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Gotong-Royong 4.0: A New Way of Mutual Care during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Gotong-Royong 4.0: A New Way of Mutual Care during the COVID-19 Pandemic

by Ayuphita Tiara-Silalahi & Marko S. Hermawan

As the old saying goes that the true test of a man’s character is revealed in times of crisis, the same goes for how a country reveals its true strength in times of adversity. Indonesia, along with many other countries in the world, is currently being tested on its resilience during the global pandemic of COVID-19. Since the government implemented massive social distancing followed by working from home in mid-March, living and working with constant internet presence became the new normal.

The new normal consequently changes how we behave on a daily basis. Being creatures of habit, we develop a new set of skills to adapt to the new environment as the requisite of survival, thus subconsciously enabling us to shift our perspective of the new situation. These days, we learn to wash our hands more rigorously, to wear a mask, to create a safe distance with others in public, and to oblige the stay-at-home orders as it matters to other people’s health and well-being. But more than ever, we learn that life does not revolve around us; action and consequence become our daily contemplation before doing anything. Because we realize that what decide to do or not do matters. As social beings, our community is of the utmost importance, for it bestows our identity that creates our sense of belonging, a sense of pride, and affirms our connection with another human being. With the new normal, emerges a new set of identity, that is completely Indonesian: gotong-royong 4.0.

Gotong-royong rooted in Javanese culture that signifies all people – with no emphasis on material wealth – abide by a collectivist and harmonious agreement, marked with peacefulness, unity, and conflict avoidance[1]. In the early days, gotong-royong was a symbol of harmony within the kampung to show how people work hand-in-hand to build houses, mosques, and public facilities; the communal work becomes the ‘trademark’ of Indonesia’s collectivist society, manifested in helping others with sincerity and integrity. Indonesian beloved historian, Romo Frans Magnis Suseno, believed that gotong-royong itself governs society interaction which demonstrates mutual assistance and communal collaboration that he regards exclusively as Indonesian cultural value.

We coined the term gotong royong 4.0 due to the large action of collective kindness with the use of technology, mainly social media, thus evolving the traditional concept into a more sophisticated manner. The raising of donations, distribution of free masks, or rice boxes to the needy – are few communal actions done on an individual level with no one professing to be more superior than the other, but merely just to ease the burden of another human being. Thanks to the immense use of social media, the act of gotong-royong grows innumerable as it reaches more people than the traditional concept could ever dream of. Whenever you

open Instagram or Facebook – where Indonesia is the fourth-largest user worldwide – you would see people donating, caring, and volunteering – do everything beyond their individual self to connect and provide assistance with just a few clicks of their fingers. From celebrities to commoners – all using their social media platforms to do gotong-royong 4.0. The late Didi Kempot, for example,  rallied a crowd social-funding entitled “Konser Amal dari Rumah” an at home concert performance and successfully raised over 7.5 billion rupiahs to help those affected by the pandemic.

However, it doesn’t stop there. Disruptive technology companies also incorporate the concept of gotong-royong 4.0 by providing a collaborative platform for their users to donate or give back, and also to encourage them to make a purchase through their platforms. A unicorn ride hailing company provided 12-programs worth 100 billion rupiahs to assist their drivers in the midst of the pandemic, another unicorn e-commerce collaborates with hundreds of local coffee shops to open a “free store” to encourage customers to continue making purchases; that way local shops are able to continue operations whilst employees receive a guaranteed salary.

Berkeley neuroscientist, Emiliana Simon-Thomas found that people with the strongest social connections are the happiest. She pointed that when we give to others, it lights up our dopamine system and gives us a deep sense of pleasure[1]. The true human connection is wired through love and serves others – this is the essence of gotong-royong.

After all, this pandemic will eventually end, and soon we all will resume to the new normal. However, this time of affliction has reaffirmed Indonesian stapled identity and cultural values of gotong-royong, which has increased our level of social empathy to a whole different level. This is something we should be proud of as a nation. In times of crisis, Indonesia rises to the occasion and understands the meaning of love your neighbour as yourself. As Albert Camus said beautifully in The Plague,” “What we learn in time of pestilence: that there are more things to admire in men than to despise.”

[1]; Dacher Keltner, Born to Be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life (New York: WW Norton, 2009).

[1] Hermawan, M. S., & Loo, M. K. (2019). The Construction of Kekeluargaan as an Indonesia’s Organizational Culture. Humaniora, 31(1), 1.

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