THE TRUTH ABOUT POWER

Although you won’t be reading this until early in the New Year, I’m writing it on the morning of the Winter Solstice, the day in the Northern Hemisphere with the shortest duration between sunrise and sunset, the darkest day of 2017, which for many people has been the darkest year of their lives.

Today also happens to be the first day when the President of the United States can sign into law the pervasively flawed and profoundly dishonest new tax code, passed yesterday, legislation that harms the most vulnerable people in our nation, while benefiting those who already have the greatest advantages.  Halfway around the world in Burma, there is a genocide being waged against the Rohingya people, Muslims in a Buddhist nation.  It has been fueled by the government and perpetrated by the army and has not been obstructed by Burma’s iconic Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Aun Sang Suu Kyi.  Even Pope Francis, on his recent visit to Burma, chose not to mention the Rohingya people, although uncounted numbers of them have been raped or otherwise tortured and many murdered.  More than 600,000 Rohingya have fled their homes, often carrying nothing with them, across rivers or mountains to refugee camps in Bangladesh, the poorest nation in Asia, a land frighteningly susceptible to further impoverishment as the seas rise with the intensification of the climate crisis, a crisis in which we are all implicated and through which we will all be hurt.  Meanwhile, across the Middle East, Arabs are killing Arabs and Muslims are killing Muslims, just as Rwandans have killed Rwandans; Bosnians Bosnians; Irish, Irish.  And Americans Americans, in a War called Civil, from which we have not yet fully emerged a-century-and-a-half later.

Dalai Lama Fellows is not a political organization or an economic organization or an environmental organization; neither is our purpose explicitly human rights.  It is simpler than that, and maybe more difficult.  Our mission is to instill in young leaders, mostly millennials, the values that have driven the Fourteenth Dalai Lama’s thought and work for decades: that we are all human beings and that we are all interconnected, and that therefore, ultimately, the flourishing of each one of us is ineluctably linked to the flourishing of all.



More than 50 years ago I wrote my junior paper in college on E. M, Forster, the distinguished British author (and, incidentally, closeted gay man), best known for A Passage to India, which focused on race and gender issues toward the end of the Raj.  More meaningful for me was Forster’s novel about class and gender in England, Howards End, which opens with the two words, “Only connect…” Human connection seems to be increasingly imperilled (despite Facebook with its nearly two billion users, the largest contingent of people who have ever been connected into a single “community” in the history of the world.) Disconnection is everywhere, whether in the socio-political examples cited above and the grotesque wealth disparities that are intensifying from Mumbai and Shanghai to the Bay Area to Saudi Arabia; or in the continuing massacre of unarmed people of color by white American civil servants, commissioned to uphold the law, or in the downsizing and anticipated commercialization of irreplaceable National Monuments in the American West; or in the epidemic of sexual predation that we all knew was happening, but failed to acknowledge until a few celebrity monsters were named and shamed.

Dalai Lama Fellows campaign, “The Truth about Power,” ends next week.  We hope that you will consider a contribution and help to us reach our goal of raising $85,000 by Martin Luther King Day, January 15.  Dr. King famously articulated his own truth about power and connection as follows: “Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic.  Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”  This reflection elaborates on the Southern African theme of Ubuntu, the belief in “a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity,” often invoked by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama’s peer, ally, and friend  Last August, two of our LifeLong Fellows, Leonard Annan of Ghana and Agostine Ndung’u of Kenya, joined Archbishop Tutu and other thought-leaders in Gaborone, Botswana, for a symposium, where they linked their experience as Fellows to the philosophy of Ubuntu.  

Our Fellows, now more than 125, from 36 nations, continue to do noteworthy and essential work all over the world.  We hope that you will donate to “The Truth about Power” and help keep our program strong.  But more fundamentally and more urgently, I hope that in 2018 you will do all within your own power to alleviate disconnection wherever you encounter it and to advance connection whenever possible: among people, across peoples, and between people and the world in which we live.  

One truth about the darkest day of the year is that what follows has to be a turning toward the light.  

With gratitude and continuing hope,

Marty