Now, more than ever, the international community needs to listen to the Tibetan people’s constant cry of please listen to us, says Carrie Hartman
(TibetanReview.net, Apr16’23) – When I first heard about the viral video of the Dalai Lama going around the world my heart sank. It sank for a couple of reasons. First, that finally news about a Tibetan was going viral but it wasn’t about the suffering they’ve endured for years and second, that this man who is everything to the Tibetan people is being put into the same group as pedophiles and men abusing their power.
Since this video was released, I have seen multiple (mostly white) people who know absolutely nothing about Tibet or Tibetan culture immediately cancel the Dalai Lama. They did not consult Tibetans or Tibetan scholars for insight. They did not learn about traditional Tibetan greetings, where sticking ones tongue out is the norm, nor did they learn about the Dalai Lama’s character from those who have followed him their entire lives, those who have crossed the world’s highest mountains to get to him, or those who have spent decades living with him, consulting with him and knowing him to his core. Those same people did not realize that the video was filmed in February and that a video of the boy’s response was filmed at that same time (but did not go viral). Those same people do not know the history of the Chinese Communist Party or its goal of smearing the Dalai Lama so as to distract the international audience from their human rights abuses of Tibetans for decades. For the CCP, this video and the western response to it is gold.
I’ve seen people saying that we shouldn’t call the Dalai Lama “His Holiness,” that he is abusing his power with this term but the people saying that know nothing about Tibetan history or its people. The Dalai Lama did not ask to be called “His Holiness.” People choose to call him that out of respect for everything he has done and still does to promote compassion and peace in our world. The people accusing the Dalai Lama of abusing his power do not know about him making the personal choice to give up his power in his role as political leader of the Tibetan government. Even while Tibetans wanted him to remain in power he told them no, that the Tibetan government needed to be democratic in nature. When he was offered the COVID19 shot ahead of anyone else he refused to take it until everyone else in India had access to it as well. Yes, there are men who abuse their power, but the Dalai Lama is not one of them.
The Dalai Lama’s sense of humor is well known to those who live beside him. If you have a beard he will pull it, if you have big ears he will tell you and his comment to the child was, in his context, funny to him and completely void of malintent. Outrage at child abuse is absolutely warranted and necessary. But all the well-deserved hatred for pedophiles and power abusers is being projected onto him. Why is it that when we are finally talking about Tibetan culture, we aren’t talking about the cultural genocide happening RIGHT NOW inside of Tibet? One million Tibetan children have been taken from their families and are in colonial boarding schools where they will lose their language. Anyone who stands up for the Tibetan language is imprisoned. 159 Tibetans have self-immolated in an attempt to get the world’s attention. And now, when Tibetans are sharing their thoughts on this video and giving us context for what was actually happening, no one is listening. The Tibetan people have been saying “please listen to us” for 64 years. Maybe it’s time that we do.
— Carrie Hartman
MA in Tibetan Studies, Author of children’s book Dorje the Yak, and Teacher, Denver Public Schools