'Dignity' and 'confidence' as key
on the current wave of lawlessness in Britain, an educationist
told a BBC interviewer a couple of days back that the dark
events had a lot to do with a lack of dignity among sections of
the young. Her lament, essentially, was that the British primary
and secondary school systems did not focus strongly on personal
dignity any more and this accounted for the wild behaviour among
some youngsters of the land. She argued that if the young were
instructed and guided consistently into acting with a sense of
responsibility, which is central to personal dignity, Britain
would not have been compelled to witness the present revolting
and shaming happenings.
This is a highly insightful way, we believe, of looking at
Britain's current torments. It is very rarely that troubled
publics admit responsibility for the afflictions that visit
them. Most often than not polities point accusing fingers at
anybody or anything located outside themselves for incidents of
a particularly disturbing nature. It is encouraging that the
British educationist in question is an exception to this rule
and a very exemplary one at that.
It is essential that societies learn to turn the searchlight
of discernment inward, to their hearts and minds, to find out
where they are going wrong instead of locating the source of
their troubles and miseries in some external sphere, which
approach has the effect of absolving themselves of the blame for
the ills that befall them. Such attitudes, in fact, smack
strongly of emotional immaturity. 'Character is destiny' and
this holds for collectivities too. Values are responsible for
character-building and this is lost sight of by most societies.
Britain, however, is searching its soul, and this is the right
way to go.
Another value-laden and striking word, that was brought into
public discourse recently, thanks to Professor Rajiva Wijesinha
MP, was 'confidence.' Participating in the Emergency debate some
days back, Prof. Wijesinha, among other things, pointed to the
importance of the government and the TNA cultivating and
sustaining confidence in each other in the course of
deliberating their way to an understanding on ending the
conflict peacefully. Rather than highlight the negatives, the
local polity should focus on and build on the positives that are
coming out of these bilateral talks, Prof. Wijesinha pointed
We are glad that a few voices among us are recalling the
minds of the public to the need to base their thinking and
actions on core values, such as dignity, trust and confidence,
which would ultimately determine the state of our nations. It
would not do for the older Sri Lankans, in particular, to
constantly and nostalgically dwell on times past when public
discourse was based on civilized restraint and social graces.
Public discourse in Sri Lanka has progressively lost this moral
flavour and this no-one could question but the task before
polities, such as ours, is to bring moral values right back to
the heart of public life and discourse and this has to be done
collectively and unitedly.
It could not be emphasized enough that local politics have
suffered steady degeneration as a result of this moral dimension
having been lost sight of by our political and public actors.
While public discussion and deliberations have to be value-based
to prove meaningful, political action and policy making should
be guided by a profound sense of values too.
As we see it, our political community has to choose between
Machiavelli and Plato. This is particularly true on the issue of
bringing about a fair and durable settlement to our conflict.
Unfortunately, Machiavelli more than Plato, seems to have been
the model for many a local political actor. It is the spirit of
Machiavelli that ensured the undermining of peace deliberations
in the past and which brought about the undoing of peace accords
which had been almost wrapped up between the main parties. It
was Machiavellian cunning, for instance, that underlay the
political opportunism which precipitated the collapse of the
Bandaranaike-Chelvanayagam pact and the Dudley-Chalvanayagam
pact of the fifties and sixties, for instance.
The dire result of such value-neutral or amoral politics, to
say the least, was the wasting 30-year war which claimed nearly
100,000 lives. At this juncture, all relevant parties need to
remember that we need to hold on tight to the lessons of
history, lest the costly blunders of the past are committed all
over again. In contrast to Machiavelli, Plato advocated
value-based political and public action which brings harmony
rather than divisions to societies. The Parliamentary Select
Committee process gives Sri Lanka an invaluable opportunity to
put right all that has gone wrong within it over the decades.
Hopefully, ideals rather crass opportunism would determine this