The people in Bario Asal accepted me for who I am. For example, as a vegetarian, I could watch and admire Tepuq Sina Rang's skills of cutting up wild boar and appreciate the effort Tama Wesley put in to have BBQ night under a sky full of stars without feeling compelled to consume meat. And there were other situations which reassured me that my heart was safe from blades of societal norms and judgements.
So, I would like to share a piece (some parts have been edited) that I wrote half a year ago about a conversation which reshaped my view of conformity.
“Imagine a father stabbing his own child over and over again. And this happens daily.”
My friend, Sean painted this scene with his words. The vividly grotesque image floated into my mind - tears flooding the naïve child’s pink cheeks as he screamed for the man to stop, and the cold look in the father’s eyes. This was completely unacceptable.
It was at a wedding that I met Sean, a German exchange student who supported his arguments with heart-wrenching analogies. He continued his analogy, “Now, imagine the same dad doing the same act only once in a while.” He stressed on the last five words. “That’s better, right?” “No way!” The words escaped my mouth before he finished his question. Logical thinking dictated that this was violence no matter how often the stabbing was repeated. No sane person would agree with the notion that this was morally right.
Our conversation started with both of us finding common ground. We discussed culture and history before finally settling on vegetables. Cabbage, carrot, broccoli, cucumber, spinach – we did not contemplate the natural beauty of the green leafy vegetables. Instead, we agreed on the uniqueness of their creation in this vast universe as a species that specializes in food production through photosynthesis. They’re created with a purpose to feed other species.
As the discussion went on to vegetarianism as an alternative to consuming meat and fast food which is detrimental to health, I proudly declared myself an ‘optional’ vegan, my reason being not wanting to burden anyone to prepare special food for me. When I came to think of it, there were times when I used this as an excuse to give in to my own temptation to eat meat as I reassured myself that the occasional meat eating was okay. This was when Sean, a pure vegan put forward his analogy to express that doing the same act less frequently doesn’t change the fact that I’m a hypocritical sinner.
This analogy made me rethink my belief systems. The child being stabbed by the "father" representing rigid social norms was my inner secret self - a small, fragile girl with low self-esteem who was always in a dilemma whether to follow the popular opinion or go with her guts. However, on the outside I tried to be an advocate for causes that felt close to my heart. For years, I found myself admiring the work of Emerson ― principles of Transcendentalism and Individualism. My two sides often conflicted; the war of cruelty between child and dad raged on inside. However, I often let the inner self's fear of being ostracized take over my decisions, sometimes resulting in negative outcomes for others as I unconsciously believed that "stabbing once in a while doesn’t hurt".
Sean’s analogy sparked a decision to let the inner child to muster the courage to stand up against the cruelty; to learn from and consequently merge with my outer self to form a healthy whole. It will take time and patience to fight constantly with the demons in my head that I have grown accustomed to, but I think it is worth it, as standing up for a cause while feeling doubtful inside doesn’t make any difference in the world as it doesn’t convince others.
I will try my best not to allow my heart to be stabbed again by the blades of societal norms and judgments.
-Srinithya a.k.a. Uding Aran-