30 May, 2024


Detox Devolution

By Ratna Bala

Dr Ratna Bala

Dr Ratna Bala

Sri Lanka was fortunate to have a decent democracy, in spite of its deficiencies, for a long period compare to many countries in the world. Unfortunately instead of improving it qualitatively and quantitatively we have paved the way to twist in so many ways to give it a distorted demonised dimension. Political magicians with their word and deeds performed a brilliant display to deceive people to fulfil their greed for power and wealth. This has caused our country countless death and destruction for many years. We were blinded to grasp the reality and followed them spell bounded by their pipe piper magic. The cold war scenario complemented its upheavals. Rest is history.

Better Future

Last 30 years several seminars have been conducted and many books have been published about devolution of powers in Sri Lanka. Exemplary devolutionary models in various parts of the world have been vividly explained and explored. Now, to bear the fruit of these efforts, we have at last initiated the process to construct a meaningful new constitution to represent the aspirations of all citizens of Sri Lanka. There is big hope with enthusiasm among people to contribute to this process. They believe that a new constitution will ensure greater happiness, peace and prosperity to all and will guarantee equality among its citizens and communities by mutually respecting their interests, identity, traditions, religions and cultures. They hope this would give new beginning to their country, put various bitter experiences of the past behind and enthrone political, economic and cultural equality of all communities. They honestly wish with all their hearts equality will be given utmost respect in all state’s affairs by this constitution. Reconciliation will take a big leap forward with compassionate caring constitution.

Mind The Gap – Mindset

To make this a successful story we should honestly embark on this journey with commitment and compassion. For many of us our political history and bitter experiences of the past had framed our mind-set to be hardened and fixed with negative thoughts and beliefs. With this mindset who can make any compassionate compromise?tamils-missing-3-630x350

Studies in psychology reveal how our mind-set can influence our thoughts, beliefs and actions. Different mind-sets could divert us down different set of roads as one thing can lead to another differently in different mind-sets.

We all are capable of getting influenced, trained and nurtured to adopt two different types of mindsets: Fixed mind-set, Growth mind-set.

Our mind-set can derail our sincere efforts without our knowledge. Changing our mind-set may be the initial essential ingredient to conceive a compassionate caring constitution and meaningful reconciliation process.

With fixed mind-set we tend to believe and act as qualities of people such as beliefs, behaviour, intelligence and characters are carved in stone. Fixed mind-set consumes our efforts to prove ourselves over and over and concern more with how we’ll be judged. With this mind-set we develop an inability to accept accurate information as they contradict and disprove our beliefs. We could only think of few choices and refuse any change.

With growth mind-set we believe human qualities can be changed and cultivated with effort. Growth mind-set make you concerned with improving, keen on learning and open to know the accurate information. We’ll stretch ourselves to find a solution and accept change. With growth mind-set we understand each other’s needs and necessity in working through the inevitable differences to find better choices.

Without realising the influence of mind-set one can easily succumb to the distorting effect of fixed mind-set and will be unable to have the courage to face the challenged ahead to make bold decisions.

Mind-set can be changed. We can learn and motivate us to be in growth mind-set. Then, instead of trying to prove or judge constantly, we’ll be able to focus and find many choices available to us. We can work together to find a way forward in a constructive manner. Growth mind-set give us resolve to respect others views and beliefs. It encourages us to stretch our limits for compassion rather than confrontation.

Empathy Erosion

Even in growth mind-set with genuine commitment for change and avoiding the urge to prove as we are right and judge others as they are wrong, we need to have empathy to feel or understand others feelings and grievances. Without empathy one is imprisoned in self focus and solely concern about his own emotions with pre-occupation of his own entitlements.

Empathy occurs when we suspend our single-minded focus of attention (one spot light shining on our own interests) to double-minded focus of attention (with second spot light shining on someone else’s interest). Empathy is our ability to identify what someone else is thinking or feeling and to respond to their thoughts and feelings with an appropriate emotion.

Empathy has two separate stages: Recognition and Response. Recognition alone does not mean empathy. Empathy is not all or none (on or off switch) phenomenon. It has a quantitative scale (dimmer control switch). Empathy described to have seven levels. At level zero individual has no empathy at all and at level six has remarkable empathy being always aware of others concerns.

Although every individual belong to one level of empathy their level of empathy can fluctuate to different levels transiently. Empathy erosion may occur because of bitter resentment, desire for revenge, blind hatred or desire to protect. It can also be eroded due to certain beliefs, goals, intentions, of fear, obedience to authority, and wanting to conform to a group. Empathy erosions in these situations are transient and reversible. Empathy erosion may be a result of permanent psychological characteristics.

With low level of empathy we devalue others into mere objects. We may think in I –it mode of being instead of normal I –YOU mode of being. At level zero some people are capable of committing serious crimes, including murder, torture and rape

Empathy make other person feel valued, heard and his dignity respected. With empathy we will consider how everything we say and do affect others. We’ll be more considerate to avoid any misunderstandings and compassionate to avoid any offence by being aware of how it will hurt them. Above all we’ll have courage to find solutions with compassionate compromise to issues which are otherwise will remain unresolved. Because we feel our thoughts and actions do not have an intention to hurt others does not mean that they are perceived by the others same way.

What others say or do not always have the same intention as what we feel of them. Only with empathy we can be aware how our interactions influence each other. Eempathy enable us to avoid deleterious statements and actions and give us determination to promote comfort and co-operation to improve relationship.

Small Step – Big Step 

Every word and action to promote growth mind-set and high level of empathy help us to agree together to produce a compassionate caring constitution and reconciliation process to unite our people to make all feel Sri Lankan in their soul and sprit. We would avoid sowing seeds of separation and harvesting hatred. We could be vigilant to be aware of our responsibility to avoid empathy erosion by all means. With high level of empathy we can cultivate co-operation for issues which still remain in deadlock to thaw very rapidly. Humble hearts of ordinary people, most beautiful and valuable of all Sri Lankan treasures, could find peace and happiness soon.

Reference source books:
Mind-set :The new psychology of success by Carol S Dweck, Ph.D
Zero degrees of Empathy : A new theory of human cruelty and kindness Simon Baron-Cohen

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Latest comments

  • 0

    @Andrew Pitugala, thank you – CT

  • 5

    Dr.Ratna Bala.

    With no offence to you.Besides,I am no psychologist.

    If a survey is undertaken in Srilanka and around 90% are found to have a Growth
    mind-set,then Srilanka can be renamed as the Democratic Socialist Republic of UTOPIA.
    However,if around 90% are found to have a Fixed mind-set[most probably] then we remain as Srilanka-A land like no other!

  • 6

    Dr.Ratna Bala,

    A sensible message founded in science.Thanks. I hope this wise message is understood by the people who matter in our affairs. We cannot move forwards if we keep turning our heads to dwell in the past. We have to take the risk to charter an yet unknown, but alluring territory that beckons us. History is meant to teach us lessons and not become the albatross around our necks. We have learn to trust to be trusted. We have to learn to forgive, to be forgiven. We have to acknowledge our mistakes, for others to do so too. We have let nature heal us, without constantly trying to make old wounds heal. We have to forsake rhetoric and talk sense. We have to feel the pain of those who suffered and are suffering yet and not burden them with the possibility of more pain.

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

  • 5

    Ratna Bala,
    Beautifully conveyed the right message.
    While reading it my memories went back to the pre 1965 LSSP days listening to NM, Colvin,Edwin,Bernard, Vivien ,Leslie and the likes of the pre 1965 old reds.


    Your suggestion of survey is a brilliant idea.But who should be the full participants ?
    I believe it shouldn’t be all the citizens. I will go for the PANCHA TOXIC HADAYOS. That means the participants must come from the following groups or categories and made compulsory :
    1. All the political candidates, MPs,Ministers, past and present including the nominated ones.
    2.All the Priests from all the religions in SL
    3. All the Senior cadres from the Police , Army, Navy & Airforce. Past &present.
    4. All the senior Civil Servants.
    5. All the local government members /candidates past and present.

    After such a survey we can identify who are the kaala kanni , empathise with them and put them in quarantines and detox them with compassion.

    This way I see a bright future for SL.

  • 4

    “Sri Lanka was fortunate to have a decent democracy, in spite of its deficiencies, for a long period compare to many countries in the world.”

    1948 Citizenship Act.
    1974 Constitution.
    1978 Executive presidency.
    1977-1989 electoral fraud and intimidation on a massive scale. The pattern is not quite over yet.

    Media bias and interference in electoral campaigns (especially the Lake House mischief from 1947 to 1972 in one way and after 1972 in another.
    The growing role of the underworld after 1977.

    This is just a little part of the saga.

    If we were fortunate to have such decent democracy, I think that we should give misfortune a fair chance.

    I do not have much faith in ‘relative merit’.
    Let us not confuse he existence of an electoral process with democracy itself.

  • 4

    Ratna Bala,
    It is very interesting scientific approach to resolve problems. In Sri Lanka, six decades of democracy developed a fixed mind sets among Sinhalese and Tamils. This is brought by Political leaders of both Sinhalese and Tamils and the religious leaders of Sinhalese. Both Political and Relegious leadership of Sinhalese seeded a mindset among Sinhalese people that this island belongs to Buddhist Sinhalese only. If you want to change the fixed mindset of Sinhalese people through Empathy it can happen only by the same Political and Religious leadership. First the laedership should change themselves and encourage people to change from fixed mindset to growth mind set. Similar change also should happen among Tamils.

  • 2

    Thanks Dr. Bala. What you say is not very different from Lord Buddha’s teaching on the importance of the mind over all other aspects of life.

    When I hear anger from another, I try to find a way to find empathy – sometimes it’s very difficult. When I hear people bashing the Sinhalese and the Buddhists, I try to put my self in their shoes to see things as they see/saw them.

    One strategy that has helped me is to think about what a Tamil child in Colombo must have felt in 83 – when I myself was a mere 10 years old.

    I imagine a child cowering under a bed in fear, or a child crying for his or her mother as a mob gathers outside their house. I think of our Tamil family friend who hid in a pit with her 1-year-old (her Sinhala neighbours were the ones who helped her hide), as the mob went down the street. I think of the poor refugees housed in my school buildings – 15 square feet for a family of 5-6, and I smell the foul odour of the open-pit latrines they had to use. Finally I think of myself as a 10-year old hiding under my bed in Colombo, as my dad was forced to join the men on the neighbourhood to guard the street junction, upon a rumour that the “Tigers were coming”. I know I was lucky because the Tigers never came.

    But I also know many Tamil, Muslim and some Sinhala people in the North and East were not as lucky as me. I grieve for them, and from that grief I hope to find strength to fight the battle of virtue against all those ultra-nationalists who want nothing but power and priviledges, while stoking the embers to generate another bloodbath in the future.

  • 2

    It is really thought provoking article. Whoever wants to analyse the political process, these are the basic elements must come to our minds. SriLanka is in a transitional stage. Present constitution created havoc in ordinary citizens lives. When they introduced in 1978, main emphasis on economy like Singapore model but its gone opposite. Constitution-making is a balancing act between the interest groups. When they finalise the draft, that means the forces attained the equilibrium. During the Mahinda period that balance is collapsed due to the dominant of nationalist forces. Now it is regained and trying to bring back to new equilibrium. This is what Dr. Bala’s main thrust of the argument. He must write more intensively to provoke more thoughts.

  • 3

    Well stated Doc.

    The problem is that those with fixed mindsets far outnumber those with growth mindsets and this could be changed only through sensible educational policies and through religious leaders.

    One small example of the dearth of “consideration” and “empathy” from the religious fraternity is the inconsiderate blaring of loudspeakers from places of religious worship.

    So with examples of these inconsiderate entities, who should be examples of the teachings of Buddha, Christ, etc, how can we expect our children to be guided to be empathetic?

    Our political leaders, above all, would do well to cultivate empathy and growth mindsets, but that would be well nigh impossible!

  • 1

    Well said old sport. What you say concerning the adaptability and malleability of the mind is substantiated by the research regarding neuroplasticity and epigenetics, with the mind far more amenable to self-willed change than previously understood. Keep up the good fight; let’s make SL great again

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