The Freedom of Taking Your Own Life

by Bramantyo Indirawan

Suicide stories surround me everywhere – my colleague, two sisters in Bandung, a broken hearted man who filmed it live, a local social media celebrity, to international artists that surprises the whole world. They all made the choice to take their own life.

So what makes people take their own life? What goes on inside our heads when we get to the point of no return and ultimately kill ourselves?

People have their own reasons and explanations, sometimes from a suicide note, sometimes their families or friends speak for them, but they can also leave the world in silence. Creating confusion and shock, helter skelter.

In general, dr. Alex Lickerman M.D. from ImagineMD explains that the causes of suicide are depression, psychosis such as schizophrenia, being impulsive that can be related to drug and alcohol use, a cry for help, or a mistake they made such as the people who flirt with oxygen deprivation.

Maybe one of the controversial causes of suicide is the desire to die, that is often motivated by the presence of a painful terminal illness from which little to no hope of reprieve exists. A courtesy of taking your own life by trying to cheat time gets approval from certain countries.

England, Ireland, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, Canada, Australia, United States, and some other countries give their people the freedom of suicide. These countries made laws to support suicide, exclusive to those who suffer from terminal illness, thus euthanasia or suicide assistance exists.

On the other side, there are countries that ban suicide assistance such as China, Denmark, France, Japan, and Indonesia. Countries like Hungary, Singapore, and India even imprison people who attempt to end their own lives.

Perspective sheds light on suicide, with government laws that act as an instrument to determine whether we can or can’t take our own lives. But if we take a closer look into ourselves, the courtesy is still exclusive to our actions. After all, we are the ones who will close the final curtain of life in suicide.

A Philosophical Problem

On the edge of a balcony in an apartment at South Jakarta, I looked down towards the distance from the seventh floor and asked myself how a man can jump, ultimately making the choice of taking their own life.

When we talk about and look into ourselves, the urge to find meaning in one’s existence will appear. Philosophical questions like “What is the meaning of life?” and “What is my significance in this world?” will haunt us as an existentialism problem.

In Le Mythe de Sisyphus (1942), Albert Camus opens his essay with a statement that suicide is the one truly serious philosophical problem. “Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy,” wrote the French author.

Philosophers argue about the nature of suicide, for instance Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD) said that the ability to commit suicide was “the greatest advantage” God has given to humankind. The Roman scholar saw suicide as human power over his own existence.

If we reject religion altogether, then life seems has no meaning. Neither God nor afterlife, so why should we keep on living? Well, existentialism answers this question by helping us find our personal meaning in life, create meaning in the meaninglessness. After all, Jean Paul Sartre said that existentialism is optimistic, we don’t choose our own existence but are responsible for it.

Born to this world we then try to find worth when we slowly grow, both physically and mentally. The external world can be rough; work, love, and other life problems can make us think twice about our significance.

To live or to die, people has their own problems. An artist can just commit suicide because of depression that fame has brought upon them; on the other hand, people can survive a rough life of famine or war and still live on without ever thinking of taking their own life.

Suicide is not a simple thing because life has a broad spectrum, from psychology, sociology, to philosophy, and from personal to societal view and values.

Having an open mind, empathy, and being unprejudiced are essential in understanding this phenomenon, otherwise we tend to be judgmental when it comes to those who willingly end their life.

Into the Absurd

We can see life as an absurdity, a struggle to find meanings and/or one’s existence. When having this kind of angst, we have options that we can choose; embrace a religion, commit suicide, or as Camus said,”Accept the absurd and continue life as usual”.

Religion gives us a set of rules to follow and we use faith to make sense of it all. We can find our purpose in this world and its meaning depending on what religion that we choose. This doesn’t include the nonpracticing ones, and no, certainly not the “Islam KTP” – a term in Indonesia for those who claim to have a religion simply because it is stated in the ID card.

Most popular religion such as Christianity and Muslim ban suicide. To cheat life is a sin and hell is promised for those who abandon hope.

When there’s no religion to guide us through, does that mean we can succumb easily when facing some existentialist crisis? Well, I think not.

To still live a life and choose personal or alternative meanings in one’s significance is another option that we can choose.

There are times when we can’t find any meaning in our own lives. At this moment we can keep trying and finally find or accept it as an endless struggle in absurdity.

Everyone will be lifeless eventually, may it be because of sickness, accident, homicide, or other reasons. So, one thing for sure, death will come to us.

When committing suicide, people seem to choose the time. Some hang themselves in the morning, other blow their heads off with a shotgun in the afternoon, or doze off for eternity with pills at night.

In my opinion, suicide is a form a self escapism that doesn’t solve anything. If we try to find meaning then what does taking our life achieve? Acceptance and struggle for meaning is surely better than that.

But in the end, nobody can take away anyone’s freedom of suicide. Yes, like it or not, it is still an option for us to reflect upon.

Source:,,, Le Mythe de Sisyphus (1942),  A Concise History of Euthanasia: Life, Death, God, and Medicine (Critical Issues in World and International History) (2005).

Classical Concert Etiquette

[Jakarta, LttW] Classical music has been around for hundreds of years, and has undergone a series of challenges now and then, whether big or small. In 2011, a BBC Radio 1 DJ Kissy Sell Out argued that classical music is irrelevant to today’s youth; while just recently, the BBC’s Promenade Concerts has made history with the first ever woman conductor, Ms. Marin Alsop, to lead their iconic Proms after 118 years. In China, this once banned music is flourishing in recent years and finds its unlikely future; and at this year’s Edinburgh international festival, the expected silence etiquette among the audiences turns out to be a loud one.

In response to such matter, there are some who tend to worry about what happened centuries ago, and some who want to move on from that. So how should we put this longstanding tradition in the current context? Can it remain relevant to the young generation? Among many aspects of it that need to be addressed to, perhaps we can start with how classical music should be best enjoyed.

A classical music concert does require silence from the audience during compositions, which also involve knowing the right time to clap; and for well over centuries, this has been the classical music concert basic etiquette. For casual concert-goers, these longheld norms are frequently confusing, knowing that throwing ourselves together in vigorous applause is considered as normal, even expected, at the end or during a piece. This know-when-to-clap manner is also believed has contributed to the lack of interest of classical concert among the young. The above mentioned DJ Kissy Sell Out had his own words on this issue, “I love classical music, and it pains me to use words like ‘egotistical’ and ‘snobbiness’, but sadly that is how live classical performances come across to young people.” In an age where everything is moving towards greater interaction, he says, classical music is irrelevant. Obviously, there are those who don’t agree with him.

This concert etiquette is mostly just common sense, as NAXOS has put it: the music needs silence, so the audience contributes silence; both the musicians and the audience want to concentrate on the music, so listeners stay put during a performance. However, one aspect of concert manners can be a bit puzzling: no clap between movements. We wait to clap until the very end of a piece, although musicians hate to tell people not to clap. They love applause. If somebody gets carried away and claps in the “wrong” place, most musicians don’t mind. They’re happy to accept approval in any form, but they also want everyone to hear the complete piece as a total experience, as well as to help each other focus on the music. Remember that at the very core of classical music, where it was and is practiced at the house of God, it doesn’t require clap at all.

We mustn’t forget that the etiquette belongs to the classical music tradition, in which the music was meant to be acoustic and acoustically amplified as well. In fact, this tradition has contributed to the development of acoustic and electric amplification technology that we used today. Happily, this hasn’t changed in most concert halls in the West, but unfortunately, not in other part of the world, such as those exist in Indonesia for instance. Electric amplification has pretty much a scene in many classical music concerts, in order to reduce the fragileness of silence caused by the poor acoustic quality. Obviously, this has affected in how the society think how they should enjoy classical concerts.

There’s another crucial point in how classical music should be enjoyed that is being compared with the way people enjoy pop music. Unlike the outwardly response to pop music through shouting, screaming, crying, and dancing, the response to classical music will be inward. We might experience intense feelings while outwardly sitting quite still. This inwardness is part of the tradition of classical music. At this very point, both pop and classical music concert can be very entertaining, although one might leaned more to the body, and one to the mind.

The many attempts to maintain or changed the way we should enjoyed classical music concert are either good or bad for the development of classical music itself, but one thing is for sure: classical music is being challenged by everyone, probably greater than ever. In times where tunes from any genre or artist are available at the click of a mouse, everyone demands a new period to emerge after almost 100 years since the post-great war it hasn’t.