Failure of education and religion causes: Violence in society | Sunday Observer

Failure of education and religion causes: Violence in society

A class in progress. File photo
A class in progress. File photo

Going back to the roots of human values, education and religion is the way for the Sri Lankan society to stop the kind of carnage and rioting which happened recently, say academics. Speaking to the Sunday Observer, they agreed that the extremism and sadistic mob attacks was a result of the failure of modern education and religion to produce holistic individuals and the bankruptcy of the wider socio-economic environment guided by petty partisan politics.

May 13 and 14 was not the first time that mobs attacked minority communities in Sri Lankan society. Be it a place of Christian worship on Palm Sunday in Anuradhapura early last month, or Muslim houses and businesses in Digana last year, what was revealed at the end of the day was that they were the actions of sadistic mobs propelled by sinister political leaders. How did a society which boasts a more than 3000 year old culture where many ethnic and religious groups lived in harmony, end up thus? What would help society to rise-up from this predicament? The Sunday Observer explored.

It is the failure of the education system that has led Sri Lankan society to the kind of sadistic mob mentality, say academics and psychologists alike. Holding on to trivial benefits (the certificate which is the output) instead of using education to build up holistic personalities (the proper outcome of education), had been a main contributor to the sadistic mob mentality of the people, all said in one voice.

“I’m not surprised at all about this social turbulence,” said Professor Emeritus of Sociology, University of Colombo, Siri Hettige. The person is the product of society. The difference between humans and other animals that live in social groups is the socialisation, the sense of right and wrong, of justice and injustice. Socialsation is neither automatic nor inherent , it is the product of education. When it comes to socialisation, the newborn comes with a clean slate or to take a modern example, with an empty hard disk. It is society which inputs programs to this hard disk. The output is the sum total of the input. “If we install wrong programs, later we can’t complain that the computer does not work correctly,” he said. Socialisation essentially comes through education which has many components such as personal development, intellectual development and establishing identity. However, “in modern Sri Lankan society education had lost its intrinsic value and is taken only for its instrumental value. We have forgotten all about the important parts,” said Hettige.

“Education is not only knowledge but some of our societies especially the developing countries have narrowed it down so,” Prof. Rangika Halwatura, Commissioner, Sri Lanka Inventors Commission and Civil Engineering Professor at the University of Moratuwa, told the Sunday Observer.

Both academics agreed that education systems in the country have not looked at the holistic development of the person and have totally forgotten about skills building - especially social skills, values, attitudes, communication, information management and more which needs to be an integral part of education. Furthermore, it had failed in developing critical faculties enabling a rational outlook, balancing emotion and reason.

Further, there is a gap in the values and attitudes transferred from generation to generation, said Halwatura. “We, as parents have failed to transfer the values and attitudes our parents had given us to the next generation. I’m not saying we have to live within the old culture. There is a lot of innovative changes, so we have become modernised. However, the baseline should not change.” As the present society is money and wealth centered, it runs devoid of traditional values.

“If we think that education makes a man we are wrong. We saw that the suicide bombers were well educated,” said Halwatura. What we perceive as education in modern Sri Lankan society cannot teach them how to integrate with society. Individuals have to learn equal social responsibility to live in society. They have to interact with the society, feel for each other, face problems, feel the pain of the society, and integrate. Usually this is done through education and religion, he added.

It is the failure of religion as well as the failure of education, says Psychologist and Lecturer Rev. Sr. Janet Nethisinghe. “Religion has failed to give meaning to life. It has become highly ritualistic, be it Buddhism, Christianity, Islam or Hinduism. People just go through rituals, without applying religion to their daily lives.

Sometimes, they don’t even understand what they do. Religion needs to go beyond; we need to go to the roots, the origins and understand the deep spirituality and what was meant by the authors of these religions,” she reasoned.

“We could look at the recent events from different psychological facets using many theories,” said Nethisinge. Usually, individuals don’t allow their dark or mostly the negative side of personality to be seen. In Asian cultures, it is unacceptable and even repressed. However, unless an individual consciously integrates this ‘dark’ side into life, that person is imbalanced and cannot lead a proper and wholesome life.

By doing so a person acknowledges his or her negative behaviour and shortcomings, and becomes aware which actions or incidents trigger these dark behaviour patterns. That would help minimise our dark side awakening and harming people around us and the society at large. That happens in many western cultures, but as Asians we do not allow it. In the famous psychologist Carl Jung’s words, “The shadow denied is the shadow active.” If it is the dark side that is in action it could create mayhem.

According to Nethisinghe, Sri Lanka has gone through decades of war and violence. We have not had the time to heal ourselves. There are many who are hurt and therefore, angry with society. As a society we are not encouraged to reveal our feelings and emotions, but suppress them. Then, there is the aggressive part of our personality. It could be very helpful if used positively. However, suppressed, it behaves in a negative manner.

“The dominant instinct in human beings is the life instinct or the urge to protect self and stay alive. People have to be trained and brainwashed for years to embrace death as suicide bombers. However, the kind of people who joined the mobs early this month are different.” said President of the Sri Lanka Psychological Association (SLPA) and Clinical Psychologist Dr. Kanthi Hettigoda. People with dependent and avoidant personalities usually have no views of their own and could easily be influenced by others. Sometimes , there could be people whose feelings and urges are suppressed. At tense times, individual social responsibility is diluted. No one expects others to function according to social norms or behave properly. At such times, their aggressiveness may surface. Such individuals become prey to sinister groups, she said.

Their influencers would put them together with like-minded people providing acceptance and recognition, and validating violence. They have no care for the result as they know their ‘handlers’ or leaders would shield them from the law of the land using political clout. It was a case of the vulnerable personalities in the society being used by sinister political factions, Hettigoda said.

What impact would violent actions have on Sri Lankan society?

“We are a society traumatised by civil war for three decades and as they had started to live freely in peace the Easter Sunday incident re-traumatised them. Those who had personally experienced such situations many years ago, they do not necessarily have to be the physically wounded from earlier bombings, there are many emotionally wounded persons directly involved, those who suffered personal loss, especially the military and their families had been re-traumatised, ” she said. The scale of the devastation not only created insecurity in society but fear as well. While traumatised people needed to be reassured that it would not happen again, they had to go through it repeatedly, not only throughout the day but later being barraged by repeat telecasts due to media frenzy. Further, fake news and rumours through many avenues exacerbated the fear, she added.

The Easter bombing and later riots being man-made disasters, makes it a very difficult situation to overcome psychologically, said Hettigoda. Unlike the tsunami which was a natural disaster, there were other humans behind the incidents, who had planned the killings and the destruction therefore, generating the feelings of anger, disappointment, distrust and unforgivness especially in affected people. Bringing such a society to normalcy, poses a huge challenge for psychologists and other emotional support groups, said Hettigoda.

According to Sr. Nethisinghe, the utmost danger lurking in society is the cycle of violence; which could be carried into the future through our children. “Violence begets violence. Children learn through models and if what they see around is often violence, be it family, the society or anywhere else such as media it is very likely that they change their schemas and attitudes about violence. Exposure to violence can increase violent behaviour in the long run. By viewing violent behaviour and seeing how those who use violence get away with it can make them think that this is the way to survive in a violent society,” she said.

Another outcome of viewing and being exposed to violent behaviour is desensitisation. We can get used to it and be less influenced by it. When we first experience it we are likely to get shocked, afraid or repulsed, even. But over time we can get habituated. Exposure to violence may not generate a negative impact anymore. Violence becomes part of life, and that is very dangerous to a society, she said.

What are the options available for the Sri Lankan society in reversing the trend?

“Facing the facts is imperative,” says Prof. Hettige. “We need to stop turning a blind eye to larger realities threatening the society such as climate change. Our ideologies, emotions and world views should be geared to face these massive challenges.” Accepting the fundamental values of the modern social systems, such as equality, justice, fairness and democracy is another imperative. Streamlining public institutions based on modern ideas, promoting and appointing people on merit rather than on the nepotism which has already crumbled public institutions at the base would help, according to Hettige.

According to Sr. Nethisinghe, there should be changes in the education as well as religious systems. Education needs to be for life formation and integration of the value system for life. Religion should go back to the roots of spirituality. Focusing on core human values – respecting self and others, not harming or infringing on others’ lives, should start from religious places of worship. Healing our own wounds is imperative. To experience holistic healing, the society should need to break off from stigmatising psychosocial support. Instead, it should be promoted as a healthy way of life.

“Reconciliation is the only way,” Dr. Hettigoda points out. We have to come together and think as one nation overcoming racial, religious and all other such bias. Both psychologically and sociologically we must ensure safety and security. It will take time, but we must rebuild trust. In a multicultural society we cannot proceed without trust. Using mainline as well as alternative media with proper rules and regulations and in a positive manner would help in minimising trauma and building trust. The legislature should bring in strong laws to punish extremism as well as terrorism and implementing it at ground level without fear or favour, not leaving room for impunity goes a long way.

Becoming independent thinkers with critical analytical skills, mental as well as physical independence and overcoming the mindset of ‘political slavery’ would help Sri Lankan society not to repeat sadistic mobbing, says Prof. Halwatura. It seems that in the modern Sri Lankan society that the foundations or its values and attitudes are damaged. This needs to be corrected by laying down core human values, which would prevent extremism as well as opportunism.

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