Dare to Be Different – a Lesson from a Revolutionary 17-Year-Old Balinese Boy

balinese boy, baliIN A FEW WORDS: I met a young Balinese game-changer, who dared to speak his mind and challenge the norm at a rather communist speech competition.

Recently, I was asked to judge another children’s English speech contest here in Bali. Most of the participants’ speeches had state-praising, militant and almost communist undertones.

Otherwise free and open-minded Balinese children were strictly trained to deliver incomprehensible speeches on corruption and exemplary character building (pinch me, have I just been teleported to the People’s Republic of China?).

Yet there was one boy – a little clumsy and uncomfortable in his teenage skin – who disrupted the event. His opening line was: ‘dare to be different’ and he went on to say ‘how adults have failed to inspire him’.

I sat up in my chair and this is what happened next.


I have been thinking a lot about daring recently. In fact, the reason why I haven’t been posting as much is that I am revamping Let’s Sandbox – including the design – and rethinking its central themes. Remember my post a while ago about wanting to start a creative revolution? Well, I’m not giving up.

So, this child’s speech resonated with me – it was just like one of my blog posts. He was the only one out of 60 contestants who wrote a speech himself and shared his own ideas.

I’m sharing my favourite parts of his speech with you:

You know guys I am pretty disappointed with the adult world… Nobody seems to be outstanding in any way.I realise that there is very little difference between someone who is 18 and someone who is 55. There is no wisdom or excellence. This is because they have not dared to be different.



bali village Now, do remember that this kid is growing up in a village in the middle of nowhere, he does not even own a computer and has only occasional internet access. No one teaches him about inspiration, passion or daring. Instead, in Joseph Campbell’s words, his society is ‘carving up’ his identity and moulding him into a man they want to have in their family’s compound. So, his speech was certainly very unusual and brave. He continued, saying:


If most people were to get grades at the end of their lives, you know what they would get? They would get a D. Lots of Ds.

Being different means: not being afraid to challenge the norm; being willing to take risks; asking why and making your own path; being the person you were destined to be.

He wasn’t saying this with the utmost conviction, in the way that the children talking about the great and good Indonesian president were speaking. He was unsure, he was just figuring this out and he was doing it boldly – in front of an audience of 100 people.

My fellow Balinese judge squirmed in her chair (her elegant suit was tight and restraining) and tried to point out what was wrong with his speech.

There was NOTHING wrong with his speech.

His speech was raw, real and honest. This kid most likely washes in the polluted local river and has never left the island but he understood that he didn’t have to get married right after school, he didn’t have to work for a foreigner and get $200 per month and he didn’t have to settle for what was the norm around him.

I wasn’t sure whether he was going to get an award for his speech – outlaws and game changers are rarely awarded – and, unfortunately, I had to leave before the winner was announced.

I knew intuitively that it was my responsibility to tell the kid that he had ‘got it right’; to encourage and pay tribute to his daring and revolutionary heart. 

I wrote down my email on a slip of paper and went up to him. I was the only Westerner among 200 people attending the event and he was quite uncomfortable when I approached him.

I asked if he wrote the speech himself and he nodded.

I said that I would love to teach him English via Skype and mentor him and I handed him my email address.

His eyes lit up and his peers clapped.

A day later I received his email.

His words were full of enthusiasm. One of his lines read:

I don’t want to waste this opportunity. This is my passion. I will do anything in order to be the best of the best.

Ulum – that’s the boy’s name – reminded me once again about the importance of daring.

I will see him soon and I can only hope that my words and classes will inspire him to keep on daring.