A Recently we lost in the quarter finals of the Cricket World Cup and people are still analyzing what went wrong – trying to find out who is responsible for our not bringing the cup home. In India where they have more than a billion people to choose from and where the country is full of fanatics, they would be doing more than analyzing, they must be wondering how to vent their frustrations, not excluding the use of physical force and hurling brick-bats at their fallen heroes! Their slogan was: “we will not give it back”!! I almost
believed that having lost they would still not give the cup back! Some might say the South Asians are poor losers? No, I don’t think we in Sri Lanka could call ourselves poor losers. We did take defeat in the right spirit in the past, and we were always regarded as gentle people who played by the Queensbury rules and able to take defeat in our stride and applaud winners.
Even after the death of Phil Hughes which was a tragedy, which should have changed the game back to a game played otherwise than as a blood sport, one still feels that many bowlers are more interested in physical intimidation and subjugation through injury rather than skill! If one reads the books written during the bodyline series when Larwood hit Ponsford, Woodfull and Bradman, the public spoke of lynching Larwood and his captain Jardine for behaving like brutes as they were called! So where do we place ourselves? Do we want to produce sportsmen who go for the jugular or do we want sportsmen who
are respected not for the trophies alone but for the manner in which we conduct
ourselves. In the latter department people like Sanga and Mahela have brought immense goodwill to the country which is more than winning a world cup to me. When you meet foreigners they wax eloquent about our cricketers and names like Murali, Aravinda, Sanga and Mahela are often likely to figure in discussions.
We should be proud of our players who without the crowd support they get at home, and with foreign conditions to contend with, proved that they were world class and world record breakers to boot! Don’t forget that we did make it to the quarter finals! Kumar Sangakkara wrote his name into the record books and will be remembered not as a Sri Laankan cricketer alone but as one of the greats because of his stupendous ability to score centuries with such regularity and panache. Dilshan too did well enough to be in the top five for quite awhile. There was constant praise from commentators for the astute captaincy of Mathews; and of course, although he was not the match winner of days gone by, Malinga’s name kept being repeated as one of the great if not the greatest ‘death bowler’. So what do we conclude as the contribution the team made on the world stage? We should be proud. We played the game without controversy and can be proud of having produced a team which brought credit to Sri Lanka as sporting ambassadors. We have many critics of what is going on in Sri Lanka. We have our local pundits pontificating about the reasons for not bringing back the cup and identifying scapegoats. I know I am treading on corns but I would ask the critics of our sportsmen, politicians, judges and other key leaders to think of
where we are really placed in terms of fighting our way through an unfriendly
world where ‘eat or be eaten’ which is the law of the jungle applies. People in high places are assumed to be corrupt or with hidden agendas making people who are keen on making a contribution to society, but who do not want to be branded as self seeking or corrupt, to shun public office and positions.
If you are convinced that you will fail, failure will stalk you no matter where you go
Lee Kwan Yew in the 1950’s cited Ceylon as an example of a little island which knew how to do the right things. What did we do right at that stage and where have we gone wrong since then? I leave it to you to identify the myriad areas where negative changes have taken place. But I feel that what we are doing is to wallow in our misery and to denigrate and ridicule ourselves, our leaders and officials without giving them some positive signals which combined with constructive criticism might help them to change rather than make them defensive. It is easy enough for people in high places to point to other countries especially in the region and say – but we are better than some others. In fact before the last elections reference was made that in terms of governance we were better than other South Asian countries. We are not prepared to set our parameters and goals by what we had in the past, and ask the question why are we not like that any longer? What we really need to do is to avoid deriding our officials and those in high places all the while and get them to think positively rather than always highlighting their shortcomings. If we say we are hopeless or that we are going downhill, the negative behaviour will drive us further downhill. It is because the officials and the decision makers feel that the general public does not expect anything better from them that they languish in their state of corruption or inefficiency without making a genuine effort to change their ways. There is also the fact that especially in the public service, there is no reward for good performance and anyone who does something exceptional is dragged down by his peers rather than being looked up to as role models. What is the connection with sport? To me sport has now become a public concern and political power play is part of the game. We need to regard the governance of sport also as official business where all lovers of sport need to back people in hot seats and give them confidence that they could do a job and that the general public will not attribute ulterior motives to their seeking office!
“As a man thinketh in his heart so is he” [Proverbs 23.7]. In other words, the way you see yourself you are, or you become that. This is the truth and what we see in Sri Lanka epitomizes this absolutely. When politicians see that they are labeled as rogues; or public officials as inefficient or corrupt; they become what they think is expected of them. There is no point being honest if already people have judged you and will not believe that your motivations were noble and honest. Norman Vincent Peale in his book on Positive Imaging says: “If you are convinced that you will fail, failure will stalk you no matter where you go”. I think all of us can find examples of how we have had faint hearts and ended seeing adverse results. There is also the phenomenon of ‘self fulfilling prophesies’ – one tells oneself this can never be and it really turns out that way. Take the case of a child who is told by his teachers that he will never do well in life and the student then gives up on his scholastic work and finds easier but less moral ways of eking out an existence. Maybe he becomes good at that and becomes an affluent person but the whole point is that he has been marginalized by a constant suggestion of his lack of aptitude or intellect and he truly believes that the socially accepted means is not for him.
“Imaging”, the forming of pictures or images is based on the principle that there is a deep tendency in human nature to ultimately become precisely like that which we imagine or image ourselves as being. When one passes such images as messages to the subconscious the individual strongly tends to become like what he has imagined himself to be. As much as there are the negative messages being
fed in, we know that teachers and parents have been able to feed in positive messages and these have conditioned youth to be good citizens, productive employees, creative entrepreneurs and politicians with rectitude and a sense of honesty. Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) is all about this way of influencing the mind to change. Experiments show that at any age re-conditioning or re-programming our minds is possible! The plea that I would make is that we stop criticizing our leaders, officials, sportsmen, ambassadors and other opinion leaders as a hopeless lot and look for positive things that they do. Let us acknowledge the positive views which they express and applaud them for such. When we criticize let us not do so in a manner which does not reflect on the country as a whole or on particular races or religions, but in a manner which indicates why something could have been done differently and what the benefit would have been if they had been sensible, or better informed. One common mistake we make in looking for change in others is that we assume that the other should change first. We forget that when we want change it should start with us. We need to back our leaders and representatives if we want them to behave differently. We need to start by assuming
responsibility for what our leaders do. With that we could probably expect a change in the behavior of others who are in the public eye. If we assume responsibility for having placed them in such positions or having selected people who in turn gave them authority we would be more likely to step forward when necessary and advise those who have done something wrong and
reprehensible that they have let us down. Let us resolve not to laugh at our own leaders and officials as it is as the local saying goes “looking up and spitting”.
In days gone by the people of the world believed that Sri Lankans were cultured, balanced, kind, reliable and respectful. Our public officials, professionals and judges for example were internationally acclaimed. We could return to that pristine past with a little effort on our part.