From a No Confidence Motion to oust the Prime Minister, to a deep-rooted rift between President and Prime Minister, the swearing in of a new cabinet of ministers, religious and ethnic conflict, impunity, corruption and scores of other existent and possibly non-existent allegations, mistrust between the government and its people are at an all-time high in Sri Lanka.

Speaking to the Daily Mirror, following the recent Cabinet reshuffle, Deputy Minister Ranjan Ramanayake said, “I have not been engaged in corruption and had got only a deputy minister’s post, but I wonder whether the main qualification needed to get cabinet portfolios is engaging in corruption.”

The people have expectations. And such expectations rooted in desire and belief have always been shattered and abused by successive governments. Today the citizenry have very little or no confidence. Public trust is in the gutter.

Carrying Thoughts To Action

Of politics has Groucho Marx said, “Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.” Sadly today it seems like Sri Lankan politics is inundated by such diagnoses and remedies.

The agitation of the masses in Sri Lanka is not without cause. If there is anything that can go wrong, it does, despite the valiant efforts of many who to this day give their best for the country. Some have shunned politics. Others have left for greener pastures. Yet despite many citizens who appear to be in a perpetual state of disengagement and disenfranchisement, Sri Lanka has bounced back time and again.

If we had only paid heed to the words of Plato, “The common man must know that one of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors,” perhaps we would have all considered a new possibility in entering the arena of political life. This certainly would have given us greater insights and a deeper understanding of the trials and turbulence of political life and all that is political as well.

Whatever the outcome, the current status quo is untenable. There is no bond, trust or credible relationship between the people and the government. Most initiatives by the government are ridiculed and reduced as irrelevant by the vast majority of people. The cycle continues. This compromises the wellbeing of our nation. Between violence and vitriol, rancour and rebuttals, the universal energies of prosperity and good will are diminished and discounted.

My personal philosophy is that we must fight the good fight to ensure that the candidates who support our visions and values are elected. Once the election process is concluded, as citizens we must give our best to support the elected officials, irrespective of whether it is your preferred candidate or not.

It is true that not much progress has been made by the government on solving issues of corruption, impunity, misdeeds, the restoration of law and order and minority wellbeing. But the question we must ask as citizens is whether it has become a vocation or a pastime for us to blame and shame the government for everything? Or can we cultivate a healthy partnership with our government?

Your Current Reality Does Not Determine Your Future 

Most of the time we tend to judge our current reality from where we are. This is a huge mistake and shortcoming. Our current reality is that which has come to be as a result of what we have already created in the past. Our future realities will be that which we are creating in the present.

If you ask the questions as to what you want to create in the future and how you want to envision that world you are creating, you will know that we must become deliberate creators now. It is imperative therefore that we all go beyond articulating issues to seeing a problem and taking personal responsibility for fixing it.

Last month I was at a training for Public Leadership. Mary Gonzalez, now 78, who had trained US President Barack Obama as a community organiser referred to people who only articulated issues as those with Neutral Attitudes. She likened them to killers, casket makers and the burial directors. They she said, “Are not prepared to do a damn thing.”

I believe that just as much as we demand change and huge shifts from our government and leadership, we the citizenry must also do the same. In order to do that we must first be willing and able to change our paradigms.

Paradigms are patterns or assumptions as to the way things are. A repeated well-practiced thought becomes an assumption. The assumptions we focus on longest become the strongest.

Our ability to shift our way of thinking before the government can shift its way of doing is a paradigm shift. Our constant view is that “Let the government prove itself, then we will support it.” Can we shift our paradigms to “I will support the government and then enable the government to prove itself?”

Stephen Covey in his #1 National Bestseller – 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, teaches us that “Almost every significant breakthrough in society, in business, in scientific endeavour, and in progress is first a break with tradition, with old ways of thinking and with old paradigms.

A paradigm is our “map” of the “territory” formed through all in influences around us and in our lives – our conditioning. These paradigms are also the source of our attitudes and behaviour; we tend to think we see the world objectively, but we actually see the world not as it is, but as we are – or as we are conditioned to see it.

I remember vividly a specific moment were my paradigm took a significant shift and I began to see an old way of thought through a new lens. It was a very awakening moment for me.

As a professional speaker, I deliver highly interactive School Assembly programs on nonviolent communication as a means to create a Bully Free zone in schools. I became dissatisfied and overwhelmed with some of the public schools I spoke at, where the students would be disruptive and did not exhibit manners and respect. I found at the private schools I spoke at there was order and discipline. As a result of this I was stricter and less friendly with the students at the public schools I spoke at. I wanted them to sit and learn and not waste time and money.

As my stance was not in full alignment with my values in teaching youth, I began to inquire into the background and situations of the students at some of the public schools I presented at. I later found out that most of the students were immigrants and had suffered some level of trauma.

After learning this, I began my programmes with a strong emphasis on Meditation, Deep Listening and Empathy. I shifted my own paradigms from “How can I get these children to behave and learn?” to “What can I teach them that can transform their lives?”

On Language

Our language matters. We must speak kindly to one another and of one another. As a practitioner, teacher and a student of nonviolent communication I have experienced huge shifts in relationship when we learn to observe without judging. Rather than saying, “You are greedy” (a judgment), we learn to say, “You have eaten the last three slices of the Pizza.” (an observation).

Instead of calling out names at our leaders, that are utterly derogatory and dehumanising, even though their actions and behaviour make life difficult for us, we must learn to describe behaviour and actions. Labelling people is disabling.

Nonviolent communication I have come to realise is not about manipulating the other or trying to please the other, but it is about being a better person, taking the high road. Language and communication is at the heart of everything we do. It can make or break a relationship. Mark Twain reminds us that, “The difference between the right word and the wrong one is like lightning and a thunderbolt.”

You are not the controller of conditions, but you do have the capacity to change them. Your knee-jerk reactions, though they might seem justified in the short term are harmful in the long term. They can divide the country. In reality no one around you, not even your government can buck the current of your expectation of them. Nor will you ever be able to meet the expectations others have of you. Because the bottom line is that people keep expecting more and more. Divert your energies into being creative. We can’t all do everything, but we can do something. Realise that you can play an active and a positive role in societal development. If you are already doing it, do better, do more. Create strong alliances and partnerships with likeminded deliberate creators.

You are not an outside entity. In fact position yourself as one that is working in partnership with the government. The government might not admit it, but it needs you. You might not know this but you are, “watchdogs, ethical guardians and advocates of the marginalised or under-represented. You have an important role in holding all stakeholders, including government, to the highest levels of accountability.”

Every one of us have the capacity and therefore must work to address the issues of poverty, health, education, and environment, protect rights of minorities, promote law and order, and develop community. You have incredible opportunity to strengthen the common and collective good and be a constructive challenger. Let us never underestimate the truth that if our government fails our country fails as well.

As we navigate these challenging times, it is our calmer, deeper insights that can enlighten us and the people around us. It is those insights that can pave the way for better solutions. We live in a world where we seek quick-fixes and resolutions. Every problem that has arisen is dependent on another to thrive. We must cultivate the ability to have deeper insights, understand these truths, take the right action, and make the right effort in the service of our country and her people.

I want to conclude by saying that, as we navigate through these spiritual truths that will promote, ensure and enhance our wellbeing and that of our country, it is also important for us to know that it is a duty and responsibility of every citizen to question his government. It is also important and an undeniable responsibility of every citizen to reflect about the issues that he or she is hollering about.

Editor’s Note: Also read “A Superiority Complex: Why the Government Needs to Communicate with the People” and “Democracy, Nationalism and the Nation State, with Reference to Sri Lanka