I like lists. I like the feeling of checking tasks off a list. It makes me feel like I have accomplished something. Since coming to Indonesia, though, I have learned that life is about more than simply checking tasks off of a list…it’s about building relationships with people.
The other day I had to go to the trash dump community to meet with the community leaders about our next phase of health programs. Traffic was surprisingly good and we arrived about 30 minutes early. Our hosts slowly assembled everyone who was supposed to be in the meeting, and brought us drinks and snacks, and then started to converse with us. For the next hour and forty five minutes we talked about everything under the sun—the weather, Independence day celebrations, families—everything, that is except our health programs, which is why we were there in the first place.
Though looking back, I would have expected myself to be frustrated, I actually really ended up enjoying the conversation a lot. Not only was it great to be able to finally have enough language skills to follow the conversation, but it was also great to get a glimpse into how they really live and what they value. After the chit chat started to die down, we were able to bring up our proposed health programs, and in fifteen minutes, the community leaders had approved our health plans. Because you can’t just leave abruptly after discussing business, for the next thirty minutes we continued to talk about life in their community. After about two and a half hours of talking, we finally finished our conversation and headed back home.
In previous places that I have lived, business was just business. It was all about the efficiency of the meeting. You go in, get straight to the point, and then leave right away. If you are feeling particularly friendly, you might chit-chat for a couple of minutes, but then you get right to business. It’s not that people don’t care about each other, it is just that in the West we tend to value efficiency…we get things done and check them off of a list.
In Indonesia, though, it is not about getting a task done, it is about the relationships that you form with the people through the process of accomplishing tasks…It is why a fifteen minute meeting ended up taking two and a half hours. I am discovering that I really am learning to value relationships with people over being efficient at accomplishing tasks. When you take time to really listen to people, not just about what a specific meeting is about, you give them value, you build relationships, and it is through these relationships that you can get things done. Without relationships, you may have great ideas, but they will never go anywhere. Even when things do not go according to plan, if you value the people more than the task, then the situation is much less stressful, because it was not a complete waste, because there was a relationship formed or deepened through it.
Though I have learned many things in my time in Indonesia, I think this is one of the most life changing lessons. Building relationships with people should always trump tasks.