Colombo, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance

How high is our Social Esteem in Sri Lanka?

Our self esteem is central to our survival.  Yet, we do not value its importance as we face life’s challenges.  Self esteem, whether our own or others’, is strengthened or takes a beating, through the way people communicate with each other.  This communication is based on our power in relation to others.  So, the more hierarchical and controlling a system is, power is concentrated with a few people, chances are esteem of the people below is undermined.

What is good for people is also good for nations.   So, nation’s success also depends very much on its population’s collective self esteem, which is also called social esteem.

If we define esteem as the confidence in our right to be happy, feeling of being worthy, secure and the ability to think and cope with the basic challenges of life, we could measure it in many ways.

Whenever I travel to other countries, one way I measure this collective social esteem of that nation is by the way people treat each other on the roads, which is everyone’s common space.

If we use this same measure, how would Sri Lanka fare in its social esteem?

Reflect on it as you fight for your place on the road, be it as a pedestrian, cyclist or a driver.  It seems like ‘survival of the fittest’.   This struggle feeds on itself lowering our esteem and moving us towards selfishness.

The current state of Sri Lanka – fragmented, at war, power held and manipulated by a few, economically disadvantaged, over 75% of its people in poverty – all these lends itself to lowering self esteem for individuals and a collective poor social esteem.

This results in people feeling alone, not supported, not loved and as a reaction, the survival instinct makes people hard and selfish.  Further, half of Sri Lanka’s population lives on a government hand out through Samurdhi.  Dependence also kills our self worth and in turn our self esteem.

When a nation comes to this stage, it becomes difficult to develop as a whole as it loses site of a common goal.  It leaves many people behind and only a few with existing power and wealth gain.  The gap widens between the powerful and the powerless.

So, people become desperate.  Those who can, take the law into their own hands, just like a bus getting burned by the people when it has an accident in their area.  There is no consistency in upholding the law and justice.

This is such a pity as we are supposed to be a nation of Buddhists where justice, equanimity along with love and compassion for all beings are the main tenets.

It is also sad that as a nation we have allowed leaders to move away from the very values of Buddhist philosophy.  It is a shame to see the nation becoming hypocritical to the very basis of its Buddhist existence – becoming conscious of our superficial differences in race, religion, class.   We have to all hold ourselves accountable, as all this begins with self.

When we lose our values, we lose our social esteem.

Values and Social Esteem

Values define who we are, what we stand for and how we live.  Values define our highest ethical and moral aspirations for freedom, justice and equality.  Values are also crucial for our basic existence for food, clothing, safety and comfort.

Two words, ‘honesty’ and ‘respect’, usually finds its way into most ‘values statements’.

Social esteem is protected when there is honesty and integrity.  It is further enhanced where there is love and respect for each other.

As such, we need to inquire into what our values really are.  We need to write them down, discuss them with our children, friends and at the workplace.  This way we will bring it to the forefront of our minds.

Then we need to see whether we are governed and led according to these values.

We should ask;

  • Is there honesty and integrity in the way we are being governed ?
  • Is their respect for each other as fellow human beings in the way we are being led ?
  • How has this impacted on our social and self esteem ?
  • Am I contributing to protecting or eroding our values by the way I live ?

It is about time that these issues are discussed in our homes, schools and workplaces, as when we look around any successful nation, their success is a result is based on a sound system of values, ethics, justice and governance.  Then we see their people have a high self esteem leading to social esteem.  High esteem makes people winners in family, business and sports.

We see this stark contrast through the media and when we travel and lament – what has happened to our precious Lanka ?