It was Easter Sunday (21 April 2019). I was in my flat in Dhaka, attending to some important business matters when I got a message that a bomb had gone off at St Anthony’s Church in Kochchikade, Colombo. Having not heard of bombings and terrorist violence for the past ten years, since the end of the civil war in Sri Lanka, I hoped it was a hand grenade thrown by a business rival involved in unscrupulous business, with no injuries; these were the rare occurrences we heard of over the past ten years. Then the news started pouring in with photos and videos of simultaneous bomb attacks in two other churches and luxury hotels as well. My immediate concern was for my family who would have been at an Easter Mass at the same time. After calling and ensuring they were safe, my thoughts went out to the victims. I started hearing news of people known to me or families of people known to me having lost their lives or being injured, among the 253 souls that departed and 500 plus injured. I had visited St Anthony’s Church many times and I could picture the carnage as if I was there. It is considered a miraculous church and people from all religions visit to reflect on their challenges and ask help from St Anthony to resolve them.
I immediately started planning to come back to Sri Lanka, by re-scheduling sessions and completing some important tasks that needed attention before my return. I was also grappling with some other challenges simultaneously, limiting my time to reflect on, and make sense of, what was happening in my lovely country. On the Thursday night after the Sunday attacks, I contacted an Indian friend, Saibal, whom I had met when I did a strategy session for a company he worked for as CEO, in Dhaka. I called Saibal to meet him for lunch, which we had agreed to do when we bumped into each other a few weeks before. Saibal invited me to a prayer service by the Dhaka International Christian Community (DICC) the next morning, which I attended eagerly. I was touched by their prayers for Sri Lanka and the compassion they showed me when I was introduced as a Sri Lankan. The prayers and singing helped me to reflect deeply about what was going on in Sri Lanka and the challenges I was dealing with. Saibal and I also had a nice Sri Lankan lunch and talked about the situation after the prayer service. I felt totally peaceful. I slept well that night, the first time after the Easter attacks.
I arrived in Sri Lanka yesterday and I was saddened to notice the airport, usually overflowing with tourists, empty. The tight security we experienced during the civil war ten years ago was back. What happened to us? We had gone back ten years. There was a sense of confusion, fear, sadness, caution and even anger in the air.
The purpose of this blog is not to summarise what the media is saying or to point out who is at fault. Enough has been said about that, with multiple points of view that have confused us more. The question that comes to my mind is; what was the purpose of the people who planned and executed this attack? How is their action linked to the purpose of the martyrs and injured and their families and friends? How is all this connected to our lives, our country, our region and planet Earth? I would have to write a few books to reflect on and answer these questions, and such answers cannot be considered the truth as there are so much unknown facts, so many ideologies and so many perspectives involved.
Therefore, the best way I can be helpful in this situation is to present some questions from the context of purposeful living, to help you make sense of what happened. and perhaps think of how to move on in life. Let me use some of the work I have done on the notion of ‘purpose’ over the past three years and have written about in the previous 25 blog posts, in generating some reflective questions.
The first reflective question in making sense of our ‘purpose’ is the ‘why’ of our life. The ‘why’ is driven by what makes one joyous, what one experienced and learnt through one’s struggles and how one can be of service to this planet. Did the attacks make the attackers joyous? How would they experience the joy when they went into the attack on a suicide mission? Are the surviving attackers happy? If so what makes them happy? What about struggles? Some of the attackers were successful in their lives financially and were living a luxurious life; were there other struggles they went through that gave them the strength, courage and a reason to act in this manner? What would these struggles be? How can this be of service to their world? The answer to this question depends on what their ‘world’ is? Is it a religious or ideological world? Is it a business world? What is this ‘world’ they are serving by such acts and how? Is their definition of the world too narrow and do they define it too selfishly to ignore the wider-world and the impact their actions create on the wider-world?
The second reflective question in making sense of our ‘purpose’ is the ‘values for our lives’. I believe that such values should noble values that contributes to create a more peaceful, happy, tolerant, dignified, harmonious and prosperous world. These incidents show that the attackers were driven by a set of values which they may believe were noble, based on their ideology. What do you think their values were? How do you think such values were inculcated? What would it take to inculcate noble values in the hearts of all human beings so that we can reduce or eliminate such situations in the future, perhaps 40 to 50 years from now? That is the time it might take for those contaminated with harmful values to reach an age where they may not have the physical and mental strength to act in such a manner, and the time it takes for those born new and inculcated with positive values to be old enough and significant enough in numbers to defeat the misguided forces.
The third reflective question in making sense of our ‘purpose’ is; ‘what will I say yes to’?. The attackers said ‘yes’ to the idea of taking lives, creating grief, fear, confusion, anger, hatred etc. that results in division and economic hardship to a country struggling to get on its feet after a civil war that spanned over three decades. The question is what motivated them to say ‘yes’ to this idea? What would have taken them to say ‘no’ to this? We also hear that those able to prevent this were provided information of the pending attacks before they happened. The question is what made them say ‘no’ to taking action to prevent this catastrophe?
The intention of this writing is to give you some questions to help in making sense of what happened. I also recommend that you make sense of how this impacts you and what steps you can take, through your attitudes and behaviours, to inculcate positive values, sound reasoning and good judgement in the minds and hearts of those close to us so that we make it our ‘purpose’ to create a world rid of such thinking and action.
This new phase in this series on ‘purposefulness’, which I started four months ago, is dedicated to address living issues and struggles related to purposeful living. I hope this short blog post inspires you to find ways of making sense and dealing with conflicts that arise when trying to live purposefully.
I wish you purposeful living!