Search This Blog

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Opinions and judgements – a purely personal view.


By Mahendra Gonsalkorale

I was tempted to write this personal view on how we form opinions and sometimes make judgements on our fellow human beings, after reading an article written by one of our teachers for whom I have the greatest of respect. The paragraph which triggered me to write is this. "Without malice a forethought I have deliberately weeded out of my memory the international stars like Sir Sabaratnam Arulkumaran among my former pupils not because I love them less but because they defected from our nation and devoted their brilliant talents to serve "them" and not "us". The tribal brain tends to delete "defectors" from our conscious memories".
 
I must admit that I was somewhat surprised that a man like him held such views. Interestingly he indirectly apologises (‘tribal brain’), which makes me think that he himself is not totally happy with his own notion, which seems to spring from cultural instinct rather than reason. It is a relief that he “does not love them less”! Being a Rationalist myself, and an advocate of free speech,my view is that we are entitled to have opinions but they must be based as far as possible,on verifiable facts.
 
To judge a person on one criterion, important as it may seem, without recognising that Human Behaviour is very complex and that judgements cannot be reasonable or justifiable unless they take account of other vital operative factors such as context. Context is essentially the prevailing Societal norms, operative personal and family factors, the time period when it happened, the culture we live in, and our own moral standards, just to name a few.
 
Let me give some examples. Having more than one wife would be considered wrong and Immoral in one Society (He is “bad”) but is the norm in another (“He is good”). A man guilty of bribing an official might be considered in a more sympathetic way if it comes to pass that he desperately needed the money for medical care for his seriously ill son to save him from certain death and had failed to do so after making several honest attempts (a “bad” man in fact was a “good” man). A generous man gave a huge donation to a Charity only to find that he did so to obtain a Knighthood (a “good” man became a “bad” man). The native practitioner who prescribed a medicine which killed the patient may be seen in a different light if it comes to pass that he had an impeccable record of treating patients and that his intention without any doubt was to cure the patient but he had got the diagnosis wrong and gave what proved to be a fatal medicine. All pretty obvious you might say, but if so why make judgments like those I refer to below?

To return to the subject I am concerning myself at the moment, I would propose that any judgement made on the morality (“good” or “bad”) of a Doctor trained in Sri Lanka in terms of “patriotism”(a subject in itself!) solely based on whether he/she chose to remain or leave the country is open to question and palpably unjust. The circumstances which led to that decision must be taken into account before arriving at any sort of conclusion. Was he driven purely by self-interest, or were there genuine circumstances which made that the best decision? On the other hand, did the person who stayed behind also do so for self-interest? I know colleagues in England who support their families financially in a way they could not do if they were “back home”. I know colleagues who stayed back for the same reason, i.e., support aging parents, often being the only child. It is clear to me that we must consider the philosophical and moral context in which the person made a decision. What sort of personal, family, societal factors were there? Is it wrong to not just think of country, but have a much wider perspective of serving humanity irrespective of where they are? We all rationalise and justify our behaviour because that is the way we survive in this harsh world. Of course I realise that most of the debate arises because of the uncontestable fact that many of us wouldn’t be doctors if not for the free education we received and I would wholeheartedly agree that our behaviour must reflect acknowledgement of that fact. There are many ways to do so and it doesn’t necessarily mean that it can be done only by living and serving in Sri Lanka.

To conclude that a doctor who chose to serve in Sri Lanka is "better" than one who left based purely on that one factor is wrong. To conclude that all those who stayed back are patriotic (“us”) and those who left (“them”), are not, is equally wrong. It is difficult to admire people who claim to be patriotic and pat themselves on the back when in many instances, the determining factor had nothing to do with love for the country. Don’t get me wrong, I do admire and respect those who for whatever reason, decided to stay back and do exemplary work, especially those who had the opportunity to further themselves abroad but chose to stay behind because they were strongly motivated to do so for sound moral reasons. Equally, I admire those who while not living in Sri Lanka, have done such a lot for the profession and for their country of birth.

On achievements and serving humanity, we could cite many outstanding examples of those who remained and also among those who left, and Prof Sir Sabaratnam Arulkumaran who was dismissed as one of “them” by the learned Professor, is a shining example of a person who left but has conducted himself with distinction and brought a lot of glory to the Profession and to Sri Lanka.

It is with some sadness that I state this as I, and many of us who chose to live abroad, have faced this uncomfortable feeling of being regarded as some kind of traitor. Some who return and help in ways they can have been accused of doing so because they have “a guilty conscience”. It may be so but when somebody offers to help you, is it not best to accept it and be gracious?
 
Let us judge people (if indeed we must), by considering all the facts and not jump to unfair conclusions. There is no "us" and "them". We are all one family. Within this short time we inhabit Planet Earth, we move along, making easy decisions, hard decisions, at times what seems like impossible decisions, decisions concerned with ourselves, our families, our country, our world, our people, our humanity and ultimately what matters is how you led that life, hopefully with respect, concern for all human beings (and preferably also for animal life, but that is a personal view) and with magnanimity, graciousness and generosity to all. If you are proud of your achievements, do be proud but don’t fall into the trap of believing that “if you are a proud elephant in a forest, all those who are not elephants are lesser beings.

26 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
  2. Thanks ND. To be fair by the learned Professor, he did not categorise his past pupils as "good" or "bad" but the message is clear about being "us" and "them" and this implies an acceptance of "us" as "good" and "them" as "bad" although I agree that it is an exercise in futility to categorise people as good or bad. Nobody is either good or bad in a total sense. It is the actions they are responsible for which can be judged as such. Even a murderer can perform good actions and a revered elder can perform bad actions. But the point I tried to make was that you cannot judge a person as a wholly worthy person ("good") or an unworthy person ("bad") on the basis of an action or deed performed at a particular point in his/her life. To be categorise as "us" and "them" is very narrow minded and not befitting of a rational open minded person.

    I too am grateful to Lucky for publishing my post and once again, let me labour the point that my intention is not to pass judgement on anybody but to make a plea for open and productive thinking.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Well! So much for what I hoped would be a good exchange of ideas! Just one person responding!

    ReplyDelete
  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  5. It is sad that the highly respected teacher should arrive at such conclusions without much thought as to why people left the island. In the case of Dr. Arulkumaran the reasons are obvious. It is not always better opportunity that drives people out , but other factors, which tend to be glossed over.
    ia

    ReplyDelete
  6. I must digress and refer you to a piece I wrote about my Faculty days and published in this Blog captioned "The Bad old days of Psychological Vandalism" . Medical students at the time were treated with disdain and disrespect by some of our teachers. This indeed shook my self confidence. This only recovered after my arrival in England. One of the few teachers who treated us with dignity was this Professor for which I am most grateful. He gained enormous respect by his kindness and also his fine teaching skills. I wish to remember him for the many good things he has done, and there were many, and for the concern and care he had for our welfare. I am sure he will agree to disagree on this issue on ex-pats.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I am sure that is the right spirit and the sensible approach. None of us are perfect and it is a virtue to try and see the good in people. The funny thing about all these good advice messages is that the person who will benefit most is the person himself! It is a paradox in a way, "be selfless to be selfish"!

    ReplyDelete
  8. The only reason I have not commented so far on your fine article on a vexed subject which repeatedly annoys us, is that I have just not visited the blog due to some inertia even I do not understand about myself. Now on the subject in question: I can only reiterate the excellent points you have made in your article, Mahendra, for this argument has been around for a long time and now you have practically put it to rest. No one contest what you have said. Thanks Mahendra for writing and Lucky for including it on our Blog. This is another example of the good done by our Blog by being a forum for expression of thought, and all the more reason why we should all take part. Zita

    ReplyDelete
  9. Thanks for taking the time to comment Zita. I do hope your "Bloggability" continues to recover! To be frank, I was expecting more people to comment but one thing I know for sure is that a lot of our colleagues do read the Blog although they don't comment.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Mahendra, I agree that there are many of us who read but do not comment. The topic of brain drain is a controversial issue and therefore I would prefer to remain silent
    Sanath

    ReplyDelete
  11. Like Sanath, I too prefer to be silent on the issue of the Brain Drain. However, I wish to relate a minor anecdote relating to how I first met Sir Sabaratnam Arulkumaran.

    Although I had seen him in medical school where he was a couple of years junior to us, I met Sir Arulkumaran at a more personal level when both of us turned up at the Police Reserve Headquarters in 1974 for an interview to select Probationary ASPs to the Police Medical Corp. Arul had been recommended by the late Dr. P.R. Anthonis (who incidentally was Chairman of the Interview Board) and I was persuaded to join by the late IGP Ernest Perera who was a personal friend of mine. Ernie was the SP and I was the MOH at Matara in the early seventies. Both Arul and I were selected, but just a month after this interview, I received a telegram asking me to report for training at the Police Training School in Ampara. I simply could not attend the training as I was about to leave for the US for my Post Graduate training at the University of California, Berkeley. So, I never joined as a Reserve ASP. It so happened that I was able to meet Arul again in 2015 when he attended the CoMSAA Get together as the Chief Guest. I had a chat with the Chief Guest where I recalled our meeting at Reserve Police HQ. As often happens, I knew who he was but he didn't know me. But he did remember attending that interview. He told me that he too left for Singapore soon after he joined the Police Medical Corp. I know that our colleague Sriani Basnayake and her ex husband Dr. Prema Basnayake both served the Police Medical Corp.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I knew Arul from his student days. He was an average student who excelled in sports. He was a n interne house officer together with LR Ariyanada (Later Prof of Medicine at Ruhuna), in the Professorial unit at LRH in 1972. Later he hosted me for dinner at his residence when I visited Singapore in the mid-1980s. I have met him several times thereafter in Colombo at medical events. Over the years ,he has not changed at all and still remains as a very simple unassuming individual as before.
    Sanath

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A late bloomer, & we know of many who are.

      Indra Anandasabapathy

      Delete
  13. It is a pity that Lama and Lucky do not wish to share their thoughts on this forum but of course I respect their wish. Clearly, they appear to be worried about causing dissension which is a pity as I would have thought we are adult enough to try and appreciate each other's point of view in an amicable way. I am reminded of great political leaders in the past who were on opposing sides and bitterly attacked each other in Parliament but were "drinking buddies" outside. Still, "each unto his own". I like to think that they are just being diplomatic as their views are perhaps quite set!

    ReplyDelete
  14. Just to add, I might compare this with two good friends, one wearing a pink shirt and the other a yellow one. Each just don't like the shirt the other is wearing and no amount of argument can change that view but they do like each other! I hope the same applies to us! At least if we can agree that one cannot judge a person by the "shirt he decided to wear', we have something in common.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Migration of all forms of life has been in existence since the beginning of time. Humans have dispersed from where they evolved to colonise the planet earth. They have moved for various reasons. Barriers of all kinds, natural or man made, haven't successfully prevented human migration. The desire to better ourselves and our families and to move away from harm is built into our psyche if not in our genes.
    It is the emotions that get in the way of resolution of conflicts or arguments. There is no greater emotion than patriotism. Presently We are where we are in life. Let us consider ourselves part of the planet earth and do our best for humanity.

    ReplyDelete
  16. I would have participated in this debate with glee. But some time ago, this same subject (reasons for leaving the country for good) was discussed and ND requested me to close that debate. I did so. But then, I thought Speedy's e-mail would lead us on a different path. But I see that we are heading in the same direction! So, I prefer to watch from the sidelines.

    ReplyDelete
  17. For those not familiar with Sir Sabaratnam Arulkumaran, his impressive CV is as follows:-He is Professor Emeritus of Obstetrics and Gynecology at St. George’s University of London. He is also President of the International Federation of Obstetrics and Gynecology (FIGO) and Past President of the British Medical Association (2013-2014). Sir Arulkumaran is author of 270 indexed publications, 32 books and 164 book chapters. He is Editor-in-Chief of Best Practice and Research in Clinical Obstetrics and Gynaecology and Global Library of Women’s Medicine (www.glowm.com). Sabaratnam received a Knight Bachelor in recognition of Services to Medicine and Health Services by Her Majesty the Queen in the Birthday Honours List in June 2009. I am certainly very very proud of him.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Well, I shall say one more thing and then I shall stop. Clearly a lot of people feel that this is a sensitive issue and is best left aside undiscussed for fear of upsetting people. I am reminded of the Fawlty Towers sketch where John Cleese says "Don't mention the War!" (in front of German guests). My own view that bringing this type of thing to the open is good for all ,has been reinforced by this apparent finding that people don't want to come out frankly with their views. I think it helps to understand each other more if we are more frank with our views. Otherwise it is like a little background uneasiness that prevails when "Us" and "Them" get together for example. I have attempted to give a logical way of understanding people and how they behave and made a plea for applying such understanding when we view how others behave but sadly the response has been very poor. As I said, I shall leave it that .

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have given my person emotional response and also my personal thoughtful view on this. As we age our views are more fixed and less flexible. I remember the intense discussions we have had on this very topic before leaving SL. Nowadays when we disagree we prefer to disengage and keep quiet. I understand Lama and Lucky's stand. I appreciate Mahen's viewpoint to have an adult discussion on this emotive topic. Mahendra you are an exceptional person. I wish there were more people like you.

      Delete
  19. Raz,--- your 'Substantial Friend'December 18, 2016 at 10:59 AM

    Sorry Mahen for coming in so late as I had some issues that was holding me back.
    That is a very forthright article that concerned not only our batch but several others as well.
    I cannot comment on anyone else's view on it. They all have their own views and reasons for doing what they did and it is not right for anyone to put down anybody for whatever action the "thems" took at the time. Speaking for myself all I can say is that what I do is nobody's concern & its my business, for my welfare & that of my family as long as whatever decision I took was within the regulations that prevailed at the time. Like "a them", who 'left SL' for reasons of my own & those of "us" did also take their own decisions & reasons of their own to 'stay', I totally respect their actions. If time can be rolled back, I shall do exactly the same--- nothing less nothing more.
    Anybody can call me what they like that's their own prerogative.
    I know every well at the Reunions that I attended, certainly could feel that there was "an elephant in the room" -- a big one at that!!!
    My apologies, Mahen for the delay.

    ReplyDelete
  20. My SF, Absolutely straight bat as usual and refreshingly so. You have stated your case with conviction and good luck to you. Values are always relative and personal circumstances are well, personal! Let us be open and honest and not try to place ourselves above others, and just appreciate them for what they are. I hope whatever issues that were a source of concern to you are being resolved. Good luck Mate!

    ReplyDelete
  21. As the issue of "Brain drain" has been mentioned, I thought of sharing two references I found most useful.

    The first one is this: https://www.scu.edu/ethics/focus-areas/more/resources/the-ethics-of-migration-and-immigration/

    and I shall just quote one paragraph from it but would recommend that anybody who is seriously interested should read the full article.

    Ethical Issues of Migration
    When discussing ethics in the context of migration, it is important to remember first and foremost that migration is about the movement of people. Because the ethics of migration hi-lite the tension between individuals and nations, these discussions should always begin and end with the acknowledgement of the humanity of those who are moving and those who do not move. The human condition is complex, as are the reasons for migration. To simplify and objectify the issues does not serve any useful purpose. Information and discussions on migration should be honest conversations, where the interests, agendas and concerns of all members of the affected communities are addressed in the context of the collective humanity.

    What are the costs of migration? What is the cost in terms of lives lost?

    What are the financial costs both to the migrant and to the countries involved?

    How does society measure the risks and benefits of migration? Can these risks and benefits be measured?

    Do nations have an ethical obligation to do the least harm to migrants when establishing and enforcing immigration laws?

    How should discussions about migration be conducted?

    Whose voices should be included in such discussions?
    THE second one is this one from the OECD:

    https://www.oecd.org/dac/povertyreduction/43280513.pdf

    The outflow of skilled workers deprives developing countries of their human capital and results in brain drain with serious consequences on the delivery of key services like education or health care, and on economic productivity. In contrast, overseas work experience might provide opportunities to improve skills and further knowledge, while others whose qualifications are not recognised in their receiving country may see their skills diminish while abroad, making return difficult.

    If we take a look at remittances made by Filipino doctors, it seems that they more than compensate for the cost paid by the state for their education

    The discerning reader would understand that the issue is very complex and making judgments without considering all the facts would be unwise.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Hi,Friends,
    Great Countries like America,Germany,UK might not have achieved great success in MEDICAL Science and other technologies,if not for migration of brains from the rest of the World.Only exceptions to the assumption are the Countries such as China,Japan & Russia.They had there own talents,although lot of Jews with immense talents,migrated to UK&USA.Why should SriLanka mourn about brain drain.She should be proud of it.Don,t the expats bring lot of Dollars and pounds?SriLanka,unfortunately,full of hypocrites.
    less other Lanka.

    Lesser bright Doctor domicile in UK

    ReplyDelete