Collective Misery

Every human being on this earth prefers to be miserable collectively. It’s more irritating when someone is suffering alone. If there is more than one person carrying the weight, there is this illusion (or truth) that the burden is distributed equally among the people. There is this old saying: ‘be happy when other people are miserable, and be miserable when other people are happy’. This saying describes human nature to be egocentric and envious. It describes human instinct to possess the ultimate love, wealth, fortune, luck available to mankind in this lifetime or another, only for oneself. It portrays human effort to make other human’s achievements and accomplishments to appear below his/her own.

There are two interesting encounters we had on this interesting human tendency.


1.Climbing up and down the hills to get to Curug Seribu

Curug Seribu (Seribu Waterfall) is located in Gunung Salak National Park in Bogor. We went there last March when it was often raining cats and dogs. It was cloudy and very humid when we arrived, but there was no rain so we were confident enough to explore the tracks. We didn’t quite anticipate the tracks to be THAT difficult though. The tracks went up and down hills with slopes at sixty to ninety degrees. When we’re going down the tracks we had to kneel down to get our footings for the next steps. The same thing happened when we were climbing up. We put our knees first on the step then pushed ourselves, or being pushed, forward. The steps consisted of only soil with uncut stones scattered on top of them. The handrail was only pieces of wood, tied together with old and tired ropes. When descending we hung on to the simple handrail on our right, and to eroded soil wall on our left. It was a challenging adventure for us and our children.

Our eldest had been trained to take this kind of path since she was two years old, so she only needed a little time to adjust then she walked, climbed, knelt, ascended, and descended on her own. We didn’t have hiking shoes/sandals and sticks with us, so she and I used the point of our umbrellas to stabilize our movements. My husband used the tip of his tripod to walk while carrying our youngest on his arm. Our toddler was not used to this kind of adventure. He got tired easily and carrying him was the only option to keep moving forward.

It was around three PM when we were halfway there, and along the way we met people coming back from the waterfall. All of them looked drained. They were exhausted, we could tell from their faces and how they were sweating hard. One thing those strangers had in common was their comments towards us: 1) Are you crazy taking little children through this kind of track? 2) It’s still long way to go; it’s tiring, the road is slippery, all in all it will be difficult for your family. What we heard was discouragement, discouragement, and discouragement. Didn’t they succeed in reaching the waterfall? They surely did because they met us on their way back. So why did they have to be so discouraging? Why didn’t they boost our spirit by saying that we could do what they did, that we too could conquer those impossible tracks and reach the waterfall?

In September 2012 our family, sans our youngest, went to Edinburgh in Scotland. On our last day there we hiked to Arthur’s Seat, the main peak of several groups of hills towering over Edinburgh. The height we took on was 250.5 meters. Our eldest just turned three years old and we saw no other children hiking along us who were as young as she was. Every time we passed strangers on our way up, none of them, who saw our eldest and asked about her age, made comments like the people we met in Curug Seribu. Oh, you’re three years old and you’re hiking with your parents. Good luck on your adventure. Way to go, little girl. What they said was only ENCOURAGEMENT. They didn’t think we, her parents, were crazy. They didn’t think that she was not capable to do the task. They encouraged us and they lifted our spirit.

I wish those people in Curug Seribu had made the same gestures. The first and foremost key to conquer the nature (or anything in life) is mentality. We already lose when we THINK we’ve lost before even going to war. Maybe the people in Curug Seribu felt they didn’t do well enough in tackling the tracks and they felt miserable about it. Then they wanted us who came after them to feel empathy for their misery, or feel miserable as well. I don’t know. Luckily, we were able to tune out those discouraging voices and managed to come back safely to the parking lot, with the thunder and heavy rain above us, and two wet and sleepy kids in tow. All in all, it was a valuable experience. It taught us a lot about mentality, about being prepared (hiking gears for next trip), about persistence, and about ignoring discouragement altogether.


2. Driving through flood in Lippo Cikarang

It was the first weekend in April and we were driving to this hotel, at which the Easter Concert from our church was held. About two kilos from the hotel we were suddenly caught up in a traffic jam. You should know that Lippo Cikarang is an emerging town, but it’s quite small. The whole area comprises of 3.300 hectares land, with only 550.000 residents. The lanes on the main road could take up to four cars at once, but it was never required because the number of vehicles utilizing the roads is relatively low. So we were pretty amazed to see there was a traffic jam here in Lippo.

The normally two lanes had been changed into four lanes. The cars were not moving and we couldn’t see any Lippo officials, be it satpam or patrol officers, were around. We drove one kilo in twenty minutes when we met several Lippo officials who all looked anxious. They told us there had been flood but they couldn’t tell where it was exactly. We were suspicious that it was only a hearsay and the truth was actually not like that. The officials applied contra flow on the road and forced the two lanes on the right to make a U-turn. Well the traffic got better for a while. In order to get to the hotel we took a shortcut through a commercial area, where everybody we passed by (the officials from Lippo and the by-standers) looked even more anxious.

They started to yell at the cars who were queuing to enter this area to retreat and take other roads. My husband didn’t believe in their suggestions, because the cars in front of us kept moving. How bad could it be? When the by-standers saw that we and other people wouldn’t listen to them, they started to nag us that we would be caught in the flood and it would be our fault and nobody would help us. Wow, again we thought, how bad could it be? It turned out to be conquerable.

The commercial area was surely flooding (it never had flood ever since its development in 1998), but the by-standers only looked astonished that there was flood in Lippo Cikarang. The flood was roughly forty centimeters high and it was manageable. The water only soaked half of our tires, and as long as we drove with constant speed, there wouldn’t be any problem. We passed the flooding area (about 500 meters long) safely. If we had listened to those by-standers, we might have been panicking to find other alternative ways, and we might have been stuck in an even worse traffic and been late to attend the concert. The attitudes of those by-standers reminded me of the people we met in Curug Seribu. They’re happily discouraging other people. Most of the by-standers were employees of restaurants and other business ventures in that commercial area. With the flood still around it was guaranteed they didn’t get as many customers as on any normal day. So when they’re lacking activities with too much time on their hands, they felt eligible to make other people feel their misery for losing their usual customers.

It annoyed me that on the way home after dropping my husband and our eldest at the hotel, I saw no flood whatsoever on the road that was used for contra flow. There were not even pools of water on the road. The roads were dry but the cars were still slowing down. I guessed several discouraging by-standers have succeeded in creating this anxiety. Anxiety is infectious and is easily reflected on our faces and with our gestures. A quick look at people standing on the side of the road might have triggered a question on our and their minds, had something bad happened? It didn’t matter that nothing important actually happened. The anxiety and discouragement had trapped many people in an unnecessary hassle that afternoon. Thank goodness, our family is good at ignoring discouragement.


This contemplation makes me wonder what kind of collective misery that my friends have been led into, and what kind of discouragement they have encountered in their daily life.



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