Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Visit from the Dalai Lama Part 2

The Dalai Lama was asked a question during his visit, to which he had an interesting response.  The question was asked at 36:40 in the video.  The student was asking about America's role as an embassy of democracy and   the danger of cultural imperialism resulting from this.  The Dalai Lama answered in two parts.  One, a people can only allow their culture to be suppressed or influenced by others only if their culture is weak, if the people don't hold their culture strongly in their hearts.  A strong example of a country that changed its culture easily is China.  China went through the Cultural Revolution, in which thousands of years of culture was thrown out like trash, and the hole needed to be filled.  Taiwan, on the other hand, retained much more of the traditional chinese culture, yet did not try to stay isolated from other people.  The people retained their culture, while embracing the rest of the world.  For another matter, culture changes.  There is no classic culture for any people.  Cultures are constantly changing, and are an expression of how things are done in an area by the people who live there, so there is no reason to reject any change to it.

Two, democracy is not a Western concept.  For one thing, Chinese and Tibetan tales speak of the first kings being elected by the mandate of the people.  For another, Sunni muslims agree that Islam requires intelligent leaders elected by the people.  These are not inherently Western nations.  If you consider far back, when the majority of mankind would have tribal chiefs as leaders, the chief would have to be someone his tribe believed to be the best leader, and would have to be elected.  The Dalai Lama insists that democracy is natural to humans.

The Dalai Lama went on later to insist that the Tibetan people wanted to stay with China, and progress, but also wanted their own government for the majority of decisions.  In other words, it seems they want their own provincial government not imposed by others, but elected by the people of Tibet.  He insists that no matter what the Tibetan communities have been, they also need to progress.

What impressed me about this portion of his address was how much he held in common with my grandfather: they both insist on the need to progress. In contrast with many people now (like the average person who remembers the "good old days", or even controversial figures like Glenn Beck) the Dalai Lama, my 60 year-old IT professor, and my grandfather all insist on the wonders of progress.  They do not lament change, they do not wish for an imagined simpler time.  They embrace change while preserving aspects of their culture.  They do not pretend that their culture was perfect at any time.  Perhaps, the actions of these aged people should be emulated.  Perhaps this is why they do not fall to "Whiner Fever".  Perhaps it is this intelligent strength that keeps them from being tied up by an illusion, that keeps them in touch with reality, that allows them to be strong enough to face their problems like men (and women) instead of like boys (and girls).  Wisdom is held to come from experience, and experience usually comes with age.  It's time to learn from our elders.

A Visit from the Dalai Lama

Yesterday, I watched a portion of an address by His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama.  I'm sure any readers can tell by the way I have introduced him in this post, that, though this is the first time I have heard him speak, I have great respect for him.  The Dalai Lama came to the McFarlin Auditorium at Southern Methodist University, in Dallas, Texas to address the people, especially the students, of the community.  Fortunately for me, the library has a room in which the live broadcast was being screened.

I walked in when the Dalai Lama was talking about reality.  Since I watched it live, and have no way of checking his words, I will be paraphrasing.  He was saying that it is necessary to see reality, and that strong emotions block your view of reality.  This is why, he continued, all religions call for love, compassion, and warm-heartedness.  When a person has these characteristics, he is not blinded by anger, fear, jealousy or some sort of feeling of self-righteousness.  There is no feeling of dividing people into us and them, and that we must win.  You come to love all, and obtain peace.

The Dalai Lama quickly then addressed secularism.  He insisted that secularism does not mean some sort of disrespect for religion, or distancing yourself from religion.  Instead, he reminded us that it was about having no preference for one religion over another, and respecting all of them, even atheism.  India, it seems, has had secular governments for a few millennia, even if the rulers practiced their own religions.  His Holiness, for this reason, urged that the concepts for focusing on reality are not religious, but more spiritual in general; they are common and beneficial for all mankind.  Man, he insists, is a social animal, and when their is no love, there is no trust.  Trust is necessary for friendship, and it is at the opposite end of fear.  Love and trust can allow us to overcome our fears.

I agree.  It is common amongst cultures to have moral stories about the dangers of losing control of emotions. When someone does something stupid out of love, it is out of selfish love, out of a sense of possession.  The stronger you are, the more people you love, the more people you include in your circle, the less likely you are to lose control of yourself.  The Dalai Lama was addressing an issue of civility.  Stephen Carter in his book Civility: Manners, Morals, and the Etiquette of Democracy defines civility as "the set of sacrifices we make for the sake of our common journey with others, and out of love and respect for the very idea that there are others... we accept and value them as every bit our equals..." (23).  This is important.  In our secular country, in which differences in opinions are highly valued, it is important to not get carried away in our fervor.   We must not see those who have different values as being crazy people, or evil people, because this would stop the dialogue, and let our antagonism fester.  Instead, we must control ourselves, promote good emotions, be big-hearted, and remain connected to reality.

Edit: The Dalai Lama's speech at SMU is now up on the SMU website.  Go ahead and check it out.  There was a lot I missed, that I'm sure the rest is as good as the parts I saw.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Reluctant Fervor

Last week, the Muslim Student Association (MSA) at SMU held Islamic Awareness Week (IAW).  Everyday, there would be people in Hughes-Trigg, presenting posters on a subject within Islam, inviting people to the free food in front of them, and encouraging them to come to the afternoon lectures.  There was one afternoon lecture a day, held by a different speaker than the day before.  Yet, for all of the advertising and work done by the students, few people came to see the posters, and there were almost no non-Muslims who came to the lectures.

In a time when America is having Muslim hearings by Rep. Peter King, when anti-Muslim fervor is at a bit of a high in America, when people are asking "What is Islam about, and can it coexist with American culture?", the MSA was holding lectures on Islam.  The first lecture was about the Islam and culture, and how they coexist.  Yet, absolutely no non-Muslim came to that one.  People claim that they just can't wait to hear from Muslims about Islam, and that they want to see the Muslim community acting to prevent radicalization, but do not come to these events.  They then speculate that Muslims have been quiet, and that mosques are becoming training centers.  The one mosque/masjid in the world that is closed off to non-Muslims is Masjid-al-Haram, the masjid that holds the Kaa'bah.  All other masjids are happy to see non-Muslims take an interest in what they are saying, at least in the US, yet few people take 20 minutes out of their days to check them out.

Instead, at SMU, non-Muslims take Intro to Islam with John Lamoreaux, a class which has both its merits and its shortcomings.  Mr. Lamoreaux, at the beginning of the semester, made many remarks that all of the Muslims in the class disagreed with.  Once, he talked about some supposedly viable tradition amongst Muslims.  When all of us argued with him, he said that it is a viable tradition that no Muslim in the world actually follows.  So, by his reasoning, I guess that I can say that all Christians hate Jews, because there has been a lot of anti-Semitism in Christianity's history.  Or, I can say that anyone who declares he is rich in France is going to the guillotine, because it once happened.  Ridiculous assertions are made with no solid proof, and everyone eats it up, because everyone loves looking for dirt on others, but the incredible efforts to show the truth are swept aside as boring, or conflicting with previous schedules.  (By the way, Mr. Lamoreaux gives extra credit to his students if they write amazing reviews on Ratemyprofessor.com.  Go ahead, check it out).

There are lots of Muslims in the world who are uneducated.  Illletracy rates are high in most Muslim countries.   These people cannot read or write anything about their religion, and must take the advice of any random person who can provide information.  In America, however, some of the smartest Muslims in the world live.  Here, we can and do try to show what our religion is truly about.  When a group of people is subjected to such slander and libel, and all of its efforts to help its country are swept aside, it is both the love for the religion and the love for the country that suffer.  Alienation is not the way to integration.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Caution! Slippery Slope Ahead!

There have been times in America's history when fanaticism has swept the nation, and people suspended their moral compasses for the emotionally-stirring allure of fear.  At least twice, fear for the well-being of wealth have masqueraded as fear for freedom and democracy.  Once, it was used to try to prevent the labor market from being downsized by the abolition of slavery.  Calls went up to allow for the people to use democratic system of voting to settle this issue within each state, rather than having the federal government make the decision.  These people were ignoring that this country was founded to respect the will of the many while ensuring the rights of the few.  Half a century later, anti-semitic feelings in America were growing, just as they were in Europe, even throughout the Holocaust.  In the minds of the people, refugees, especially the notorious Jewish refugees, would surely steal all of the money that the good, hardworking "natives"  had rightfully earned.  Twenty years after that, McCarthyism reigned supreme with the Red Scare.  Although America had had a Communist Party since 1919, the members of this party, along with an incredible number of other people, were accused of treason by either being Communist, or having some indirect, laughably weak link to Communism. Once before, fear for life also brought about regretful actions.  During the Second World War, Japanese Americans were placed in America's own concentration camps.  Although these were not nearly as harsh as the ones set up in the Holocaust, suspicion and fear left a scar on the Japanese community that does not go away.

It is obvious that Americans are regretful of these actions.  Any decent nation would be.  Most of the Germans were, after the Second World War, for their actions.    However, that does not erase the pain that is caused.  It does not wipe the slate clean.  There is no need to keep adding blots to America's image.  America was not founded as a pure democracy, but as a balance so that the majority and the minority could live at peace.  America was not founded as a pure capitalist country, but as a country with both capitalist and socialist aspects, so that the American Dream was possible.

Now, we again find ourselves at the edge of a precipice.  Fear for life is a again stirring the people.  In this War on Terror, some have begun to succumb to fear and hatred.  Yesterday, there was a CNN program that highlighted the mosque controversy in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.  When the badly named "Ground Zero Mosque Controversy" started a rush of sincerely offended feelings, and some religious hatred, the residents of this small town became swept away by their fear.  One, trying to not seem too much like a bigot, apparently, exclaimed about Muslims, "I didn't say to hate 'em.  I'm just saying we don't need 'em here".  Along with the "Ground Zero Mosque" controversy, the situation with planned mosque in Murfreesboro highlights a new trend to resist any construction of mosques in America.  Apparently, America is not for sale to "terrorists".  (Both of the controversial mosques have predecessors in the same area that have become too small for their congregations.  The anti-mosque ralliers tend to gloss over that point.)

Although it may seem like a bit of a stretch now, if we look with both foresight and hindsight, it does not take long to go from denying people a place to worship to persecuting them openly.  We should not fall for the same pattern that we seem to go through every few decades.  Patrick Henry once had the courage to say, "...give me liberty or give me death!"  We need to go back to the founding fathers, take strength from them, and use the principles that they founded this country on, and declare that no matter the fear, we shall not give up our liberty, nor the liberty of our neighbors to hysteria and fear.  People died to make this country this way.  We cannot dishonor them by undoing their work.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Whiner Fever

When you laugh, the world laughs with you; when you cry, you cry alone.

From anglonautes.com
There’s been a growing trend in the world, a trend that has been magnifying through the generations.  People whine about the smallest of issues.  When my grandfather interacts with his peers, they talk in a very civil manner.  They discuss daily happenings, make some jokes, and have a pleasant time.  Whenever they come to the topic of problems, they acknowledge the large ones, but try to keep to smaller problems that they can fix.  And they honestly brainstorm solutions.  Contrast this with my father’s generation, which is a bit less mannered, but makes more jokes than the previous generation.  They love to discuss world problems, yet don’t even look for anything that they can do to improve the situation.  Even if someone tells them what they could do, they give a sad sigh and then put the thought out of their minds.  For my generation, half of the small talk is about how we hate something or how we got shifted. 

When I compare the conditions in which these three generations lived, I start to see why this could be.  Technology has progressed in amazing leaps and bounds this past century.  The daily difficulties of living well have been replaced with automatic transmission cars, computers, and cell phones.  These devices relieve the burden of surviving, yet the easier we have it, the more we complain.  In fact, I found a good example of this whining culture in this Youtube video.  It seems that the less you have to do to physically survive, the weaker your mental strength becomes.
Louis CK on Conan

When people whine about their problems, they expect one of two things: outrage at the offender, or sympathy.  What the listener really feels is outrage if he’s in the same situation, or irritation for having to hear the person whine.  Most people are polite enough to hide their irritation, but they still find it annoying. 

Why?  Is it because people are becoming so uncivil that they can’t spare time to listen to their peers?  Sure, that could be a small part, but I think it’s something else.  The majority of our problems are miniscule- at least the ones that we complain to others about.  No one wants to converse with someone who makes them depressed.  And when you hear enough of someone’s problems, you become apathetic.  In fact, it is the complainer who is uncivil.  He’s not making their conversation pleasant for his partner.

Does this mean that talking about your problems with your acquaintances is uncivil?  No.  If you truly are trying to brainstorm a solution, or seeking the help of someone, then it’s a different manner.  You are trying to fix an issue, rather than just venting your discomfort.  When this becomes a habit, you have engaged in a tremendous amount of backbiting, which can come back to haunt you, and it makes you seem like an incompetent fool who can’t do anything himself.  Sometimes, the person you are confiding in, as a third party, will make you realize you are an incredibly trivial person, and you would feel ashamed whenever thinking about it.

In P.M. Forni’s book, Choosing Civility, there is a chapter entitle “Happiness and the Mind”.  In it, Forni references multiple philosophers, religious leaders, and an emperor who assert that “our happiness does not spring from the events of our lives but rather from how we choose to respond to those events” (15).  We feel entitled to our privileges, that we feel robbed when we are denied, even temporarily.  We need to focus, instead, on how we interpret events to change how we feel about them (16).  Something as small and normal as a traffic rush should be looked at creatively to see what we can do or enjoy in that time.  The truth is that we can create our own happiness.  However, people resist accepting this, because they don’t want to be responsible, to not blame others.  It is hard, yes, but hard things train someone to become strong.  And, if we have good relations with people who make us happy, we don’t have to work as hard (17).  People do not enjoy the company of whiners, however, so if we want to be happy, we must first work to become strong.

Whining is not the same as alerting people to a problem.  It is where we do not seek a solution, and it especially has to do with our small problems.  It makes a society weak, grumpy, and disrespectful.  In this era, when we focus so much on academic strength for happiness, we need to complement our lives with emotional strength.  Only then will our lives hold meaning.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Wonderful Blog

Bettina Melio: From artofmanliness.com
To anyone who reads this blog, or will read it in the future: if any of you enjoy martial arts, I would recommend The Way of Least Resistance.  This is a martial arts (mostly karate) blog by an Australian litigator who has much experience in cases of real fights.  He also studies a variety of martial arts- karate, xingyi, bagua, taiji, arnis, kobudo, etc- and has recently been accepted into the intimate circle of one of the most famous Chinese martial arts masters, Chen Yun-Ching.

From jeet-kune-do.com
This man not only looks at martial arts from the view of how real fights work, but also uses physics discussions, and the historical development of techniques and martial arts to explain his view.  He is a martial artist I greatly respect, even more than Bruce Lee, and his blog has won three awards in the past few months.  If you are interested, please visit his page, and try starting with a blog post that interests you.  I personally started with his views on the difference between boxing and karate.