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.
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
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