Thursday, October 08, 2009

Suka Duka: Compassion & Solidarity

This year’s theme focuses on the enduring power of the human spirit over suffering and hardship. Five writers share with TAN MAY LEE what they think of the need for solidarity and compassion during a time when the world is impacted by war between communities, climate change, poverty and other profound issues

“Milan Kundera hints in The Unbearable Lightness of Being that compassion is an even more essential emotion than love because it allows us to empathise with our fellow human beings through joy, despair, highs and lows. These insightful thoughts struck me. I have travelled around the world and seen so much anguish and poverty—even in Australia, a first-world nation, there is abject deprivation in Aboriginal communities I worked in. I think that solidarity is the practical manifestation of compassion, a willingness to translate high ideals into reality, and band together with those who have different tongues and stories but share a common humanity.”

“To me, compassion and solidarity are key values for building a humane and caring society for the full development of innate human potentials.”

“Genuine compassion and solidarity between East and West only arises when the races are prepared to accept a balance of power. English literature is one conduit for bilateral exchange. For too long Westerners have flocked to Asia and to places like Bali, craving exoticism and history. Today, Asians are visiting the West seeking the same thrills. Will we ever understand each other? Perhaps, but only if we let go of stereotypes, remain open-minded, and be prepared for the most unexpected of encounters. It is only through these encounters that we will realise our intellectual solidarity and, above all, our capacity for compassion.”

“The writer Audrey Lorde once said: ‘There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.’ Lorde herself was black, a lesbian, a poet, a mother, a feminist, and much more. Her observation makes a lot of sense to me because there has been an inevitable interplay between the various facets of myself. As a result, I have always been interested in issues such as how racism and sexism interrelate. This is a tension I’ve attempted to negotiate in my book, Look Who’s Morphing, too—that tension between paying attention to specific concerns while also seeking to see the interconnectedness of things. Striving to see the interconnectedness of things seems crucial to fostering compassion and solidarity. Artistically and personally, this is very important to me: that I not only see the interconnectedness of issues in terms of my own life and identity, but am able to translate this into compassion and solidarity for others.”

“I think it is beautiful and relevant in the turbulent times we are in. It ties in with my perception of the greater mission of poetry and all arts. Eventually, all human experience and enterprise must lead to compassion. For me, the practice of poetry accrues to that end.”

Reproduced from the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival 2009 issue of Quill magazine


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