Social responsibility, mutual understanding -cornerstones of life
Extracts from an address by Judge C.G. Weeramantry at the annual prize- giving of St. Thomas' Preparatory School, Kollupitiya, on July 16.
On this great occasion I wish to give you one or two ideas to think about.
In the first place I want you to realise how privileged you are to grow up in Sri Lanka, the home of so many great cultures of the world. We all have the privilege of being in the midst of four of the world's greatest cultural traditions - Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Islam. Each of these has immeasurably enriched the world and each of them flourishes in Sri Lanka in the midst of all the others, showing how the great cultural traditions of the world can live together and continue to cross fertilise each other as they have done throughout history.

We are privileged, whatever group we belong to, to have close friends in each of the other groups, sharing their wisdom, participating in their festivities, knowing something of their scriptures and appreciating each other as friends for life.

In few countries do all the citizens have this privilege and you must make the most of it. Do not grow up in monocultural compartmentalised boxes within your own particular background but be receptive to the ennobling influences of them all. You as citizens of Sri Lanka have a unique opportunity for doing this and as you go through life make the most of it.

Secondly I would remind you that you are a very privileged generation for the barriers between the different nations of the world are breaking down and we are increasingly realising that all of us are citizens of one planet, sharing its limited resources.

In previous generations only remotely did we even feel that we were all co-citizens of planet earth. Today it is the reverse. Increasing ease of communication whether through information technology or travel has broken down many barriers and we are growing up primarily as fellow citizens of planet earth and only secondarily as citizens of this or that country.

Unless we think in this fashion, humanity is lost and I want you young people to think of yourselves as global citizens and train yourselves to be such. The world is so inter-connected today that what a citizen of Peru may do can affect the citizens of China whether it be by the felling of rain forests or by introducing a virus into the information system if one speaks of negative things or by conserving earth resources, spreading cultural knowledge or disseminating fruitful ideas to speak of things positive.

As students we were trained to be good citizens of our country. You are being trained today to be good citizens of the world. A third message I would leave with you is that you should never forget that there are enormous disparities of wealth and privilege in every country and Sri Lanka is a very special example of this. When there is vast disparity in wealth and privilege,a gap opens up between the members of the two groups - the privileged and the under-privileged. It is our job - the job of each of us - to seek to abolish this gap, and where it does exist to build bridges between the two groups.

You at St. Thomas' are in an extremely privileged situation and should bear in mind that privileges always carry responsibilities. You should make it one of your guiding principles in life to give some attention to the problems of less privileged.This can be done not only by giving them a helping hand and taking an active interest in understanding their problems. In fact many of the problems we have in this country are due to the lack of bridges and lack of understanding between the world of privilege and the world of the under-privileged. We must not perpetuate this, and you can be the leaders in showing the way.

I also wish to draw your attention to the increasing dominance in the world today of the mercantile ethic. This tends to swamp traditional values in all parts of the world. The caring habits of previous generations, especially for the elderly and the disadvantaged are yielding to the school of thought which asks "What can I get out of this?"

What is important in life is not so much what you can get for yourself but what you can give back to society in return for the privileges you have enjoyed.

Here again, you can show the way to others, for habits of service and concern are infectious. When people adopt such service oriented attitudes and act on them others will follow .

Some societies of the world have been enormously successful because they are oriented towards duties rather than rights. An outstanding example is Japan where children are taught from the kindergarten level to think of their duties towards society.Our societies are becoming increasingly oriented towards the rights of the individual rather than the individual's duty towards society. Rights are of course important and must be respected. But that is only one aspect of one's relationship with society, which must be seen in its total context.

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