21 September, 2020

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Being A New Sri Lanka

By Sanjayan Rajasingham

Sanjayan Rajasingham

Sanjayan Rajasingham

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

Why Be?

A lot of us would like a different Sri Lanka. If what a society is like depends greatly on what its people are like though, we need to change. We need to be a new Sri Lanka. And if we aren’t prepared to change, then, frankly, we shouldn’t expect our country to.[i]

There is more to it than that though. For instance, many of us were outraged by those government MPs who voted in favour of the 18th amendment and the impeachment. Particular ire was reserved for those MPs who knew these measures were wrong, but didn’t have the backbone to refuse them. This was their sphere, they had power, they could do something – but they didn’t. If that makes us angry, then we need to be different. We need to act to make things better in our spheres, where we have influence, where we can do something.

We also need to act because who we are today determines, in part, who we are tomorrow. How we use our influence today shapes how we will use the influence we have tomorrow. If today we are too busy, or too fed up, or too cautious to do what we can to make things better or to stand up for what is right, then we’ll probably be the same tomorrow. And then, if we get into positions of responsibility, we will not have the moral strength to stand up for what is right. Moral fibre does not spring up overnight. It comes from consistently acting for the good, for what is right, even in the insignificant spheres of life. Only then will we, if we get into power tomorrow, be different to those in power today.

What can we do?

We need to do something, but what? There are lots of things we can all do, and I’ve put down some of them below.[ii] We don’t need to be connected, well-resourced or in positions of power to do them. We don’t need experience or qualifications. Of course they will take time, and some effort – as anything worth doing will. More important though is not to let the enormity of our problems immobilize us. We need to focus on what we can do, and not worry about what we can’t. So even if you choose just one thing, run with it!

Deliberately build friendships with people different to you, and listen to them

Some of us only have friends who think like us, are from similar backgrounds or share our assumptions. Some of us have friends who are different, but prefer to avoid controversial topics with them. Or, we tend to become ‘debaters’ when we argue with them, holding furiously to our positions. If we talk about politics, or corruption, or racism, or religious extremism, we listen in order to reply – we don’t listen in order to understand.

Maithripala Matale 19 12 2014I am sure we all had some of this during the election. When we found people who disagreed with us profoundly, our instinctual response may have been to talk over them. Or to pretend to listen so that once they stopped talking we could hammer home why we were right and they were ridiculously wrong.

We need to go beyond this. It’s crucial because we all have our blind spots, and only those who are different to us can show them to us. I am grateful to Sinhalese and Muslim friends who have pointed out the weaknesses and evils within the Tamil community to me, and I am sure many of us have learned from the perspective of those who are different. If every time we hear a different view we put our defences up, we will never see our own biases and prejudices. Also, it’s when we demonstrate that we respect our “opponents” enough to be open to their point of view, that they too will be open to change.[iii]

Listening to understand is more than understanding the “arguments” those we disagree with are making. It is not the dry rationalism which sees disagreement merely as a “debate” to be “won.” It is listening to see where they are coming from, why they feel the way they do about an issue, to see the world through their eyes. It is dialogue, a two way conversation, where both are listening and both are open to being challenged.

This is something we can do today. Think of a friend who thinks differently to you, and ask them what they think of an issue the two of you disagree on. Then listen to understand, not to reply. Another immediate avenue is to look at the interviews Udaya Gammanpila and R. Sampanthan gave interviews for the Republic at 40,[iv] a book available online. If you lean towards the “Tamil view” of things, read Gammanpila.[v] If you lean towards the “Sinhala view”, read Sampanthan[vi] (Of course, I generalise). Feel utterly repulsed initially if you must, and disagree with their “facts” if necessary. But after that, come back and ask why they feel the way they do. Imagine what it would be like to be a member of their community, and whether you might feel the same. Consider if there is some justice to their claims.

Everyday injustices

We need to stop seeing injustice as something “out there”. Injustice lives with us all. Ask who are in the weakest and most vulnerable positions where you are – it could be at home, at school, at the office, at university. Spend ten minutes on it. It could be the peon, your juniors, or the less connected. Are they being degraded, or treated unfairly, or dominated? What can you do? Maybe you can act directly to stop it. Maybe you can speak to someone who can. Maybe you can protest by writing to the papers, or online, or speaking to others. Maybe all you can do is realise there is a problem – if so, do that. Seeing some of these problems is the first and vital step, even if we can’t do something about them.

To be continued..

*The writer is an undergraduate at the University of Colombo reading for a Bachelor of Laws degree

[i] Sanjayan Rajasingham, ‘“Insignificant” Individuals and a New Sri Lanka

[ii] My thanks to all those who suggested things.

[iii] Of course I am not suggesting that we use this as a ‘technique’ to manipulate opinion. Also, there will always be some who will stick to their position no matter what, but there will also be many who are more genuine about their views.

[iv] Asanga Welika (ed), Center for Policy Alternatives and Freidrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom <http://republicat40.org/>

[v] ‘Interview with Udaya Gamnmanpila’ <http://republicat40.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/The-Constitutional-Form-of-the-First-republic.pdf> In particular see pages 6- 13; 15 – 19; 32- 34.

[vi] ‘Interview with R. Sampanthan’ <http://republicat40.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/The-Ilankai-Thamil-Arasu-Katchi1.pdf> In particular see pages 7-9; 15-18; 24-27.

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Latest comments

  • 6
    2

    Dear Sanjayan,

    Great to see a youngster with such an open mind!
    You and like minded youngsters are the future backbone of our motherland and you need to influence this generation with these noble ideas. This is the only way we can leave a Srilanka where people of my generation can age graciously, young children can have a safe environment to grow without hateread and fear. We need to work together to bring prosperity to motherland. While majority of us our being one tracked and cling stubbornly to our point of view and refuse to listen to other person’s view, we are destroying the country’s prosperity. When we have prosperity, our mothers do not have to go to countires with babaric rules in search of employment and be abused. Their families need not be disintegrated. In our arrogance we have done so much to destroy the country and never stopped to think how it was affecting the weaker section of the society. It is time we put an end to it.
    To start why don’t we internalise that the only difference humans have is the gender difference that GOD created and refuse to identify ourselves by language and religion. We can say, ‘I am a Srilankan and I speak Sinhalese, Tamil or English. I follow the faith of Christianity, Buddhism Islam or Hinduism.
    A great movie we all need to watch is the Hindi movie called PK.
    My suggestion might sound too naive, but to bring lasting peace to SL and even the world, this has to be done.
    As Saibaba says, ‘ When there is Peace in the Individual, there is peace in the family. When there is peace in the Family there is Peace in the Nation. When ther is Peace in the Nation there is Peace in the World.
    As you say, it has to begin with every single one of us. there is no point in waiting for change from the Top. It has to be bottom Up approach and you youngsters have a crucial role to play.
    I love what you say about ‘Listen to understand’

    • 2
      0

      He stands within his father’s soppy shoes, foul offed and holes.

  • 4
    2

    Dear Sanjayan,

    You are giving me hope. You will change as you grow older, but please never let this view of yours change as you grow older. One of the important things is that our next generation should be able speak both languages of our nation. It will serve better for your proposal to listen to other point of view.

    We all fell victim to divide an conquer strategies I am thrilled to see at very young age you are able to see it.

    Good luck to you
    Sincerely,
    Muhunthan

  • 1
    3

    Everyone living in Sri Lanka wishes that their country is a wealthy one without corruption, nepotism, rape and murder and so on. Now we are in a divided country without division and that division has brought hatred among communities and consequently a section of the people being minorities are suppressed and subjugated. It is not happening now but for many years. The result was an armed struggle which had destroyed many lives and properties. During the war revenge rape and killings had taken place. Over 40,000 Tamil civilians killed. Many women fighters who surrendered to the Army were raped and then killed. I have my doubts on the new president with 100 day programme will change the country. Over one hundred thousand armed personnel is being stationed in Vali North. Over 700,000 acres of land consisting of 10 villages has been taken over by the armed forces without resettling the owners of those lands. A racial bias is in the minds of the Sinhalese politicians. Does the government ever worried about those homeless people. Now the State Minister of Defence Ruwan Wijeyawardena has said that the army in the North will not be withdrawn and Nation’s Security will be given preference. What security he was speaking of cannot be understood. He cited the President’s remarks that he will not allow the country to be divided. So that division and Eelam is still in his mind although he won the presidential elections due to the Tamil and Muslim votes which he had not acknowledged so far. How can there be a new Sri Lanka when the President is a doubting Tom. I have lived to see over 70 years that Sri Lanka will never be a new Sri Lanka, particularly for the Tamils.

  • 2
    2

    SR:
    Thanks you for this article – it’s a gem hidden in a lot of mud.

    Buddhism advises me to look internally and not to project on to others. Thus the goal of a Buddhist is to “listen to understand” – first and foremost oneself, and then others.

    Imagine how different Sri Lanka (and the rest of the world, for that matter) would be if each of us practiced this kind of self-analysis.

    Good luck, keep listening and writing!

  • 2
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    Dear Sanjayan Rajasingham,
    Thanks for the great realization and sharing on your part. Truth is we need a rallying identifier as Lankans. What should that identifier be? There are of course the significant two options:

    1) Understanding, caring, and upholding of majority Sinhala-Buddhist Heritage by all peoples of Sri Lanka.

    2) A genericized culture where minorities uphold the financial structure of the land away from the Sinhala Buddhist masses (with some attempt to incorporate them).

    You must formulate a set of procedures with how to proceed with the best option.

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