Respect…. Where art thou?

Sri Lankans have become so used to be waiting, waiting for things to happen, and waiting on the roads wondering who is protesting and for what.

We have got so used to them. We grumble, we blast the government and the police, in our heads of course, but wait patiently till we reach our destination.

The Sri Lankan roads reflect our thinking, our mentality, and our respect to others. Not all of us drive in the same manner. Some are hasty and switch lanes all the time while some are patient and stick to a lane most of the time.

Some give the space to other drivers while others constantly blink, toot horns and display all sorts of hand gestures if you are too slow. Some are so frantic that they toot the moment they see a small space before the vehicle in front of them. What’s the hurry? A long line of vehicles at a location of a colour light with several roads meeting, motorists with engines idling wasting money and fuel for over three or four minutes because, in true Sri Lankan style the colour light system installed at a cost of several millions of rupees has been switched off by a policeman who has taken upon himself to defy all of which sophisticated technology and traffic density data has supported in the colour light system and doling out his version of traffic control. When the whole world is adopting IT supported electronic traffic control, we in Sri Lanka is unique in our retrogression to the primitive. No wonder, we are the “Wonder of Asia”.

Case study number one –  we do not “respect” sophistication, we do not respect productivity, we do not respect the value of time, we do not respect our economy or foreign exchange in the fuel wasted all over our cities at these interminable policeman-manufactured traffic jams.

Same location, up comes a line of vehicles on the wrong side of the road, overtaking all the waiting denizens with flashing lights with the famous pilot complete with security men waving arms in millipede fashion at all and sundry in the vehicle in front the pilot jeep and that popular term “back up in the rear”. In the middle is the VIP vehicle. Reposed is a “servant of the people” before elections, now a fully-fledged political heavy. Not only does this convoy whiz up to the head of the line, but, overrides the policeman, any oncoming vehicle and continues merrily on. Not so merry for us servants hibernating in the queue. Perhaps, the “servant of the people” was in a hurry on an urgent mission. Common sight on most roads. Case study number two – if all our politicians were in this mighty hurry to attend to their tasks, then, Singapore, Malaysia and China will be at our doorstep, oops airport, to follow our model of success.

Stand at a queue in a supermarket, or a bank or just to buy a theatre ticket, there is that queue-jumper who sneaks up. The worst is at a drugstore where the pharmacist can serve only one customer at a time taking care not to dispense drugs inconsistent with prescriptions, up comes the oddball.

Are we a society that is fast failing to respect our fellows, or becoming increasingly selfish? The UK believed to be the birthplace of “first in, first out” may have an answer to sociologists. Persistent parental influence upon children to compete to secure first place at any cost is the first instillation of disregard to fair play and respect. No longer are kids encouraged to play board games as snakes and ladders, ludo, draughts, where, waiting ones turn is a must. Today’s average urban children have none of that, with or without parental approval they are prisoners of a TV screen playing a sole electronic game of defeating the enemy.

It is timely that the educational system incorporated space for students for games, debate, rather than following a rat race of tuition from morning till night, ultimately turning out a youngster who cannot Interact with the daily problems of life and becomes a social misfit in the workplace.

Respect towards others is quintessence of social justice, it is the inalienable right for equal treatment. If a society is to flourish the swords of competition have to be tempered with fair play and respect. The more a society understands the need to respect others that society will be richer in conforming to distributive justice.

The Golden Rule or Rule of Reciprocity dictum “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is what all Sri Lankans will have to remember.

Published in the Nation on February 18, 2017


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