Tak kenal maka tak sayang

“Tak kenal maka tak sayang.” “If you do not know, then you do not love.”

I learned this commonly shared Indonesian saying on the first day of Music History III, in answer to my question, “Why should we study music history?” It’s a great answer for any academic course. Why should we study xyz? Tak kenal maka tak sayang. If you do not know, you do not love.

This also points to a wonderful cycle of knowing and loving. My students are in Music History III because they love music. They have chosen music as their college major and are dedicating five years of their life to the academic study of it at SAAT. (Side note: the Indonesian academic system is different than that in the U.S., and a bachelor’s degree is typically five years and includes the writing of a major thesis. SAAT students write a 100-120 page bachelor’s thesis and also complete a one-year internship.) So their love of music has led them to know it more. And their knowledge leads to greater love, which leads to greater knowledge, and so on and so on and so on.

As a professor, I always hope this is true for my students, that their learning leads to a deeper love. Love for the subject, certainly. And also love for learning that will lead them to know and love and know and love other subjects, as well.

But these loves are not enough. I also want my students to grow in love for the neighbors with whom they share a classroom. And I want them to grow in love for their neighbors beyond this classroom: across campus, across Palos Heights, across Chicago, across the world. Tak kenal maka tak sayang. If you do not know, then you do not love.

And this, in fact, is the primary meaning of this saying in Indonesia. My friend and colleague Yudha Thianto explains: “The cultural meaning behind the saying is about hospitality. It is the Indonesian way of saying that we shouldn’t judge. Instead, we must spend time to get to know a person well, and then we will love that person.” Tak kenal maka tak sayang.

How could it change our perspectives if we said to ourselves, “Tak kenal maka tak sayang,” about each person we encounter each day, from those we know best to those we don’t know at all yet, in person or through various media? Could we even extend it to people we don’t know—in our neighborhood, in our country, across the world?

  • Could we replace judging with loving?
  • Could we replace pride with humility?
  • Could we make hospitality our normal impulse rather than self-defense?
  • Could we make listening well more important than being right?
  • Could we place the interests of others before our own interests?
  • Could we practice that perfect love that casts out fear?

I think it’s worth a try. Tak kenal maka tak sayang. Or, to say it another way: Love your neighbor.