April 22, 2013, by Stephen Pihlaja
I had wanted to comment briefly on the conversation about elephants to start to build my own paradigm for understanding my place here, both in Malaysia and on this blog. I will start with this: I don’t think we overcome the imperial past (or present, in the case of my American citizenship) without giving over power in meaningful ways… but even that act of giving over power is imperial: the one who has the power chooses to keep or reject it.
I would say this though: any endeavour, be it international or not, carries with it the potential to do both good and bad, and I imagine the presence of Nottingham in this part of the world is the same. Hopefully we are doing more good than bad, but I’m not so trusting of my instincts about this, as a former Evangelical Christian who originally came east with the gospel and a plan to convert everyone in my path. I did this with the purest and best intentions, though: imperialists always think they are doing good.
How do we know if our good intentions will bring about good… My Evangelical good intentions ultimately fell to the empirical reality around me, so I am optimistic that when we are wrong, we can succumb to the truth and learn and grow. I’d like to believe that this is true not only of individuals, but also institutions. Maybe this is too optimistic, but I have hope.