Compiled by Savithri Rodrigo
BUILDING BRIDGES OF PEACE
Shannon Ebenezer urges young leaders to come together to build the nation
Q: What’s the good, the bad and the ugly here in Sri Lanka?
A: Sri Lanka is indeed the ‘Pearl of the Indian Ocean’; it is blessed with a diverse culture, rich history, nature, and friendly and hospitable people. We have the good fortune of free education and health services.
But we’re moving towards a Western culture in our habits, lacking leaders who are fearless and selfless, and want genuine change; and people who lack awareness about being responsible citizens.
While that’s the bad, the ugly is that by neglecting our age-old agricultural practices and cottage industries, we have paid lip service to harmful levels of pollution, thereby exacerbating climate change. We’re accustomed to using past glory and the splendour of ancient history to conceal our faults and weaknesses, and playing the blame game with no one taking responsibility for mistakes made.
Q: In your opinion, what are the challenges facing the country today?
A: Economic instability, political unrest, corruption, substance abuse, increased levels of crime and road accidents are primarily due to the selfish motives of a few, and the greed to gain power and popularity at all cost.
Our citizens don’t take pride in being Sri Lankan; they don’t value our heritage and prefer to live overseas. We need people who love this country and have a passion to make this nation great.
Q: Do you observe changes in the context of nation building and reconciliation?
A: There are those who try to take the nation forward but to date, they remain in the minority. While there have been positive changes, it’s been
a slow process.
Reconciliation poses a challenge. Some people have a distorted and toxic attitude towards race, religion and language, and are unable to coexist with those who aren’t like them. Every citizen must have the same vision to build bridges of peace and harmony. We need more sincere and fearless leaders to come together to build our nation.
Q: How can Sri Lanka retain the talent it has?
A: Equal opportunity should be given to young people irrespective of their gender, ethnicity and religion. Bribery and corruption must be eradicated, and meritocracy given its due place to identify true talent. Policies and programmes ought to recognise gifted individuals, from rural and urban areas, and create platforms to optimise their talent.
Wages and salary scales should be revised to benefit employees. The dignity of labour must be instilled and respect given to every job – no matter whether it’s blue or white-collar. Students should be able to avail themselves of resources to pursue their dreams in Sri Lanka by expanding higher education and research opportunities.
Q: Do we have young leaders who can take the country forward?
A: Yes, we do. True leaders should have integrity and be god-fearing, accountable to the people, their god and themselves. They must have the heart of a servant to serve others, and be humble, sincere and willing to learn, and empower others.
Moreover, they must think outside the box and not conform to norms, being unafraid to reflect and act differently to bring about positive change, fuelled by the passion of their vision and not their position.
Q: How do you view the growing importance of social media today?
A: It’s a blessing and a curse but an essential dynamic of life much like a knife in hand. If used responsibly, it is an excellent tool; but it can be deadly if used irresponsibly. Social media is a good servant but never make it your master.
Q: What challenges do young people face in a global context?
A: While they’re privileged to live in an era with many facilities and advanced technology, young people lack the desired employment opportunities. They are trapped in an education system that is ill suited for future careers and have lost the ability to think.
Substance abuse is another challenge that young people succumb to due to peer pressure and curiosity. We are also negatively stereotyped as troublemakers, drug abusers, and irresponsible and inexperienced individuals. Given the right opportunities, young people will be excellent leaders as a vast majority are responsible lovers of peace.
Meanwhile, social media has negatively influenced body image, causing high stress levels and prompting quick fixes that can be fatal.