"Tat Tvam Asi is a bold recognition that in our purest state, all humans are identical and equal kindred spirits. If our souls are identical, then to hurt one another is to ultimately hurt ourselves," — Janet DeNeefe, Founder and Director of Ubud Writers and Readers Festival
Brave voices. Leading thinkers. Inspiring artists.
Over the weekend, I had the amazing opportunity to listen and converse with writers, speakers, artists and performers from all vastly different backgrounds and experiences who shared fresh insights on humanity, politics, and culture.
UWRF was an exhilarating rollercoaster ride for the mind. It reminded me of the power writing holds to connect people and unite us together in the name of common humanity. Among the myriad of amazing panels I attended, I want to share a few that really stood out:
Thinking without Borders
"Borders define who we are," Voranai Vanijaka said when asked what borders mean to him. But what are borders, really? With the ongoing refugee crisis and the ubiquitous presence of the internet, the idea of borders seems to have been blurred. During the panel featuring Drew Ambrose, Voranai Vanijaka, Agustinus Wibowo and Çiler Ílhan, we explored the role of borders in terms of politics, religion, mass media. Has the power of social media changed our sense of nationalism? Çiler phrased the sentiment most beautifully, "The borders are in your mind, and in your heart." Moving onto the issue of radicalism also 'crossing borders,' Agustinus said, "Behind every border, there is a story of fear." And that's exactly what it boils down to: fear and ignorance. Underlying other world issues, I do believe that ignorance is the root cause for much of the conflict society faces today. Ignorance closes our minds to opposing perspectives, keeping our hearts from embracing differences. In our increasingly global community, empathy, open-mindedness and acceptance are vital to a high-functioning and progressive society.
I've always liked to think of myself as trilingual but my English proficiency probably overshadows my Mandarin and Indonesian. But I feel that my appreciation for language was enriched by because of my integrated experience. I've always fancied the allure of being "lost in translation," when I try to describe my words in different languages. But aside from the relationship between languages, what about the interplay between the "sub-families" of a single "language"? Among them, the English language has seen a dynamic evolution over the recent decades. English now seems to be an umbrella term that encompasses Black English, Singlish, Indian English... And of course, there's a whole domain of translated English. Gill Westaway, Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, Mitchell S. Jackson, Ratih Kumala, and Leila S. Chudori took us into "their English world." During the discussion, we explored the birth of these English adaptations, to which Mitchell Jackson said, "The variations of English is a language of protest. We need this to describe ourselves and our experiences." And perhaps this is true. The adaptations of English are a response to post-colonialism recovery and a preservation of one's culture and identity. After all, when we speak, it's a confession to our identity.
The Self and I
What is the "self"? Adam Breasley, Kamila Shamsie, Amanda Lee Koe, Arung Wardhana Ellhafifie and Çiler IÍlhan tried to approach this question with respect to nature vs. nurture, geographic influences, education and imagination. "Homogenising globalisation drives us into exile by not letting us be ourselves", Çiler started, adding that "in this world, when we are not allowed to be ourselves, we are effectively being exiled." But then again, who am I? Isn't that the fundamental—and seemingly unanswerable—question we try to answer but never achieve? But Kamila urged that, "We need to get over the rigid fixing of the idea of the 'self' and identity." Do we have to identify ourselves with a particular label or category? Globalisation has allowed us to explore not only the world unbound, but explore the world within—ourselves. And maybe it's okay that we don't completely know who our "self" is, because at the end of the day, there's no right or wrong, neither are there neat little boxes we have to fit ourselves into.
In this world today where humanity is torn apart through political instability, racial or cultural prejudices, and radical extremism, UWRF is a celebration of our solidarity against the evils of the world. To say that UWRF was "insightful" or "inspirational" would be a cliché and an understatement. The words spoken at the panels were like ambrosia to the soul and fertiliser for the mind; it was like my spirit was rejuvenated with newfound inspiration and hopeful outlook on life.
UWRF, see you next year.