Tharindra Gooneratne urges Sri Lankans to recognise their country’s strengths – and work together in addressing its weaknesses

Are you proud to be Sri Lankan? Think about the immediate and almost impulsive thought that pops into your mind if someone asks you about Sri Lanka. The exact response may vary slightly but you can rest assured that our politicians will take centre stage, and the terms ‘corruption,’ ‘inefficiency’ and ‘nepotism’ will most likely be uttered.

Aren’t we being unfair to our motherland? Is it reasonable to employ the actions of 225 individuals to describe a country with over 21 million honest and hardworking people?

By invoking the actions of politicians to describe our country, not only are we committing a grave injustice to Mother Lanka but we’re also ingraining a negative mentality that is a serious hindrance to its progress.

For Sri Lanka is far more than the fiefdom of a few corrupt overlords. It’s a country with a proud history of over 2,500 years that attracts millions of people who travel thousands of miles every year to ex-perience its splendour.

I am proud to be a Sri Lankan. I’m amazed that Russian author Anton Chekhov – considered one of the greatest writers of short fiction – once equated Ceylon to paradise. And Marco Polo described it as being “for its size, better circumstanced than any island in the world.”

Furthermore, I’m awed by the fact that our own Jetavanaramaya was the third tallest structure in the ancient world after the pyramids of Giza. And I am humbled to know that Sri Lanka was one of the first countries on Earth to introduce universal adult franchise – it was much later that the concept reached the shores of countries such as the US, Australia and Canada.

What’s more, I am proud of the flora and fauna that Mother Nature has blessed my country with. In fact, I often quote National Geographic, which declared that “a visit to rising ecotourism star Sri Lanka is kind of like having the best of Africa and Asia all rolled into a single easy-to-get-around island.”

I am also grateful to Forbes, which stated in July that the island is the best safari destination outside Africa. And I’m filled with disbelief that this island has more UNESCO World Heritage sites than Egypt, a country that is about 15 times larger.

And every time I drink a cup of tea, I’m reminded that Ceylon Tea was iconic Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin’s favourite beverage.

I’m proud that my motherland was ranked the fifth most charitable country in the world in 2016. However, this is one statistic that doesn’t surprise me. After all, I’ve witnessed Sri Lankan generosity at its best – from the dansal organised by people who often can barely fend for themselves to the tens of thousands of Sri Lankans lining up to contribute dry rations to fellow citizens affected by floods in Sabaragamuwa.

On top of this, I am impressed by the fact that Sri Lanka has an extremely young workforce and today – the average Sri Lankan is almost 15 years younger than the average Japanese and about five years younger than the average Chinese or American. I’m also astonished to know that in terms of life expectancy, Sri Lanka ranks on a par with prominent Asian economies such as Malaysia and Thailand whilst outranking Indonesia.

These are statistics that I should etch in my memory. After all, if I’m willing to study for months for my Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) exams, I can surely memorise a few statistics on my motherland.

Most of all, I’m proud of my fellow Sri Lankans. I am inspired by the fact that our expatriate community boasts the CEO of a global bank, a billionaire venture capitalist who is on a first name basis with Mark Zuckerberg, one of the most senior scientists at NASA and multiple individuals who have been bestowed the honour of being on Forbes’ prestigious 30 Under 30 lists.

Similarly, I am proud of the farmer in Anuradhapura, garment worker in Pannala and student in Galle. These are my fellow Sri Lankans whose work ethic, integrity and humility inspire me to be a better version of myself. I realise that I don’t need to look far to find role models and sources of inspiration; they’re at my doorstep.

The next time someone asks about my country, I shall refuse to discuss politics. For our politicians don’t deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as my beautiful motherland. Instead, I’ll focus on what a beautiful blessed island it is and how we need to work together to ensure that it achieves its full potential.

By no means does this mean that Sri Lanka is perfect. It faces a multitude of problems like just about every other country in the world. However, I refuse to define my country by its imperfections.

After all, the least I can do for Mother Lanka is acknowledge its magnificence and work to overcome the obstacles that prevent it from truly becoming paradise on Earth!