My friend, the oft philosophical Zalmi Fazeel, has a habit of posting wisdom-drops in social media. Some of it is not all that new, but he puts it in new ways. Makes me think. Makes my day(s). This morning’s dish came thus: ‘Tip your server. Return your shopping cart. Pick up a piece of trash. Hold the door for the person behind you. Let someone into your lane. Small acts can have a ripple effect. That’s how we change the world.’
It’s but a version of the old North American song with the line about little drops of water, little grains of sand making the mighty ocean and the pleasant land, respectively. Think global, act local, is another way of putting it. Little things add up, sure, and working on that premise can move mountains, so to speak. All true.
In Sri Lanka, regardless of a long history of ‘doing the little thing’ such as simple acts of thrift and sharing, we have happily and uncritically accepted the Big Project Mentality. We are dazzled (and eventually bamboozled) by grand ideas such as gross national product, per capita income, growth etc., absolutely ignorant of how these terms persuade us to skip/miss the details, the pernicious designs and relevant impoverishment (and not just in economic terms).
This is why the message currently being circulated by a collective calling itself ‘The Positive Sri Lanka Alliance’ resonates with me. They believe, as I do, that ‘Sri Lanka wins when you think, lead, act, buy and share “positive”
And yet, we survive. We are resilient. I’ve pointed out on many occasions that we are a nation that suffered incompetent, corrupt, slothful governments ever ready to bend before the dictates of oppressor-nations, that we suffered two bloody insurrections put down with brutality that outmatched that of the insurgents, that we suffered a war for close to three decades, and that we suffered numerous calamities natural and human-made including the tsunami. We suffered, but emerged smiling. We know how to resist and when. We know how to obtain the best out of a bad situation. We are a positive nation, in many ways.
This is why the message currently being circulated by a collective calling itself ‘The Positive Sri Lanka Alliance’ resonates with me. They believe, as I do, that ‘Sri Lanka wins when you think, lead, act, buy and share “positive”.’ Their purpose is simple; challenge the negativity that is crippling the nation by creating a national movement that writes a different narrative and also jump starts the economy.
The economists would tell you that the domestic economy would benefit enormously if US$500 million was to be spent. This could help businesses improve their cash flow, reduce inventory and maintain employment levels.
Money of course does not fall from the sky, and that which comes across the seas comes with caveats and chains. There’s a price. It is sometimes called the debt trap. It is by and large a formula or enslavement of one kind of another that’s served in glitter-splashed wrapping paper.
Submitting to all that would be called the positive thing to do. ‘The only way’ they call it, at times, never mind that the advocates are quickly shifting to paradigms we had for centuries but were vilified as archaic, dysfunctional and retrograde. Now they are swearing by a ‘happiness index’ which boils down to something that’s best captured in a wish expressed in Sinhala, ‘paaduwe innava’. Something like ‘minding my own business’ but celebrating a decent if minimalistic way of being. Doing the must-do things, which are of course those that do not include goodies that need the advertising stamp.
Recently there was a citizens’ initiative to purchase pumpkins which would have otherwise gone waste due to a sharp drop in prices. People didn’t need to buy an extra pumpkin, but buying one helped keep the pumpkin farmer afloat. That’s doing a small thing and caring for someone else at the same time.
One doesn’t have to be stinking rich to do that. In fact, in our country, still, people do help each other in times of crisis, be it a simple matter such as a funeral or responding to a devastating calamity such as the tsunami. We don’t wallow in the negative.
It’s the same thing with this initiative. We can do the little-drops-of-water number in a million different ways to add that extra rupee into the economy. One thing leading to another taken individually but actually a million things leading to a 500 billion things, each of which is worth a dollar (let’s say).
Recently there was a citizens’ initiative to purchase pumpkins which would have otherwise gone waste due to a sharp drop in prices. People didn’t need to buy an extra pumpkin, but buying one helped keep the pumpkin farmer afloat
This is not rocket science and it is not necessarily new, not as a single initiative nor in terms of scale. We all got together to defeat the terrorism menace. We all got together to help those communities affected by the tsunami. It was not the case that every part of each of these exercises was planned and executed by some overarching central authority. Not everyone had to be told. Then again, we also have the thrift and credit cooperative movement counting over 8000 societies and over 1.5 million members in all parts of the country, where people do plan and execute, help one and all, raise quality of life and add meaning to lives.
It’s about self-belief. It is about recognizing resources we have been taught to believe do not exist. It is about community and solidarity. It is about seizing the moment, the day, and the future. It is about being positive.
So yes, we can overcome the setbacks generated by the Easter Sunday attacks and sort out the anxieties, fears and suspicions that followed. We can overthrow this corrupt government that has sold the country and the people down the river and ensure also that their ideological twins wearing different colours will not replace them. We can even rethink ‘development’ and design a model that makes sense not just for us but for generations to come. While we do all that, we can uplift the economy too, a project this government is clueless about managing, leave aside improving it. Just by doing that little extra spending, just by the slight slash in prices, just by being positive.