The eleventh installment in the series of articles written by our friend, Solomon Rajaram Hariharan, a member of the “Dream team 2012” of “Sri Lanka Unites”( A youth movement for hope and reconciliation).
Mutual understanding among diverse and segregated groups or individuals is necessary. Many groups of people grow up believing that one group, preferably theirs, is better than the other. This implies to religious groups as well. However, this is not true. What we should try to achieve is to make the groups realize that the desire to live in peace and harmony is a major teaching in each and every religion. But how can we make the divided groups realize the truth? We should ensure that a safe and open learning environment is established. When this is completed, the individuals will be able to share their perspectives and stories. When this is done, both parties will realize the negative stereotypes that have been dominating their life. The participants will develop trust with others, broaden understanding of the range of personal characteristics including the term diversity, enhance appreciation and respect for the diversity of different cultural backgrounds and examine how cultural differences and group identities affect conflict and communication. When the participants understand the above, mutual understanding comes into play.
The new friendships that are built will shape the individuals and prevent them from following the stereotypic life of the past. The terms ethnicity and race are identification marks placed on individuals by the society. This is wrongly interpreted as one’s own free will decision. The society in which we live in, does not allow much interaction between diverse groups. The society’s mentality is that different groups should stay apart. This can be a root of the various conflicts that have devastated the island. Segregated parties should make efforts to live and work together. It is no use pointing fingers at one another at this junction. The damage to the country and its citizens has been done. What we can hope to achieve is prevent further damage. To prevent another conflict from rising, the groups that have issues should negotiate. Respecting other religious doctrines is vital as we are living in a diverse island. All religions preach about peace and non violence. It is the misinterpretation by the radicals that provide grounds for conflicts to rise up.
Sri Lanka is a small island, but is filled with diversity from religious groups to ethnic groups. The tiny island comprises of religions followed by millions around the world. But the nation is still struggling to find its balance and mutual understanding between the religious groups. It is the responsibility of the religious leaders to guide the followers in the correct path of their religious doctrines. Many religious leaders fail in this responsibility as they try to manipulate the people for their own personal benefits. But the responsibility does not solely lie in the hands of the leaders. It is also the responsibility of the followers to not just follow blindly but to investigate the truth hidden in the doctrine and create awareness on the truth. This will curtail any motives of using religious groups for personal benefits.
The term diversity can be compared to an ice berg. The portion that is visible is only a minor part. The major part is hidden. For example dress, heroes, traditions, behaviours, symbols, customs and artifacts are visible in an individual; while assumptions, values, beliefs, perceptions, world views and attitudes lie hidden in an individual. The society and the people in it will always judge a person based on the obvious visible part. This is dangerous as we mostly tend to judge people wrongly resulting in conflicts. Mutual understanding arises when one learns to respect others as equal human beings with equal rights and privileges.