Finger-pointing and moral high ground
Higher Education Minister S B Dissanayake recently stated that all
undergraduates who have accepted admission to the university system will
have to undergo a course of leadership training in the Army. The
Convenor of the Inter University Students Federation (IUSF), Udul
Premaratne reacted to this announcement by saying that all State
officials should similarly be trained before the Ministry focuses on
The contention is not surprising and neither is it preposterous. No
system is perfect and the imperfections of unit, process and personality
are too numerous and apparent to be too dismissive of Udul's point.
There's indiscipline, lack of initiative, arrogance, reluctance to
admit error, corruption and inefficiency. There are also huge human
resources problems, inadequate remuneration, much sacrifice and
over-stretching of personnel.
There is the good, the bad, the ugly and through it all a
surprisingly high degree of delivery. Much to worry about and a lot to
be thankful for.
The key word here is perspective. It is important to point out error.
It is as important to have a sense of proportion. Finger must be pointed
but finger-pointing should not preclude self-reflection, acknowledgment
of wrongdoing and humility.
There is no doubt that in general there is much to be desired in the
training given to Government officials. Not all professions and
occupational categories require 'leadership' but I would assume that
being exposed to regimented instruction as such one would expect from a
military establishment would help one acquire some idea about
discipline. In the very least it would teach punctuality.
If one were to obtain a better understanding of systems and
requirements of the individual to make systems work, a commitment to
detail, a sense of command-chain and the importance of doing justice to
one's salary paltry though it may be, it naturally enhances efficiency.
Moreover, it puts the individual on a stronger moral platform when it
comes to agitating for better contractual terms. In this sense, relevant
authorities would do well to pick up Udul's comment divested of course
of its wryness.
But what of Udul and the IUSF, though? Perfect? What of the general
student population in universities? Are they disciplined, endowed with a
sense of responsibility to their parents, families, communities, society
at large, one another and indeed themselves? Do they do justice to the
citizenry whose tax money seeks to educate them? When they complain
about the lack of facilities such as hostels or the inadequacy of the
Mahapola Scholarships, have they already asked themselves if they've
made adequate use of the facilities that are provided such as libraries
and laboratories? Do they understand that when they vandalize walls and
architecture the cost of repaint and repair has to be borne by their
parents? Do they think about children from similar backgrounds who do
full time jobs earning small salaries while taking weekend classes to
obtain diplomas and degrees for which they have to pay? Do they count
It is perfectly alright to point finger but only if one has the moral
high ground. The IUSF is the JVP's cat's paw and has been so for
Nothing wrong in students believing what they want to believe, even
if they are dead wrong about their assumptions. On the other hand, Udul
Premaratne and the IUSF cannot point fingers at anyone in order to
justify their anti-intellectualism, propensity to quell dissent through
thuggery, readiness to vandalize public property and their manifest lack
of qualms about exploiting the fact that the average student on account
of being focused on education is not inclined to organize and therefore
oppose the IUSF.
The IUSF has never earned the sympathy and support of the general
public and if Udul wonders why it is mostly because his outfit doesn't
have the moral high ground for all the reasons mentioned above. Until
such time the IUSF recognizes this, it will remain a spoiler, a vandal
and in the final instance a counter-productive proposition.
Udul Premaratne and the IUSF might find some use in reflecting on the
teachers that left a mark on their lives and the role models they aspire
to emulate. They might find that one of the striking attributes that
separated such individuals from the crowd was not just skill and
dedication but an uncompromising fidelity to ethics and discipline and
the rarest attribute of all, humility.
Leadership is not made only of an ability to turn phrase, courage and
being able to read the relevant political equation accurately. If Udul
looks back at the history of the student movement he might notice that
the best student leaders are either dead or have had the humility to
acknowledge error and move on.
Governments and Ministers are not perfect, true. Indeed they are
closer to imperfection than perfection. This does not give licence to
sloth, error, arrogance, indiscipline and thuggery except in the most
superficial sense. Wittiness is fun and earns a few laughs. Doesn't
further one's cause.