Group Mentality

I love it how kids in the village follow us whenever we visit and wherever we go. In this particular picture we dropped in on their village just to park our cars on our way up to the waterfall. I’m sure these kids have been up to that waterfall hundreds of times since they were born and it was no big deal for them. But the fact that there was a large group of us, especially a large group of Westerners, made it seem extra special. So they followed us all the way up. . . swam in the natural pool with us, ate rice on the rocks, and accompanied us all the way down. Such a charming little delegation. It reminds me that everything done in Indonesia is group based. In their minds it’s always more fun to do something as a group. Decisions are made as a group, you travel together as a group, and of course, you vacation together as a group.

This reminds me of one time this ‘group mentality’ almost worked against me. . . almost. My mom was visiting and we had planned a trip to a remote town in the mountains. We like to go to this particular spot because it’s isolated, quiet, and really quite beautiful. We thought it’d be a great spot to unwind a bit and get away from culture shock (for my mom’s sake). We also wanted some quality time with her before she went back to the States. So before she arrived I happened to mention our plans to a friend who was over one day. Big mistake! Never mention a plan or idea you intend to do privately to an Indonesian. As soon as I mentioned we were going up the mountains with my mom he got the idea in his head that, of course, it’d be more fun if he came too. Before I could say a word he immediately got on the phone with his boss to arrange a few days off of work. With dread I could hear the conversation unfolding over the phone. When he was finished he ended his call with a triumphant look on his face and told me that it was all arranged for him AND his boss to accompany us up the mountains. So what do you do in a situation like that?? Well, many times we concede to the culture and ‘go with the flow’. But this was special time with my mom, time that we’d probably never be able to get again. But to outright reject or say no to someone is really rude too. So instead of rejecting him I affirmed his idea and stressed that we could go up the mountains with his boss SOME OTHER TIME. It wasn’t a complete cancellation, only a postponement. After a few repeated uses of ‘some other time’ he got the message and dropped the subject.

So sometimes the group mentality works for you, sometimes it works against you. Overall, I really admire the way people band together here and do things as a community. Group and togetherness is always the first consideration. It’s a little shocking to go back to the States and experience the individualistic society we have there. It feels stark and lonely and incredibly confusing. But here in Indonesia it’s amazing how fast they form bonds and invite you to become part of the family. It’s helped us adjust to living here. It’s helped us feel a part of this community even though we’ll always be so foreign and stick out like sore thumbs. It’s helped us in many ways.

I think this aspect of Indonesian culture will always stick with me. I think group mentality has seeped into my blood. I have a bend toward group now that I didn’t use to have and I see that as a good thing. I suspect I’ll be slower to voice my own opinion and happier to follow the decision of the group. Call me a team player!

1 reply
  1. Mom
    Mom says:

    Josh, I think you have become highly skilled in tact and thinking ‘on your feet’. When you were talking to that fellow about going to the mountain with him ‘another time’ -boy, that was quickly assessing the situation and coming up with a good solution while saving face- you know, tactfully handling the predicament. Good job!


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