Multi-cultural Reflections for the Nation at Yuletide — Present Past and Future

Renton de Alwis, from the Daily News where it deployed a different title

This Christmas season was indeed somewhat different. With the global financial crisis still looming and several more countries becoming unstable with battles for supremacy of ownership of resources, it certainly had a more distinct ‘back to basics’ flavour about it. We heard Pope Benedict XVI in his message on Christmas’ eve, call on humankind not to be lost in ‘superficial glitter’. “Let us strip away our fixation on what is material, on what can be measured and grasped. Let us allow ourselves to be made simple by the God who reveals himself to the simple of heart,” said the leader of 1.3 billion Catholics of the world.

Strive for justice: The Archbishops of Canterbury and York, both told British Christians that there is too much greed around. “Bonds have been broken, trust abused and lost. Whether it is an urban rioter mindlessly burning down a small shop that serves his community, or a speculator turning his back on the question of who bears the ultimate cost for his acquisitive adventures in the virtual reality of today’s financial world, the picture is of atoms spinning apart in the dark”, said Archbishop Rowan Williams.

“My message to you this Christmas is straightforward: remember those who have very little and bless them with whatever you can give – time and tenderness can be as important as presents. Where there is vulnerability, offer support and encouragement. Where there is unfairness, strive for justice. Let’s keep Christmas simple this year and look for inspiration from the example set by God’s beloved Son, Jesus Christ”, said Archbishop of York Dr. John Sentamu in a message to the media.

Reconciliation: In Sri Lanka, the Archbishop of Colombo Malcom Cardinal Ranjith through a message released by the Catholic Bishops Conference reminded that “we live in a country where true and lasting peace is yet to be a reality. Therefore, our celebration of Christmas in the post-war context of Sri Lanka places before us its distinctive challenges. It reminds us that life is always God’s unique gift to all of us. We need to continue to acquire a new appraisal of the gift of life itself that goes beyond all man-made differences of caste, creed or race. Christmas reminds us of the deep respect that we owe to one another and of our great need for unity and reconciliation.”

Undesirable happening: The Christmas week here in Sri Lanka saw another undesirable happening. On Christmas’ eve, at a tourist hotel in Tangalle, a British tourist was allegedly slain during a brawl, using an automatic weapon. A certain smear on the message of peace through tourism. It makes it even more significant for it happened in an area that was badly bruised by the tsunami of 2004; the seventh anniversary of which was to be commemorated just a day after.

Such incidents tell us that all is not well in our midst. This particular incident could be attributed to be a happening where ‘superficial glitter’ had overridden the much touted warmth and friendliness of our people. Abuse of alcohol, lust, power and greed and non adherence of basic precepts of religion were perhaps the contributory factors. These were not terrorists that did it to hurt our tourism but our own, whose ethos should have not allowed them to behave in such violent manner. Although it may go down in annals of history, as another unfortunate incident, the damage such does to the very psyche of our nation must not be ignored.

A new light:  This takes us to the need we have as a nation to look ahead towards the New Year in a new light. The resolve of our leadership should be to end the evils of money-power and greed-based politics, bribery and corruption in all spheres of our socio-political life, abuse of drugs and alcoholic substances, lack of meritocracy, insufficient enforcement of the rule of law and social structures and environments that assist create anti-social behaviour and elements. Creating more glitzy television stations, publishing more flashy newspapers and magazines, organising more and more fashion pageants, beauty contests and noisy musical shows, organising fuel guzzling wasteful fast-car races and the like, will certainly not be the way towards our achieving a desired state of sustainable living. We will need to take an honest and sincere look at who we are and what we are as a nation and the nature of the relationship we have with Mother Nature. We will need to focus on our own ethos and culture in our attempt at achieving the status of being a wonder among nations.

Hearts and minds: While there are genuine attempts made to move our nation towards winning the development war, there are many other counter movements, issues and factors that often go unnoticed or are ignored by those in charge that pull us back. Unless careful attention is paid to these negatives, there is always the danger that they can undermine the positive efforts eroding the confidence, the great majority of the people have in the leadership and its style of governance.

We cannot live in a world of make believe that all is well, for it is not. Political and other manoeuvring can and will only serve short-term goals. In the longer term capturing and entering the hearts and minds of a vast majority of the people calls for genuine attempts at establishing justice, fair play and solid action based on integrity.

Solid determination: The President and his team worked with solid determination to end the long drawn war on terrorism and we should all be extremely grateful for the leadership and resolve he and his team had, in bringing us out of that misery.

Now it is a different war that has to be fought and much of it has to do with looking inward at our own society and our ways. We sometimes may get lost in the development war we are fighting on the economic front and in guarding ourselves from separatist elements abroad and forget that there is an even bigger war we need to fight, in winning and reigning the hearts and minds of people.

We indeed have the tools needed to fight that war in the teachings of the Buddha, Jesus Christ and in Islamic thought. The rich mix of cultures we have in our Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, Burgher, Malay and Adi Vasi ways should give us adequate material to move in the right direction without getting lost in the ‘superficial glitter’ of it all. We can then move away from the ‘fixation we have of what is material’, to a state that will be far more rewarding and fulfilling for all of us as a nation, as well as citizens of Mother Earth.

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