The Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, urges the world in general—and China in particular—to show more compassion in the year ahead
As we face the challenge of ever-expanding populations, increasing demands for energy and food, as well as huge disparities in wealth, we have to embrace globalisation and accept people from all countries as neighbours and collaborators, not rivals. In this interdependent world, war is outdated. Destroying other countries brings no benefit, but creates humanitarian suffering, trade disruption and environmental problems that everyone must bear.
In 2008 there will be efforts to put an end to ongoing violent conflict in several parts of the world. The drive to achieve economic growth will also go on, while awareness of the perils of climate change and the need to protect ourselves from its unpredictable effects will become more acute. This will surely focus attention on the powerless and dispossessed, who will be the first to suffer and the least able to help themselves.
People need goods and services to meet the essential requirements of existence, not to mention those things that bring dignity and comfort to human life. Yet for all the innovation and creativity of our economic activity, we have not succeeded in securing these essentials for all human beings. The yawning gap between the “haves” and “have nots” is going to create a great deal of suffering for everyone.
We watch, hear and read every day about breathtaking manifestations of affluence, alongside deaths due to starvation, poverty, malnutrition, and preventable or curable diseases. Shouldn’t we ask ourselves whether something is wrong with our choice of goals or our motivation, or both? I believe we have to find ways of bringing compassion to bear in our economic activity.
Compassion and love are fundamental to relations between human beings. Therefore the interdependent society in which we live has to be a compassionate one, compassionate in its choice of goals, and compassionate in the pursuit of those goals.
When we focus only on our own requirements and disregard the needs and interests of others, we are likely to provoke hostility. This is especially true when we view our own happiness and needs predominantly in terms of material wealth and power. All human beings yearn for freedom, equality and dignity, and have a right to achieve them. Therefore, in today’s shrinking world the acceptance of universally binding standards of human rights is essential.
I do not see any contradiction between the need for economic development and the need to respect human rights. The right to free speech and association is vital in promoting a country’s economic development. In Tibet, for example, there have been instances where unsuitable economic policies have been implemented and continued long after they have failed to produce benefits, because citizens and government officials could not speak out against them. And it is the same elsewhere.
A middle way for Tibet
We praise diversity in theory, but too often fail to respect it in practice. If someone is different from us, we are inclined to interpret the difference in negative terms and perceive it as threatening. The Chinese government’s attitude to the people of Tibet is a case in point. Naturally Tibetans love their own culture and their way of life as best suited to their distinct environment and situation, but whenever they show active interest, respect or faith in it, Chinese officials regard their urge to preserve their identity as a threat to the unity of China. Such an inability to embrace diversity is a major source of dissatisfaction that can give rise to conflict.
The Chinese leadership places great emphasis on harmony: an excellent goal. But in order to achieve it, there must be trust. Trust flows from equality and compassion. Suspicion creates restraint and is an obstacle to trust. Without trust, how can you develop genuine unity or harmony?
I believe we can find a way for both Chinese and Tibetans to live together with dignity, freedom and in the spirit of good neighbourliness. I am convinced that we can achieve a “middle way”, if we engage in a process that respects our differences and acknowledges that we have the ability and the means to solve our problems and help each other.
In 2008 close attention will be focused on China as it hosts the Olympic games. I feel strongly that as the world’s most populous nation, with its long history and ancient civilisation, China deserves this privilege and honour. However, we must not forget that the Olympics are a free, fair and open contest in which athletes of all recognised nations, no matter how small, are welcome to compete on an equal footing. Freedom, fairness, openness and equality are not only the principles enshrined in the Olympic games but among the highest human values, a measure against which all nations should be held to account.
in The Economist