If You Remember Nothing Else

lasanthaLasantha Wickrematunga

A Sri Lankan journalist is dead, in what appears to be a classic political hit job. Three days before his assassination he wrote his own obituary, which accuses the government of responsibility and searches for meaning in his life and probable death.  The Sunday Leader, the aptly-named paper he edited, published his extraordinary reflections, which are worth reading.  Thank you, Louise, for sharing them.

The story is as familiar as it is wrenching. The cost of an abbreviated life, of any life and of this life. The wife and children left behind. A man killed for his testimony, small t, for bearing witness to the failings of the governing class. 

His departing hope is that the “human spirit will endure and flourish” and overcome the political impulse to contain it. This dream is also familiar. Most political movements begin as journeys towards dignity not dominance. Rosa was tired of sitting in the back of the bus.

But the human spirit is messy. All that enduring and flourishing can be decidedly inconvenient to those in charge, and a classic path to oppression and worse begins by shaving a dimension or two off the humanity of opponents.

We are much easier to manage in this reduced form.  Once we’re corralled into some kind of “other” category, once our many human qualities get boiled down to one – to our link to the other party, religion, ethnicity – we’re easier to push around. We’re easier to blame, easier to deny access and rights, easier to assassinate. This voice from the grave spoke directly to those on the receiving end of the dehumanizing backlash of power:

“If you remember nothing else, let it be this: the Leader is there for you, be you Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim, low-caste, homosexual, dissident or disabled.”

He understood how radical it was to see the full humanity of the people he served.  We often struggle to define the essence of leadership, but that may be it. 

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