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SELF HELP SUSTAINABILITY: 11 SIMPLE RULES FOR INDONESIA



I’m sure you all know the section of the bookstore where all the self help books area. There are thousand of them and they are popular. Some are offer real professional help in very specific areas like accounting, design and of course everything to do with computers, apps, coding and so on , and I’m sure are very useful, I even bought “Accounting for Dummies” a few years ago and it seemed to fit the bill very wel, but the biggest sellers are not these but the ‘how to improve yourself’ section.


This genre started would you believe, over 100 years ago with Steven Smiles excellently titled book ‘Self Help’ then progressed though ‘How to Live on 24 hours a Day’ in 1908 ‘Think and Grow Rich (1973) and the very famous “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff” in 1977. but a very smart gentlemen called Chris Taylor realized that basically all the books were giving the advice just with slightly different perspectives. Not really a surprise but perhaps a disappointment.


He said, after analyzing all the books I’ve ever heard of in this field, that there are only 11 simple rules to follow and let us through them very convincingly.


That set me to thinking: if these rules apply to a country and how it is approaching sustainability? Well here is my answer in this article (and related podcast) where I take you through the rules and see how they might apply to the country of Indonesia as far as sutainability goes.


It’s fun exercise if not 100% successful, but there again, whoever become a millionare from self- help books? Oh I know…the authors!


Rule No.One : Take One small step

This is how all the self -help books begin: don’t try to do too much, you will fail, be the discouraged and give up. How true. Indoensia’s huge. Seemingly insurmountable problems: traffic, pollution, water, waste, flooding, urban planning, transportation, drugs, crime, etc definitely need this approach. Tke flooding for example, we had have mega projects undertake so often: The West Floods Canal in Jakarta where the worst flooding usually occurs, river bank cleareance of slums etc but not end is in sight. This may be best broke down into achievable pieces, so we see and feel some progress.


The same with traffic: just look at small areas, solve the flow patterns there and perhaps when they are all done, Shazam, Jakarta Bandung and Surabaya will work again, and we can see a real decrease in traffic related pollution and waste energy.


What about waste? Well there all small step being taken: the banning of single use plastic bags in Bali, Bogor and Jakarta are a good start. They are small steps indeed but in principal we are heading in the right direction. Let see more small steps in each area of concern.


Rule No.Two: Change your Metal Maps.

I think this closely related to Rule One, because I’m guessing that in their heart of herats the majority of minister and their related civil servants don’t really believe they can solve Indonesia’s problems. They take office, they looks are the reports of their predecessors. (if such things exist?) and go ‘well that didn’t work, so what the hell can I do?’ the problem with most governments whether local or national, is that they have rules book, here called ‘Undang-Undang’ (which has a certain ring to it doesn’t it?) and that by following the rule books, which have already procedured failures, you are condemned to failure yourself.


I remember joining one brainstorming session in a ‘Mid Term Planning Committee for Tourism’ where the governments members of the committee brought out their rulebooks on the first session. I said ‘what are they?’ they said ‘these are the guidelines for our planning’ I said ‘put them away we need to start from scratch! ‘No’ they said ‘we have to follow the rules’ ‘No’ I said ‘the rules will condemn us to repeating us failures. We need fresh, bold, innovative ideas. ‘Not possible ‘they said’ the best we can do is adapt. ‘That’ I said ‘is like trying to win a Formula One Grand Prix with a much repaired Kijang! They threw me of the committee.


Tourism has remained in the same dire straits for the next ten years and still has no provisions for sustainability built in to their programs. They have “Add On” programs and Sustainability Awards but honestlu sustainability is not a priority and is still not there in the policies, in the rules, in the programs even today in my opinion, despite the fact that Indonesia is a signatory to the UN SDG’s.


We need to believe we can change and make sure that framework in which we work allows us to do it. Former Jakarta Governor ‘Ah Hok’ didn’t let the old rules get in his way and he change Jakarta’s way of doing things visibly in just a few (too) short years. When are we going to have a Minister of Sustainability who will influence all the other ministriesand perhaps same them till they get on board the sustainability train?


Rule No.3: Struggle is Good. Scary is Good.

This doesn’t sound very positive but is - really! We need a big bold reminder that we have to keep things on track, because without constant and deliberate planning and implementation, everything gradually falls apart. “Everythings tends to chaos” was how one scientist put it when asked to explain Entropy or The Second Law of Thermodynamics. Asimpler way to look at it is Murphy’s Law which states “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong” so once you have understood these principles, what do you do? Plan, plan, plan. Overcome the negative by sheer positive action.


When we are subject to adversity we are at our best: the struggles for independence, the first years of family life, the launch of a start - up. This is when we excel, when we come together to achieve more than we could by ourselves. But sometimes we need a scare. As my friend Eamonn Sadler an ex fireman says ‘it takes a good fire to remind people to be safe’ (as long as there are no casualties of course). when see a house on fire, you go home and check your wiring, make sure you have fire extinguishers etc. Things you haven’t done in years. But we have floods, we have landslides, we have waste emergency about to explode, we have a water shortage that can bring several cities to their knees, and still its not enough to spur the administration into action. It seems that we need the dam to actually burst before we panic and start to change. We need scarier, what a pity.


Rule No.4: Instant Judgment is Bad

You would think this is obvious but it is astonishing how often we see pronouncements both postive and negative that should just have wanted for more information before making them public. The expression here is ‘Setengah Matang’ or as we say in English ‘Half Baked’. here we have had Covid cure claims aired on TV and viral onj the social media, we have pronouncements of ‘guilty’ by the public on public figures found doing the wrong thing, and of course the reverse is also true.


Instant judgments are bad when wedon’t know enough about a situation (and haven’t bothered to learn (see Rule 3 above) and when we are dealing only with emotions not logic. The country’s illogical judgments are many but I will only give you two quick example:


1.The West Java provincial government’s decision to put into law that their primary and majority source of power untill 2050 would be coal. This one decision that needed real research, and discussion and just didn’t get it. That may still have been the final result but the plan should be to have West Java fossil fuel free by 2050.


2.The decision to convert thousands of hectares of peat to agriculture in Central Kalimantan. It has already been proven that:

a)Peat is an amazing absorber of CO2

b)Converting it to agriculture doesn’t work and ruins the peat for (a) in the process


We need to make these big decisions with big facts to support them and slow down the judgments.


Rule No.5: Remember the End of Your Life

In human terms this makes sense, we think about our final days and who we want to speak to our death bed. We don’t call our investment advisors, bankers or senior executives, we call our friends our family, our loved ones and we remember the good times. So how does this apply to a country? Well I think we need to apply the same rules: what is it you want to remember about Indonesia? The beautiful walks through parks (London, Paris), the charming historical streets to wander down (Rome, Singapore, Kyoto), the amazing museums (London, NY, Amsterdam, Paris) the café culture (Melbourne, San Fransisco) the arts (London, New York, Edinburgh). the clean rivers and beaches (most of Europe), the country parks and wildlife walks (most of N.America and Europe) if we don’t have those things all we will remember are the work - related things which are not all that life should offer: the tow hour journey to and from work, the crowded office, the messy warung for lunch, the busy mal at the weekends. If Indonesia cannot offer the valuable things in life then we are condemned to only remember those we have experienced, living the next generation poorer in mind, body and spirit. Sustainability is not just economic it is our entire.


Rule No.6 Be playful.

For people this is easy to understand : no -one likes someone who is stern and serious all the time. Getting your messages across to anyone relies on their wanting to receive it and that reception is greatly enchanged by humour. Inspirational speakers use it as device, politicians use it to disarm us, to make us like them and to feel they like us, are just human. But acountry? How can it be playful? Well it can.


May have succeeded though brilliant urban planning and especially the integration of parks and public areas into the cityscape. You turn a corner and there’s a waterfall cascading down a wall. There is a shady nook under some trees with benches in it. There are fountains and water features, there are statues and 3D art and at night lighting that surprise and entertains. If yo move on to a massive scale you have Dubai’s incredible fountain performance with surround sound music, which magnificent. You have Athens exceptional sound and light performance at the Acropolis, there’s Rome piazzas with fountain, cafés and street performers, there’s Edinburgh Festival with almost 24 hours street theatre, song, dance and shows. Oh yes it can be done. A country can be playful and it brings it alive. Sadly Jakarta’s ‘Car Free day’ and ‘Jakarnival’fall short in the creativity stakes, but I’m sure it can be done here and maybe already is…Again sustainability is not just about saving energy but creating an environment that people enjoy and therefore protect.


Rule No.7 Be Useful to Others

One powerful saying I have adapted as my personal mantra comes from the bible: The Golden Rule : ‘Do unto others as you would be done by’. it really works. It can’t fail in fact. No-one wants to be robbed, raped, fooled, rejected, ridiculed, abandoned, neglected, misjudged or marginalized. So why do it to others? It is astonishing to me that people, in the name of religion can be cruel and spiteful to people because of race, creed, belief or even clothing and appearance. Everyone has all these attributes in their own way and you need to be careful of Karma because what goes around often comes around, often very nastily. But that is the point: why make life hard for your fellows citizens when your job is to make life better? There should be no difficult administration, no impossible rules, no ridiculous restrictions or impositions. A country should be focused on the wellbeing of its citizens in every way. And endsure that citizens are fair to each other. The SDG’s demand reduced inequalities and especially gender equality. In being more useful to others you can make their lives better.


Rule No.8 Perfectionism is Procrastination.

I get it. But so many don’t. the 80/20 rule. You can get 80% of a project done in 20% of the time (and maybe 20% of the projected cost) but the remaining 20% takes 80% of the time and probably takes the rest of the budget. To try to achieve perfection (which is impossible for humankind to do) takes so long and involves a lot of procrastination, wanting to see what can be done better tomorrow. Let’s get on with it, I say, let’s do a lots of 80% projects at 20% time and 20% budget and make the country a better place in this lifetime!


I have been invited to government meetings that were called to plan a meeting. I objected: ‘since we are all here why don’t we start with the “real “meeting?” “No,” I was told “we need to plan the meeting first”. with thinking like this it is not hard to see why government objective’s are hard to meet and expenditures hard to finish. But with most meetings paid on a ‘per diem’ basis and most surpluses liable to find their way to “other purposes: it is no surprises that procrastination is the preferred from of planning. Let’s just get on and do things!


Rule No. 9 Sleep, Exercise, Eat, Chill Out, Repeat

Okay, this is very personal human lifecycle. Which we are encouraged to do for a healthy and happy life, but how many of us do it properly: sleep, not enough, too much TV/WA/FB/IG; exercise also not enough, many none at all’ eat, everyone does it but most are still not eating healthy food; chill out ie relax, again hard to do with a dawn to dusk schedule of: get up, shower, long ommute, long day at work, long commute home, speak to family, sleep.


So where the country comes in is simple: to enable citizens to follow a healthy lifestyle it needs to : immediately take drastic steps to improve public transport and I mean drastic, the tiny efforts so far are not enough. I have written about this many times but there is no action. We need a huge investment in buses (until the Jakarta MRT is complete, and similar systems built in Surabaya and other major cities…) a ban on motorcycles as the buses are introduced, and a major one way system to relieve tiny blocked back roads. We need to reduce commuting time to no more than 1 hour, preferably 30 mins then exercise and relaxation can happen.


Then we need more parks, more public health facilities - health centres- with swimming pools, gyms, squash & tennis courts, all provided by the government, most other countries have them. We have… none… except Gelora Bung Karno which is not freely and easly accessed. Let’s make personal life sustainable!


Rule No. 10 Write it all down.

As the philosopher George Santayana said ‘those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it’. as a country we need to be transparent and that means allowing the people to see the decisions- and the plans of the government, all nicely written down. The planning is all supposed to be for us, so they have to write it all down, let the people see and decide, then proceed. That gives clarity going forward and a good record looking back. And by the way, put it on real paper, digital records can be faked, not that I’m suspicious in any way!







Rule No.11 You can’t get it all from reading.

Despite what I said about, there is still a lot of wisdom in the spoken word, in the casual discussion, in the serious debate, so don’t became a book worm and just trsut the written word. The same is true for countries. Countries have laws which govern the way they work, but so often there are exceptions to the rules, and quite often the rules are not relevant any longer having been written for different times. So to govern a country you need to listen to the people as well. Now ‘the people’ are devided into four groups:

  • The first are the sycophants and ‘yes’ men and ladies who surround most leaders, they don’t need to be listened to, just told what to do.

  • Then there are the lobbyists, the entrepreuners who want to sell their goods and services, some are good, others just con-men. You have to establish who are good and listen to them. Sadly the con-men almost always sound more convicing then good guys!

  • The third group is the people who “represent the people” the local parliaments DPRD, then the RT’s and RW’s who go down to village and community level. To be honest I have never met an Indonesian who felt ‘represented’ by anyone in DPR/MPR or DPRD, not in the same way as the British know their MP’s personally and the Americans know their Congress Representatives.. so perhaps this groups shouldn’t be too well listened to either- buy thet should be!..

  • The last groups in the people themselves. The ordinary citizens who want the best for themselves and their country. These are the people whose wisdom is needed to guide the country’s future. But who is listening? Complaints on facebook can get misinterpreted and even prosecuted. We have lost the voice of the people and now only have the voices of the politicians, the TV pundits and the influencers, all who are paid for their opinions. We need voices from the heart not the bank account.


So what do you think? Can Indonesia learn to be sustainable in a board and valuable way through these rules? Or are we just hoping that someone somewhere will listen and take note? I do hope so and that we can look forward to amore balanced and productive and fullfilled life.


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