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Cultural empathy - a bridge over troubled water

| by Victor Cherubim

( July 21, 2013, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) The CHOGM in Sri Lanka later this year and the role President Mahinda Rajapaksa will play as Chairman of this august body over the next two years, is watched with eager interest everywhere. Doubtless, it can and will create a springboard for Sri Lanka to showcase our talents, let alone our business legacy to the Commonwealth and the world.

The cost of this legacy is estimated approximately at Rs.1.96 billion. Unlike the London Olympics which cost £8.9 billion and they were able to recoup nearly £10 billion with a bonus of an additional £20 billion yielding in 2020, our effort to make it a success story could nowhere match London. But be that as it may, it would certainly be an appreciable sum though not quantified at present. Needless to state, cost overruns are a common feature and needs scrutiny in order not to burn our bridges.

As we once were the most literate country in the sub continent and as we once again are accepted as a respected member of the community of nations, it is up to us to prove our self worth.

We will of course, bring out our true abilities and sidetrack our nightmares and what went haywire over the past thirty years of civil strife.

We are thus slowly but surely learning from our painful losses of the past. We already witness a sea change, both in the way the Government and the parties of the Opposition, are trying hard to let bygones be bygones. We are inching our way to take some pride in our nation and especially in common sense, as sanity prevails.

It is refreshing to say the least, for President Rajapaksa to meet the people, particularly the ordinary and the clergy of Mannar recently, at Temple Trees. It is the hope of the TNA’s Chief Ministerial candidate, former Supreme Court Justice, C.V.Vigneswaran, that a solution based on trust would make headway possible. It is becoming even clear that people are venturing to speak out on the national question, the right of worship for Muslims and Christians according to their tenets. There are assurances that accreditation of foreign media for CHOGM is according to the laid down terms of reference and criteria of the Commonwealth Secretariat.

The above are green shoots of tolerance which is the essence of Buddhism. We can sense the value and importance of life, for all living creatures, in the purposes they serve, in the people they bring together, in our ideas and the way that we act, as we preserve our pristine glory and the collective memory of our civilisation. In a sense, or in essence, this is worthy of recognition.

Rebuilding pride in our nation

Let us leave that aside for a moment as we contemplate and focus on who we are as citizens of Sri Lanka and why we want to rebuild our nation.

Is it mainly to show our progress in four short years of development? Is it only to show how “reconciled” we hope to become as we try to reach the status of “the wonder of Asia”. As key decisions present themselves in the future – decisions which are not really choices between alternative options but are in reality choices based on who we really are, as a people, a people with a vision and a purpose.

How do we cross this bridge over troubled water?

We need a strategy for the future. We need to establish a system which we all have confidence in and rely on when times are tough again. We need a strategy for our troubled times, when we are not sure of the way ahead. At such times if we have a fall back system, we can move forward without fear. The aim of this strategy is not to gain competitive advantage but to develop an approach to continually create value for our well being.

One way we can overcome, is to be rooted in more than one culture. No one ethnicity is either superior or inferior to another. We have to be multi-lingual to reach this stage, as we to take on multi-tasking roles. As citizens of Sri Lanka we all are accountable for continually adjusting our cultural awareness and develop a curiosity of each other’s cultures. This cultural empathy will enable us to serve in any cultural frames of reference and communication modes.
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