Indonesia has long been known for its diversity. In the 14th century, leaders in the archipelago realized that Indonesia consists of various people with different cultural and religious backgrounds. In fact, Indonesia's founding fathers established Bhinneka Tunggal Ika, or Unity in Diversity, as the national motto to promote tolerance among the country's many different groups.
The motto, which is inscribed on Indonesia's national symbol, Garuda Pancasila, has recently been contested. As Indonesia faces political turmoil, its people should discern that Bhinneka Tunggal Ika is their source of excellence.
Diversity is like a magnet that attracts talented people from various cultural and religious backgrounds. A healthy environment is the one that respects people regardless of their backgrounds. Talented people perceive this condition as compulsory, so that they can express their ideas freely.
When the environment is healthy, talented people will be willing to live in it. Unless diversity is promoted, Indonesia might experience a brain drain – a condition in which talented people would prefer to live in other countries.
In line with the magnet analogy, diversity also promotes a multi-faceted perspective to address challenges faced by Indonesia. As the environment is open and safe to new ideas, people will be interested in contributing their perspectives.
In contrast, an environment that does not embrace diversity would discourage people from contributing their perspectives because they are afraid of being judged for having different ideas. Various perspectives focused on a particular challenge will result in a comprehensive decision-making to address challenges faced by Indonesia.
Through diversity, individuals would learn to be larger in terms of their capacity and more open of mind than they thought they could be. Since diversity includes ideas and perspectives, individuals will learn that other lens might better examine their perspectives. In doing so, the skills of why and how individuals perceive ideas and perspectives will be sharpened. This practice will lead to individual’s personal and professional development eventually. In other words, diversity facilitates the individual to have a mind-expanding experience.
Regardless of the recent political turmoil, Indonesia should always promote Bhinneka Tunggal Ika, which perceives diversity as a source of excellence.
Rather than only tolerating differences in ethnic, cultural, and religious backgrounds, Indonesians should celebrate those differences as a source of excellence.
Bhinneka Tunggal Ika should be the foundation for an environment where people of different ethnicities, cultures and religious backgrounds can come together, challenge each other's ideas, learn new perspectives, be enriched, grow as individuals, and eventually come to understand that their differences are their strength; that diversity in Indonesia can be the essence of its excellence.
Defta Oktafiga is a doctoral student in educational leadership and policy studies at Indiana University Bloomington. His profile can be viewed here. All views are his own.