Thursday, August 31, 2006

Practising Pratipaksha bhavanam

YOGA: According to yogic philosophy, the Sanskrit phrase pratipaksha bhavanam (focusing on the positive) and visualizing a state of peace helps to overcome negativity. It is important to recognize this negativity and then respond with positive thoughts in order to improve society and ourselves.

The existence of negativity in our daily lives is a reality we must face. As the Buddha teaches-life is suffering. Buddhist and yogic philosophy also teach us that facing the root of our disturbances and further educating ourselves we can overcome himsa (violence or negativity) towards others and ourselves with positive ways.

I was delighted to receive so many responses to my article on Sexual Harassment from August 17th-both in writing and in person. While the majority of the replies published in last week's paper were in support of addressing the problem of harassment, I noticed several responses emphasizing pessimism instead of hope to overcome this societal challenge.

One woman criticized Sri Lanka for its "vulgarity" -even commenting that men should go to prostitutes instead of sexually harassing other women. First of all, I think it is simplistic to state that Sri Lankan society is a vulgar one. Instead, it must be acknowledged that this is a problem concerning individuals who lack the education of dignified conduct and respectful behavior towards women.

Second, I believe the suggestion for men to seek prostitutes as an alternative only perpetuates mistreatment towards women. The presence of prostitution is a genuine problem (in Sri Lanka and around the world).

The world not only exploits young women through poverty, abuse and lack of opportunities - they are forced into having few options other than succumbing to such a desperate and unfortunate lifestyle. Another male reader criticized women for wearing revealing clothing (thereby inviting perpetrators to harass them).

This hypothesis was proven wrong by a fellow reader who explained her endurance of sexual harassment-in spite of covering 90% of her body with clothing. Clearly, the clothing women wear is not the problem here.

Finally, it is unreasonable and unproductive to blame any woman who experiences harassment-regardless of whom she is and what she is wearing. Women should be able to wear what they please without fearing harassment-or for that matter-being judged. While Sri Lanka is a society that values women dressing modestly, individuals who choose to wear what they want should not have to suffer mistreatment or disrespect.

Sexual harassment will not end by criticizing Sri Lanka through negative generalizations or blaming men and women for their conduct. While harassment is a universal problem, education for all and support from women and men of all generations will improve society.

Rather than focus on the negative behaviour, I believe it is important to practice pratipaksha bhavanam-emphasizing the positive in order to overcome the negative. I invite my readers to do the same - tiken tika, little by little-in order to encourage positive change and promote harmony.

Ruah is a New Yorker who is doing her post graduate in Sustainable Development in Sri Lanka.


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