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.