt, and understood beauty.

Dear Mother Earth,

Since the first sapiens settled down to grow their own food on the ground, we have failed you over, and over again. We had become greedy. We thought we tamed nature, we had the power to make nature sprout, bloom, and spring all kinds of plants. We opened up the very forests that had fed us, to make ways for more than we needed. We called those lands ours, made an entire system to govern them. We waged wars and killed one another in order to keep those lands, and sometimes to acquire more. We put animals into labor for us, we made clothes, carriages, tools that allowed us to do more. We had children, and grandchildren, we multiplied at the rate faster than we ever did—in all corners of the world.

Then sometime in the last few decades of 18th century, another miracle happened. They called it the ‘industrial revolution’. We could then make large factories that can produce goods at the rate never imagined before. We were able to make more food, more clothing, and more everything else for more people. The ‘economic pie’ as they called it, increased by tenfold per capita, while our population increased from a little over a billion people to almost 8 billion. About 3 of every 100 people on the planet today lives in my country—can you believe it?

Dear Mother Earth,

I thought it was pretty bad when we started opening up forests, removing a biodiversity of animal species out of their home. But what I earlier called a ‘miracle’ came as a deal with bad news—it turns out our factories, power plants, and cars emits large toxic gases to your atmosphere. When we burn our coal, oil, and other fossil fuel—they emit carbon dioxide and a bunch of other gases that trap heat on your surface, almost like a greenhouse effect; I guess that’s why they call it greenhouse gases. In less than two centuries, we have released gigatons of those emissions and putting your average temperature up by more than 1°C as a result.

Already, your ice sheets are melting, rising sea levels and drowning low-lying coastal areas—including hundreds of small islands in my country. At the same time, drought and heatwaves hit, bringing wildfires to California and Australia, burning peatlands in Sumatra and Kalimantan, killing many in Europe, and failing rice harvests for thousands of Javanese farmers. This year, almost 170,000 of people in Jakarta had to celebrate new year’s being drenched in flood, and over 200 even died. Hundreds of scientists from around the globe had told us that if we continue doing this and letting you warm by more than 2°C, then a mass extinction begins.

Some people don’t get it. They said an increase of 2°C temperature is something anyone could easily survive. What’s the big fuss? What they failed to understand, is even for a human body, getting from 37°C to 38°C could be fatal. Worse, some people don’t even think you’re sick at all, or that if you’re sick, us humans were not to blame, because this is something you just go through every century. We should just keep doing what we do, for the sake of the ‘economy’.

Dear Mother Earth,

The scientists said that we only had 10 years to save you. They could not be more wrong!

You are fine on your own. It is us who needed saving.

You have withstood billions of years of extreme events—you went through the ice age, thousands of deadly volcanic eruptions, perhaps even meteor strikes. You persevered and continued doing revolutions after revolutions around the sun like nothing happened.

But us, we’ve only lived here for 0.005% of your time. Yet in that limited timespan, we have shaved your extensive forests, extracted minerals from your stomachs, polluted your rivers, your air—the same air that we needed to live. Just how insatiable can my species be!

This whole time, over 200,000 years, you have let us be. In silence, you watched us destroy our own home, putting ourselves at risk, onward to the fringe of our own extinction.

Dear Mother Earth,

I learned that when a virus visits a human body, a fever shows that the body is defending itself from the virus. So I kind of understand, if global warming is the way you’re finally telling us off. You have let us mess up so much, and you’re finally saying that enough is enough. I know. After all, my country is one of the 10 countries that emit greenhouse gases the most, mainly because we used to chop down trees for palm oil and burn peatlands to open lands for agriculture.

You need to understand though, that not all of us are the bad guys. Some of us here are fighting the good fight, especially the youth who realized that it’s our future that’s at stake. We also know, that these destructions only benefit a few—this ‘economic growth’ they keep talking about mainly go out to a few at the top. Meanwhile, the miners live off minimum wage, and people living around coal power plants or burned peatlands have to pay hospital bills from respiratory illness. We have to do better.

I’m just afraid that we don’t have enough time to do it. What do you think?

A Decennial Self-Audit

What would my 18-year-old self think had she met me today? Would my somewhat inflated vanity disgust her? Would she take me as a superficial woman who is not sophisticated enough to deserve her respect? Which parts of my life would she approve and others she despise? But more importantly: why should her opinion matter?


Several days ago, I came across Mbak Ayu Kartika Dewi’s video about the importance of ‘auditing’ your friendships. She asked the audience to list down 10 names of the people they interact the most with on a daily basis, and identify which ones make you feel good vs. bad about yourself. Based on this information, restructure some of those relationships strategically—basically cut off those who have been toxic to your well being.

Beyond auditing friendships, what the post effectively did was prompting me to evaluate my entire life instead, which sent me only half an inch away from spiraling into a whole other level of anxiety on whether I have the life that I wanted. This post is an attempt to regulate and put some of those thoughts into perspective.

I.

First and foremost: I’m married, have been for almost four years. I remembered being adamant about exclusively marrying my twin flame when I was younger (used to have really looong conversations with Diku about this), but I also remember tweeting a lot about Alain de Botton’s ‘compatibility is an achievement’ tenet. I must say, if twin flames are what twin flames supposed to be, I did not end up marrying my twin flame (although Wikan doesn’t believe in this astrological nonsense). Wikan and I are almost exact opposites in many ways, and while we therefore balance each other almost perfectly, sometimes it will take a lot of work for us to meet in the middle. One thing I never had any doubt on, however, is that we love each other (the kind that runs way too deep to ever change regardless of the circumstances; the kind where I will still love him even if we ever get separated), and that we are both committed to make this work. Over the past four years, we get better and better at post-fight making up, and to quote de Botton again—he’s the only person with whom I could “negotiate our differences intelligently”. Wikan is the rock that gave me the strength to soar, to grow, and to become who I am today. We may not have the same topical interests (books and research vs. music and filmmaking), or communicate in exactly the same way (lengthy written words vs. oral and visual) as spiritually connected twin flames but we share the same taste, we care about the same things, and we both have strong bullshit radars. So yes, he might not be my twin flame, but he is exactly what I need and I’m grateful that we stuck together. So yes I’ll take some credits for that.

II.

That said, I think I have phenomenally failed at being a good friend. Or any kind of ‘friend’ for that matter. I even lost a few of the closest friends I had at the beginning of the decade. Poof. Sometimes there’s a clear stopper: roommateship that didn’t quite work out, one confrontation that did go where it should have, and a move to a different city for school or work. But others are more elusive: it wasn’t quite clear what happened, or who did what. I often resort to blaming my two years in Cambridge as the reason why I lost constant contact—as an introvert who feels really uncomfortable about picking up calls but has no time to write long emails, no facetime almost means like a death sentence to the friendship. I used to think that I could pick it up right where we left off—but maybe it’s not that simple, maybe you could also grow apart. It also applies the other way around—now that I’m back in Jakarta, it’s been hard to maintain connection with the family and friends from Cambridge time.

These days, there’s been a lot of second-guessing what the other person feels about our friendship, how they already have much cooler friends now, how our conversations did not spark the same way it used to. It is possible that I don’t enjoy some of these friendships as much as I used to, as I’ve become more obsessed with work. Although maybe, I have been distracting myself with work just so I didn’t have to face how lame I am to my friends? Does it have anything to do with the fact that I’m married? Has my complete vulnerability to Wikan effectively disabled me from being emotionally available to others? The possibility is endless. Recently someone I considered a best friend even told me that I didn’t care about him as much as he did about me, that I did not make time for us—and the part that hurt the most there was maybe the fact that he’s right. The truth is, I miss my friends, but I also know that it will never be the same as our lives have fundamentally changed. Maybe I should accept that the things I could afford—like periodic Instagram DMs and modest lebaran hampers—is what friendships in my late 20s look like, and that it’s okay. I should say though that my younger self—who was all about grand gestures and treasuring friends—would probably say that I could do a lot better on this aspect. Point deductions for me here. Sorry, self.

III.

Next, career. I feel like this is one area where there’s no clear benchmark and hence there’s no way that I would let my younger self down. I know 18-year-old Afu would think that working where I am would be just as respectable as anywhere else, as long as I do what I love(d) doing: tinkering with knowledge—its creation, transmission, and more importantly finding ways to use it to drive impact. I know that some people really have strong opinions about the institution I decided to work with: some think it’s the best place to produce robust research and influence policy, others think we have some hidden agenda to advance capitalism. Let me just say that I’m fully aware that it’s not perfect: there are trade offs between working for a massive international organization with the government as your direct client vis-a-vis working for a smaller civil society organizations. It’ll take working for both to really understand how complex it is. What my younger self should probably be proud of, however, is the fact that I know myself enough that I turned down the temptation of trying out the private sector when I finished grad school. I am one heck of an indecisive mess, but at least I knew that I would probably despise working just to sell products (even when the products ought to improve lives).

On a slightly related note, I also just realized how I keep doing the same thing in the past 10 years: use my extracurricular time to build organizations that empower young people with knowledge—it used to be Indonesian Future Leaders (2009), Indonesia IR Students (2012), Parlemen Muda Indonesia (2013), Podium.ID (2015); none of them quite made it but they also lead me to where I am now, and I have a good feeling about this one. All those other products that allowed me to learn enough about what we did wrong, about unfounded conceit. With Think Policy Society, I will now take my time, which is only possible because I have amazing people who to build it together with. So stick around, self, as we are barely at the beginning.

IV.

One thing she will perhaps be deeply disappointed about is the fact that I have stopped writing in the traditional sense of the word. Yes, I write every day at work and publish papers, but I don’t really blog (except for these personal journaling), and I don’t share my authentic voice on printed media anymore. What she might find hard to accept, is that I know that people don’t really read these days, and that it means I have to choose a different medium to say the things I would’ve said in a written form: speaking forums, video essays, and podcasts. I hope she finds solace in the fact that quite a handful of people see value in my content regardless of its forms. She would probably have mixed feelings and told me that they’re different, and that I written thoughts are irreplaceable, that I should write anyway. “And what about that book you’ve been trying to publish since you were 18?” Well, between making a home, excelling at work, being a mediocre friend, building an organization, and speaking up, I only had a little time left to write. And frankly, I wonder if at this point publishing a book is just fulfilling an ego to see my name on a shelf of Gramedia or actually getting my point across to reach as many people as possible. Because if it’s the latter, I really should just keep making videos with Wikan, shouldn’t I?

V.

I want to close this reflection with some thoughts about my family, and how I have been as a daughter and sister. I put this last because it’s the most difficult one, the one I’ve been trying to avoid. I am not sure how I could be a better sister and daughter. There, I said it. I know that my parents want some things I could not give them. I realized that I don’t check up on them often enough. I tried to make time for my little brothers but we never really open up to one another that much. Even though I know we love one another in the family—I’m still one lousy daughter and sister by regular standard. I warned myself that I might be stuck with this label for a long time. As I traced back, I realized that I’ve been an outcast since they put me in boarding school when I was 14. It’s possible that I left my nest way too early to have roots that grounded me. I’m the only third-culture child in the family—when my brothers left for college, they went to schools with similar values (I’m the only one who took liberal arts and spent another two years in the US). I’m a chameleon who could fit perfectly at home, but with the painful awareness that I could never really connect at a much deeper level with them the way some siblings or families do. I’m sorry, self.


With that, I’ll maybe give myself a score of 2.5 out of 5? But my baseline is somewhere in the minus area so I’m actually doing pretty well? Regardless, I have thoroughly enjoyed this self-audit and think that maybe I should do this again in 5 years. What about you? Where are you guys in terms of self-audit score? Feel free to share on the comment section if you feel like it.

Cheers.