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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - In need of being saved ... from ourselves

In need of being saved ... from ourselves


In order to see more clearly and to better understand, it is good to be one step

removed from the situation. For me, spending the Christmas holiday in the United

States with old friends and relatives has been this wonderful one step removed-a

time of reflection and of just being. Many times, amidst the fast pace of work and

life's other challenges, we do not have and/or do not take the time to process, ponder

or just be. When this happens, it can be that our motivation which started as hot-blooded

passion is easily degraded into cold-blooded ambition.

I have been revisiting or discovering films on themes of harmony and conciliation,

atonement and redemption as moved by the Christmas spirit and by the reconciliation

and healing work of the Center for Social Development-from the Killing Fields to

City of Ghosts to Crash to The Passion of the Christ. Each speaks to the need to

be reconciled within oneself, with one another, with one's God and/or to amend for

a wrong or injury.

The power of these films lies in their ability to speak to the human condition-for

saving, and mainly from oneself.

Among the peoples of the earth, we Khmers are very much in need of being saved, first

and foremost, from ourselves. We are a people in need of peace-within and without-to

reach a state where we can just "be", where we do not need constantly to

clamber to one-up another or to prove oneself.

Of course, this is easier said than done; but it must be done. For it to be done,

it requires each of us Khmer to live life passionately with time-outs for reflection

and soul-searching if we are to have peace and be at peace.

Proving oneself

For me, earlier on, I knew I did not want to live a lifetime in trying to prove myself.

It must have been the case that I felt that I needed to prove myself and that I actually

started on this course of action. I was easily offended and allowed many things to

weigh heavily on my heart.

Growing up, I felt the need to prove myself in everything, from sports to academia.

The fact of the Khmer Rouge, how they obliterated all educational institutions and

killed off all the intellectuals, impressed deeply upon me. I worked hard, read a

lot and did relatively well.

(As an aside: As someone once told C.S. Lewis, "you read to know you're not

alone." Somewhere, someone has experienced the loss, the anguish, the tears,

the exhilaration we are experiencing, for as Solomon tells us, there is nothing new

under the sun. Books, a means of democratization, connect us with that someone. That

is why I will always be a voracious reader of bio- and auto- biographies. "The

author who benefits you most," writes Oswald Chambers, "is not the one

who tells you something you did not know before, but the one who gives expression

to the truth that has been dumbly struggling in you for utterance." Also, I

cannot imagine a better forum that permits one to eavesdrop on the conversations

of the wise men through the ages than through the pages of good literature.)

Art and dance were the only two activities I engaged in for the pure enjoyment of

them, and not feel compelled to compete or prove myself.

But as time passed, particularly during high school years, uneasiness of life in

other areas was catching up with me. The utilitarian outlook of life (e.g., doing

well in school) spoke to my vanity but did nothing to placate the inner turmoil.

I did not find comfort in Sartre's existentialism. I do not believe that a man exists

only to the extent he realizes himself; that he is nothing other than the whole of

his acts.

Human being,not human doing

Thus, if a person is not the sum of his accomplishments (or for that matter, failures),

then there must exist a more inalienable value system.

When I performed well, it was easy to accept the rules of the game. But when I did

not perform well-and no one ever does consistently-I still had to accept the rules

of the game. I could not select to abide by the rules when I won but pretend that

the loss did not affect me. I could not glory in my successes as a victim but then

not feel the pain of being victimized. I could not comfort myself by saying the often-repeated

phrase - it doesn't matter whether one wins or loses as long as one does her best

- when I found great satisfaction in my win.

Slowly, I learned to temper both my wins and losses with sobriety; both, when taken

to an extreme high or an extreme low, are fabricated fictions.

I believe this is the frustration and restlessness that is felt by us Khmers. We

live with a presumption against us. We do not want handouts (albeit by our own government

or from the international community) because many times, the status quo inherently

works against us. It is more difficult and less legitimate for us simultaneously

to accept the cosmetic changes and to cry foul within the same system.

New rules must be written. Or the individual must come to a new understanding of

herself. She must learn, in legal parlance, to reframe the issues.

Oftentimes, we Khmers find ourselves at a crossroad. The tension is: do we continue

to prove ourselves with no end or just "be". Be. For me, through the years,

I learned that it is through the mere 'being' that I found the most liberating. After

all, as a friend brilliantly observed, we are human beings, not human doings.


Theary C. Seng

Executive Director



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