Thursday, 23 January 2014

Home is Where the Heart Is...

Being stationed away from Pejambon, my diplomat friends and I at the Office of the Special Staff for International Affairs of the President constantly look forward to the opportunity for contacts with our colleagues “back home”.  For work, we’re always in touch with Kemluers, but the truth is that we sometimes crave for non-substantial interactions.  The chit chats, carefree bantering, and inconsequential discussions of life, both as diplomats and civil servants, which most often take place at the glorious Kantin Panas.  Like any social animal, we crave the notion of being part of (to borrow ASEAN’s term) a caring and sharing community.

Sade and his QuAs
So, the arrival of new editions of QuAs magazine is always eagerly anticipated.  Over the years, Kemlu has released numerous publications: journals, analyses, bulletins, and magazines.  But most of these have been public diplomacy approaches, aimed at informing the general public of our foreign policy efforts and achievements.  QuAs is slightly different, focusing mainly on the challenges Kemlu faces in our strive for internal reform.  As such, QuAs is very much a publication about Kemlu, by Kemluers, and for Kemluers.

In its most recent issue, appreciation should be given to efforts in raising an issue that is at the heart of countless discussions at the Ministry: human resources management, or its supposed lack thereof.   For many of us, admitting shortcomings is acceptable, if not, a must.  But for an institution to confess its own shortcomings, now that requires some nerve.  Often, we like to say that we are open to criticisms, especially if they’re “constructive ones”.  But the truth is that criticisms are bitter, and generally unwanted.  This then begs the question: can we get over this bitterness to see a brighter light?

My father, an ex-Kemluer, always told me that the relationship between a worker and his/her job is akin to that between a boy and a girl (note that I have nothing against same-sex relationships).  For the boy, the hardest part in any courtship is actually not the act of winning the girl over (the cutest around).  Yes, it will require a significant amount of charm, intelligence, diligence, and next month’s lunch money.  But many times, the catch happens faster than one expects. Instead, the hardest part is maintaining this relationship, making it last for as long as you imagined it would be.

Tari and her QuAs
At the Ministry, human resource management often begins with an appraisal (more often, appreciation-cum-boasting) of the recruitment process.  On how the process has achieved an ISO.  On the quality of people that made it through the ordeal, and of course, the thousands others that heartbreakingly could not be accommodated.  But unfortunately, such an appraisal many times ends just there. 

A relationship needs to be worked on endlessly.  There are duties and responsibilities; but there are also rights and rewards.  Honour and respect go both ways, and should be demonstrated before they are even demanded.  While a certain degree of comfort must be achieved, one cannot be so overly comfortable that one begins to take things for granted.  And while there may be certain codes and guidelines towards a successful career, there must also be room allowed for personal development.  Human resource management goes beyond recruitment.  That’s only the first, and probably, easiest part.  The rest is more complicated, and occupies a disproportionately large part of any person’s career.

At the beginning our careers, we at the Ministry are made to believe that we are “la crème de la crème” of the country’s workforce.  We are forced to assume that the fate of 242 billion people depends on us.  Well, telling your girlfriend that she is pretty is heartwarming.  Sometimes it could even land you a score.  But it can be tiring, and after years of it, she would want more than just being a pretty partner to you.  She would probably want material goods and spiritual fulfillment.  And most importantly, she would want a sense of stability that goes beyond words of assurances.  If you expect her to carry and give birth to the most precious things in your life, you better be willing to also put in your part of the bargain.

At the same time, there must also be a recognition that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.  The temptations to jump across are innumerable.  But this does not necessarily translate into people jumping over the fence by the hordes.  There are always reasons to stay, some more logical than others. 

Undoubtedly, there is pride in representing your country at the international stage.  There is also pride in wanting to be part of making this country a better place.  If I was an engineer, I’d probably take part in building Indonesia’s largest, most high-tech, energy efficient, eco-friendly and stylish government building.  But when I started university, they told that the international relations program had the best looking girls on campus.  Even now, at a mature age, I’d still make the same decision as when I was only 18.

Andy and his QuAs
The problem is that for the most part of Kemlu’s history (at least my history with Kemlu, and that’s like 38 years), we have been taught that the reason to make a living as a diplomat is “the glory of servitude”, or in plain Indonesian: pengabdian.  In a boy-girl relationship, that translates into “love”. But who lives just on love these days; don’t be naïve.

The heart needs nourishment.  It doesn’t feed on promises of better things; it needs things to actually get better.  It doesn’t need glory, because glorious moments are always born out of pain; even when glory is achieved, the pain never really heals.  And it doesn’t thrive on servitude, because a life of servitude is often bundled with anger, resentment, and contempt.  Home is where the heart is, and to make a home, you require more than just a door and four walls.

And so, for most boys, it’s not enough to say that your girlfriend is pretty.  And for most girls, maybe handsomeness is not the only attribute worth looking for in a boy.  If this was the case, I would’ve been out of luck all my life.  There are always more handsome guys out there.  But if you value your partner more than just for their looks, then those other handsome guys out there probably wouldn’t mean a thing.  And this should be one of the ways that Kemlu and its workers could try in addressing the human resource management problem at hand; by giving the workers more reasons to stay, not taking things for granted, and stop thinking that a job in Kemlu is God’s sent.


  1. Foreign readers might appreciate your specifying what "Kemlu" is. Best.

  2. I didn't have foreign readers in mind when writing this particular article. Apologies. It's always great to get some readership from abroad.

    "Kemlu" stands for Kementerian Luar Negeri, which is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Bahasa Indonesia. Cheers.

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