My father once shared with me a story about an economic crisis that occurred in Sri Lanka during Sirimavo Bandaranayake’s time as Prime Minister in the 1970s. Although I wasn’t born then, I can envision how challenging life must have been for my parents and grandparents because we are currently facing a similar, if not more severe, situation owing to the former Rajapaksa administration. Our challenges today include restrictions on imports, shortages of consumer goods, rising living costs, increased tax rates, a brain drain, and issues with the Wickremasinghe Administration targeting the EPF and ETF for debt restructuring. However, I don’t aim to compare these administrations or the situations that arose during their respective tenures. Instead, I want to highlight the role of a true Sri Lankan who contributes positively to our nation during this period of economic crisis.
A True Sri Lankan Helps the Needy
Nothing manifested the current economic crisis in our nation today as much as the ordinary citizens who waited in long queues in the scorching heat, to buy essentials such as domestic gas, fuel, and kerosene. According to the media, at least five elderly people who stood in these queues have died owing to exposure to heat and dehydration [Source: EconomyNext]. Many people were seen cursing the rulers while the opposition political parties were busy organizing protest marches against the ruling party. As true Sri Lankans with a sense of responsibility what is the best course of action we can take except protesting and cursing?
I understand the government is being insensitive to our suffering, but this is not the time for expressing our anger and frustration. I believe this is an opportunity to help the needy among us. You might ask, “How can I help the needy when I am in need myself?” Did you know that Gautama Buddha said, “Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle?” Whether your efforts are big or small doesn’t matter because even the smallest act of kindness can make a huge difference in the long run. Remember, you don’t need to be wealthy to help someone in need. Given below are two ways I help the needy myself.
I used to purchase certain products at the supermarket, but now I buy them from street vendors instead. I’m not that concerned about the quality because the products are generally the same, and sometimes even cheaper. While sitting in traffic, I often encounter street vendors selling things like incense sticks and children’s books. Although I don’t personally use these items, I still buy them and later give them to someone who does. It may not seem like much, but it makes a positive impact on one person in society, encouraging them to continue trying instead of resorting to illegal means of income.
A True Sri Lankan Protects the Unity
A viral social media post featured a picture of a malnourished child with the caption “ඇත්තෝ කති බොති! නැත්තෝ හූල්ලති!” (The rich eat and drink while the poor starve to death!) Another post stated, “ඇත්තෝ විදෙස් ගත වෙති. නැත්තෝ දිවංගත වෙති” (The rich immigrate while the poor die). I don’t want to ignore the reality here. There is some truth in these social media posts. However, it’s essential to remember that not all truths are helpful or constructive. While these posts might depict a truth, they have the potential to create division between “නැති බැරි සහ “ඇති හැකි” (those who lack and cannot versus those who have and are capable) and foster hatred towards those who have more means.
During Sri Lanka’s colonial era under British rule, foreign governors employed a strategy of “divide and rule” to maintain control. They implemented divisions along ethnic lines, a tactic that continued to be adopted by our politicians even after gaining independence. Subsequently, they divided the population along religious lines. Today, as people have become less receptive to these divisions, there is an attempt to segregate us based on those who lack resources and opportunities versus those who possess them. It’s important to recognize that economic crises are typically temporary challenges, but the enduring consequences of hatred and divisions can persist for generations.
The JVP insurrections for example were the direct consequences of dividing a nation by having and having not. The government crushed these insurrections successfully but the instability they caused slipped the nation into three decades of a civil war. The war was so destructive that we still don’t have accurate stats about the loss of life and casualties. Unity is of utmost importance for the survival of any nation. Therefore, let us do everything in our ability to protect the unity because that’s what a responsible Sri Lankan will do.
A True Sri Lankan Protects the Peace
On 20th March a “tuk” driver stabbed a 29-year-old motorcyclist to death following a dispute at a fuel station in the Nittambuwa area [source: economynext]. The victim had already died when the onlookers rushed him to the hospital. People blamed and cursed the government for the incident, but can we always blame our rulers for everything? (We elect our rulers after all.) This death could have been avoided had the parties involved behaved responsibly and considered resolving the issue peacefully.
That murder indicates how incapable we are of resolving our conflicts of interests peacefully like human beings. Yes, times are tough, but it cannot excuse savage-like behavior. St. Paul once said this. “Don’t be envious or arrogant; instead, be humble and think of others as more important than yourself.” Had those men thought of each other as more important than themselves, the man who got murdered would still be alive and the other would not have become a murderer.
The late Mother Theresa once said, “Peace begins with a smile”. If we want to be responsible Sri Lankans who protect the peace, we must start treating others with respect even if they treat us with disrespect. That will help them smile and with that smile, peace will begin to reign in the hearts and minds of people. Tit for tat doesn’t inspire peace. It transpires more violence. Starting today think of the other person as more important than yourself because a responsible Sri Lankan sacrifices his comfort and convenience to protect the peace.
In the face of these challenging and uncertain times, we must turn to the profound insights of our esteemed cultural and spiritual leaders. Their wisdom serves as a guiding light, inspiring us to extend our hands to the less fortunate, cultivate a profound sense of unity among our diverse communities, and passionately advocate for enduring peace. In doing so, we collectively chart a course that propels Sri Lanka towards a future illuminated by hope and prosperity. It is incumbent upon every one of us, as responsible citizens, to recognize the pivotal role we play in shaping the destiny of our nation. In our unwavering commitment to these ideals, we demonstrate the true essence of being Sri Lankan, resiliently overcoming adversity, and jointly constructing a superior, secure, and harmonious tomorrow for every citizen in this beautiful land.
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