23 April, 2024


Some Thoughts On Our Cultural Values & National Harmony

By Lionel Bopage

Dr. Lionel Bopage

Dr. Lionel Bopage

I recognise, respect, appreciate and congratulate the valuable work done by many including those of Sri Lanka Invites. Several other organisations that promote rights, freedoms and development efforts needed for building social cohesion and harmony, have been supportive of this event. National Harmony Day in Melbourne is an occasion for celebration. At the same time, it needs to be a serious time to reflect, to remember. Why? Because this harmony day celebration itself is a response to the discord that is rooted among us, both in Sri Lanka and in the Diaspora. We need to ask ourselves the question, if we wish to continue with this discord that led to periods of our infamy.

Each of us has been brought up in a certain socio-economic and political environment. Each of us has a certain cultural identity, of which we are proud. Yet, this proudness should be not enjoyed at the expense of the other. We need to recognise, respect and appreciate the fact that others also have their own proud cultural identities. Each person needs space to claim his or her identity without being subject to discrimination. That is why fundamental rights and freedoms are necessary. Each of us needs to become aware that irrespective of ethnicity, language, gender and faith, we are all citizens of a larger community, Sri Lankan or Australian.

LoveA civilised society cannot and should not celebrate barbarian values. We need to be able to respect the ethnicity, language and faith of others, even if we may disagree with their beliefs. At the same time, certain beliefs or practices may not be immune from scrutiny. If certain beliefs and practices breach our common values and laws, then such beliefs and practices need to be repudiated and criticised. However, this is totally different from vilification of or inflamed animosity towards an ethnicity, language and faith of another person or community group.

Yet, our own upbringing has inculcated in us, bias and prejudice against ‘the other’ in one form or another. Racism not only diminishes the freedom of the other, but also diminishes our own freedoms. It also diminishes the social cohesion and harmony in a diverse society like Australia or Sri Lanka. We need to work towards building harmony amongst ourselves both in Sri Lanka and in the diaspora. In any good musical composition, the musical instrumentalists and singers harmonise diverse pitch ranges of sound. This is broadly analogous to the multicultural harmony we enjoy here in Australia. Despite the colonial past of massacres in Australia, we have been able to live together in relative harmony. We, from many diverse cultures around the world, peacefully coexist with one of the oldest cultures of the world, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Many parts of the world have progressed in matters dealing with racial, gender, religious and linguistic superiority. Ernest Mandela was once identified as a terrorist; but when he died the whole world mourned irrespective of their race, language and faith. The US has a black president, and probably, a woman could become the next president. Racial superiority has become an anathema. None of us want to sanction racial discrimination, or to be identified as racist. Despite many issues remaining to be resolved, social stability and cohesion in Australia has been great. This is a result of the openness, generousness and recognition offered by the many in the wider Australian community.

We cannot forget that Australia also went through phases of assimilation. Many migrants were supposed to throw out their heritage and culture, and ignore the social and economic disadvantage that prevailed among new migrants. The Australian multicultural policy framework came into being in the early 1970s, as a response to this deficient process of assimilation. We came to increasingly recognise, accept, and appreciate the opportunities that could be made use of cultural diversity for the benefit of Australia. Then onwards, any “discrimination, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin” became unlawful and an anathema to many of us. This was crucial in building the Australian nation. So, we need to express our cultural identity within the limits of the Australian rule of law, its parliamentary democracy and equality and freedoms this entails. This is the crux of the matter: harmony of rights and responsibilities, the culture and citizenship, the freedom and friendship, the thought and deed, and the values and the law

We are at a crucial time for dialogue among ourselves. For us to contribute towards a better Sri Lanka, and a better diaspora, we need to exert our efforts to meet the challenge and build social harmony and cohesion. We needed to be guided by what we have in common in recognising and celebrating our diversity. At times of social division, we can and need to return appropriately to the values and characteristics that unite us. Maintaining social harmony essentially requires us to be tolerant, so that we do not slide into discord, division and infamy. This may at times need standing up to hatred and bigotry. Aspiration of harmony is central to human rights. We are entitled to enjoy our basic freedoms. All of us, whatever our race, ethnicity, language, gender or faith is, we should be able to live our lives with an assurance that we are safe and treated fairly as equals. For us to live harmoniously, we need to stand in solidarity with each other.

The Buddhist Pali Canon offers a prescription on ethics, conflict resolution, and social harmony. This is of practical appeal to Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike. According to Dhamma, a peaceful harmonious society can emerge when people adopt wholesome standards of conduct such as right speech, right action, and right livelihood. In terms of right speech, the Buddha emphasised the importance of establishing a gentle and compassionate attitude when interacting with others. Likewise, I believe, the Christian, Islamic and other faiths also embody similar social harmony principles that could become the basis for inter-faith dialogue.

For example, Pope Francis once observed individuals, families and societies progress only via the culture of encounter. In this process of encounter, all have something good to give and all can receive something good in return. For this to occur, we need to approach the other in a spirit of openness and without prejudice. This social humility favours dialogue. Today, we need to take the risk of dialogue and the risk the culture of encounter, or we all will fall again; this will be the only path that will bear fruit. Harmony does not happen in an effortless environment. Indeed, we must all continually work to ensure that our lives together involve a culture of encounter. All of us must be humble enough to take the risk of dialogue, and recognise that we as a collective can do better.

We need to contribute towards reconciliation among ourselves, to win peace among ourselves; and to work to prevent a recurrence of violence. At the same time, this is about people’s lives, their survival, their well-being, their dignity, their opportunities, their living standards. So, reconciliation, peace building and development need to go hand in hand. One cannot happen without the other. Yet, this cannot happen unless we acquire the values that tolerates, recognises, respects and appreciates the cultural differences of the other.

We in the diaspora need to be able to do the right thing by our people, both in Sri Lanka and in the diaspora, for the sake of generating and harvesting the great destiny that we could leave for our future generations!

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Latest comments

  • 4

    Every person should have absolute freedom and free access to the independent square with no restriction whatsoever, as long as the conduct and behaviour of any such person is not harmful to the society at large.

  • 5

    I am a Ceylonese born during the time Ceylon was British, and English was the preferred language of Good Education.

    We did not Separate ourselves in School and in the wider Community, into Categories such as Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim, Burgher etc.

    We were all Ceylonese and Proud to be so!

    It was with dismay that we saw our children being Separated into Sinhala and Tamil Streams, the Muslims and Burghers being given the option of Education in English, with either Lower Sinhalese or Lower Tamil, as a second language.

    That Separation by Language resulted in the Predicament that Sri Lanka is in Now!

    • 0

      “We did not Separate ourselves in School and in the wider Community, into Categories such as Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim, Burgher etc.” — Hamlet

      “We the sacred few percent” did, however, separated “Ourselves” from the rest of the population.

      “We (who) did not Separate ourselves in School and in the wider Community” passed laws and directed acts that divided and discriminated.

      The less educated Sinhalese or Tamil or Muslim did not declare his/her pride of being Ceylonese. But, to this day, spared the land of the kind of communal venom that the learned lot dished out.

      • 1

        “We the sacred few percent did, however, separated “Ourselves” from the rest of the population.”:-

        You may have been in that ‘Sacred few percent’, who separated themselves from the rest of the Population.

        I am not one of them, and did not agree what the Politicians did in 1956, and thereafter.

        We must not Lock ourselves to our Pride in Past Glories, but use Singapore as an Example, and move Forward to Build a Modern Sri Lanka which Accepts all Races, Languages, Religions, and Castes, and Makes use of the Knowledge and Expertise that every Citizen can Provide.

  • 6

    Acceptance and tolerance of what is different are key words in a world that is globalizing in terms of people and cultures. Sri Lanka, as a country that has been home to diverse people, diverse cultures and diverse religions for thousands of years should become an example to the world. This article is opportune at this point in time we are embarking on the journey to make a new constitution.

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

  • 0

    Is it rocket science to understand that the very bogey man of current day ‘national harmony’ was the creation of a decadent mindset? The likes of the writer who aspires to imitate that mindset are pathetically deplorable.

  • 0

    Bopage said ‘civil society we should not celebrate barbarian values” what does he mean “barbarian values”? Anarchist turn Bopage of ex-JVP leading carder at present moment he must retreat and avoid battle for new civilization.

    Well Bopage of ‘leftist of JVP’ dare not contradict this shooting ‘not celebrate values’ and shoot into air; indeed determined by US led monopoly class international policy of Imperialism..

    History of Bopage ‘s that JVP politics has been proved this is deceiving the people. If Bopage you want to fight now ,say so openly. If you want don’t wish retreat now say openly. Otherwise in your objective role you are tool of US hegemonic provocation.
    We do not recognise celebrate ‘barbarian values’ any other point of view.

    If we war is wage against by “barbarian values” by exploiting class with objective of strengthening, its bourgeoisie rule as class, such action war is unjust cause.

    In fact such act of promoting ‘barbarian values’ is a criminal war, such action is a betrayal of socialism.

    The very person like Bopage roots goes to petty bourgeoisie an opposed every kind of state interference accounting and control ,wether it be state capitalism or state socialism.

    The roots of ex-JVP-Bopage economic-political mistake is that they have failed to understand the profiteer, the commercial racketeers and the disrupter of monopoly -these are one of the main enemy people of Sri lanakn society.

    Today Bopage the purely rhetorical attitude to this question ‘barbarian values’ assumed by ex-JVP can rouse nothing but disgust and revulsion in every politically conscious revolutionary.

    We know that millions tentacles of “values of barbarian” of this petty bourgeoisie hydra of Bopage now again encircle various section of masses of people ,that instead of US monopoly profiteering forces ,its way into every pore of ours social political and economic organism.

  • 1

    Will those who call themselves, civilized and condemn what they see as barbaric dare climb on their roof tops and call for a country proclaiming Liberty Equality and Fraternity? We miss a lot as these core ethics of a free Nation irrespective of race, Religion Caste or Creed is long lost and not to be seen again.

    The Island of Sri Lanka is no more Ceylon or Serendeep of the glorious past. We have gone far deep into the times of Jungle and do not deserve to be called Humans of the 21st Century. Though it is a very very sad fact yet it is the stark truth.

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