Wednesday, August 31, 2011

You CAN keep a good man down!

The Island, August 30, 2011,

I guess most of us were brought up on the saying ‘you can’t keep a good man down’. Some of us continue to believe in this and other words of wisdom to date. Others have turned into skeptics and their beliefs are more akin to ‘God helps those who help themselves"’and even with a touch of ‘may the devil take the hindmost’!

I was moved to write this piece after attending a farewell party for a much respected (among his students) lecturer in the university system. This person was a "TEACHER" in every sense of the word and his main aim was to turn his protégés into people who could think and express an opinion. Imagine trying to do that within the university system of this country!

It was a tribute to this lecturer that over 100 of his students, both past and present turned up with barely 48 hours notice for this hastily arranged party. People came from Jaffna, Vavuniya, Colombo, Kandy and almost every other part of the country. Sri Lankans of today are inclined to accept invitations to parties without any intention to be present. They usually weigh up their options at the last minute and decide if they will come or not. Sparing a thought for the organizers’ who have to deal with numbers of participants etc is not part of the Sri Lankan way of thinking. This particular function however was "jam packed" and it was indeed fortunate that some prudent organizers’ had taken the lecturer’s popularity into account and made arrangements for a high number of guests.

If you ask absolutely ANYONE of those who have come under this lecturer’s purview they will say that the methods he employs are unique and they make lectures fun. Even those who seem to think that university courses can be done by correspondence ( borrowing the notes from someone and resorting to copying during the exam with attendance at lectures not part of the requirement) turned up for every one of these lectures. It was not due to fear of reprisal; it was due to interest.

Now there were plenty of other lecturers in these courses and it was with dismay and even disgust that students used to watch a succession of less able worthies being promoted and given more responsibility within the university system. This man was ignored or sidelined for his ‘different’ way of thinking. He worried his superiors because he never hesitated to query an innocuous decision. If he had ever taken over higher responsibility his predecessors would have been exposed for their ineptitude and inefficiency. He would never kowtow to politicians. Compromise or even a fractional lowering of his standards was always out of the question.

After many long years of standing up way above the muck and dirt of the system, he decided to accept a foreign posting and leave. Oh, the speeches were very sweet and poignant, particularly from his detractors; the level of hypocrisy was nauseating, but then that is Sri Lanka for you. Actually I am being a little harsh here, that is the norm in most places of the world.

As someone who has worked for over three decades in many different parts of the world may I say that it is very simple to keep a good man down. It depends entirely on the silence of other good men! There is no purpose in being a secret admirer of a great person. If you believe that that person has made a difference in your life and should be allowed to continue to make that difference in the lives of future generations, come out and SAY so! Attending farewell party and making a flowery speech full of superlatives…is it the answer?

Moving away from academia to the mercantile and semi- government sector that I have worked in, does anyone actually retire, thereby making way for the younger generation? They may do so in token but they remain in the background and continue to dominate judgments and decisions and nurture their protégés mostly selected for their brilliance in mediocrity.

We wonder why there is a brain drain. Let me tell you as one who has been overseas. It is not only in search of better lifestyle or even education for the children that one migrates. It is due to the nurturing of mediocrity in this country. Those who think outside the box are not tolerated. Rocking the boat is a cardinal offence. Speaking your mind is done so with the virtual guarantee of banishment to oblivion.

There is no country as bountiful as this for native sons or daughters and that is why prudent citizens always come back. It is the lack of originality and the nurturing of mediocrity that is a big contributing factor. Think about it fellow citizens’….think about it!


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