As a child in Tibet, I heard this story about a clever way to get rid of a ghost: Two friends were very close, they rarely went long without spending time together. On a certain day, both friends separately went about their daily business as usual. One was in an accident and died, the other was not and lived.
Not much time passed before the unfortunate one who had been in the accident appeared at his friend’s house. Having seen the dead body with his own eyes, the friend knew he was talking to a ghost, so he was afraid. People say that when the dead don’t know they are ghosts they can easily become angry with friends and family, causing disease or other harm. Careful to avoid making the ghost upset, he calmly said, “I am very busy right now, but we should get together on Black Donkey Day.” The ghost went away, then back came back the next day. This time he said, “I will see you on Black Donkey Day, unfortunately I have too much to do right now.” For the next several days, the ghost kept coming back and was always turned away with the same excuse. Over time, the ghost came back less frequently until his friend said, “You don’t need to come by here, I will go get you when Black Donkey Day comes.” The poor ghost is still waiting.
Some members of the Tibetan community have been treating women’s rights and other social issues like dangerous ghosts. I don’t know what they are afraid of exactly, but it seems that they have also heard the Black Donkey Day story and are using the same trick. Whenever I talk about some idea to make our community more equal, someone will always say we are too busy right now, but if I wait, we will definitely deal with equality or whatever other issue later.
It’s true Tibetan society is already managing a lot. We are busy, but that’s no excuse to ignore everyday problems. You never see Barack Obama going out in dirty clothes just because he has more important things to take care of than changing his underwear. America is working on curing cancer and sends people to space, but that doesn’t mean they let kids pee in the street. If you want to achieve something big, you start with getting the small things under control. If we are going to achieve big goals for the Tibetan community, we need to start by fixing our basic everyday problems. Instead of using our major issues as an excuse to delay social change until Black Donkey Day, our major issues should be the reason we make change immediately.
Everybody agrees that we need to protect our culture. Some people take that to an extreme by hiding embarrassing truths and condemning critical opinions. Unfortunately, it seems to me, these people are exactly some of the ones harming Tibetan culture the most, replacing our imperfect reality with a fake image.
The fake image is not even our own myth, it’s a reflection of what foreign supporters want Tibetans to be like. Dissatisfied with the societies they are familiar with at home, foreigners often look to Tibetans to represent the kind of peaceful, harmonious, and deeply spiritual community they wish for. It has more to do with their desires than our actual way of life, but we play the part. We make sure the whole world sees, and only sees, us in terms of what other people would like us to be. Although we all know it’s just a show, the danger is that we spend so much time acting that we forget who we were in the first place.
The benefits aren’t worth it. Our audience is not even that large, just ask a random Westerner about their views on Tibet and wait for the puzzled look. A typical answer might be, “Umm…Is that part of China, right?” or “Oh right, I saw that movie” if they have any idea at all. Yes, there are enthusiastic supporters, but they are a tiny piece of the population of the places they come from. As hard as we work to impress supporters, most people still have little or no idea that Tibetans exist.
Instead of sacrificing our identity to appear a certain way, I’d like to see all of us working both to embrace the best parts of our culture and to improve on the areas that need it. If we are truly proud of ourselves and our traditions, and we should be, we don’t need to worry about that anyone else thinks.
I remember the cooks from when I was at TTS many years ago. Most were older men, retired from the military, men who didn’t have a chance to marry while in the service and were later too old to attract a wife. So they focused on female students instead. At that time, students had to take turns working in the kitchen with these men, and the girls were regularly subjected to groping, leering, and sexual comments. The cooks could do and say whatever they felt like, without any consequences. If a girl wanted to see her boyfriend on the weekend, that was considered a big problem, but older men, men my father’s age, grabbing us was fine. Everybody knew about it. Male students complained because they thought it wasn’t fair that the cooks gave girls extra food along with their sexual attention.
The recent TCV incident was different. This time the cook crossed a line, a big one, from harassment to rape. Most people seem to agree that rape at least is unacceptable. But why do we tolerate behaviors like forced kissing, unwanted touching, and demeaning comments? These also violate women. Anytime a man imposes himself on a women after she says “no” isn’t okay. Let’s not wait for a man to rape someone before he hears that message. When a woman is being harassed, any one of us can speak up, and if we speak up enough, we can start to change these behaviors.
The views in the link above seem pretty typical, mainly advising against marriage to non-Tibetans and highlighting the importance of Tibetan mothers. Yes, Tibetan mothers are important. There’s nothing wrong with pointing that out, but it does make me wonder, what about Tibetan fathers? Why is it that there is a lot of talk about Tibetan mothers need to do this, should be doing that, or are praised on the condition of acting a certain way, yet the same people are totally quiet about a father’s responsibilities.
Tibetan mothers, all mothers, already do a lot. Nine months of pregnancy is a long time to carry a little person kicking and squirming around, then pushing the baby out into the world isn’t so simple either. Believe me, men did the easy part. Once the baby is born, mothers still have a lot of work to do. And so do fathers. Caring for a child is a tough job that both parents need to be fully engaged in. We don’t need more rules for mothers, we need to stop ignoring the importance of dads.
Many Tibetan fathers do a great job, and should get credit for everything they do to raise healthy, happy kids. Instead of only focusing on mothers, and giving us advice we didn’t ask for, let’s try giving as much attention to encouraging good fathers. If mothers and fathers are working together to bring up their children well, there’s nothing to worry about, we can trust the children we raise with our future.
I’ve heard a lot of talk about the importance of education for Tibetans, and that’s great, but it is also important to think about what kids are learning. Reading and writing Tibetan language is not the only important lesson for kids, they need to learn good behavior too. Unless young Tibetans know how to interact with the rest of the world the right way, they can’t rise to the top.
When I was growing up in Tibet, the school I went to for a short time didn’t improve our behavior at all. It made us worse, school was where we learned to fight and throw rocks at each other. During my recent stay in India, a lot of the same problems were going on at the school my daughters went to. They had cute uniforms, and everything looked very profession, but what was going on inside was ridiculous. My daughters were shocked at how rough the other students were. Managing naughty kids also took up too much of the teachers attention instead of focusing on education. Most parents didn’t see a problem though. They wanted to make sure their kids were tough. One girl from the school came home with several obvious bite marks, her mother told her, “What’s wrong with with? Why didn’t you get her back?” The girl, who had lost her front baby teeth, complained that she tried her best to bite back but it wasn’t working.
A long time ago, teaching kids to be tough was probably smart. In Tibet, people needed to be tough to handle a rough life. Unfortunately, we can’t keep going in exile as if nothing is different. In the Western countries many of us live in, kids can’t be biting each other, pushing, or fighting. They need to learn the skills they will use as adults to manage problems and anger without causing trouble. That’s what the societies we live in expect, so that’s what we need to learn too. Rather than fighting, kids can learn communication skills, how to talk through an issue with other kids. When that fails, they should know who to contact, like a teacher, to take over. By improving behavior as well as education, Tibetan parents can make our kids can be successful anywhere.
An older Tibetan man recently asked me what I thought about increasing divorces in Tibetan marriages, especially among couples fifty and over. The basic basic problem, he observed, is that women seem to want to stop having sex at some point in the marriage but the man wants to keep going. His friend was in exactly this situation, which he tried to solve by having an affair with a younger woman. Unfortunately, the affair wasn’t great for the marriage either. His question was whether women always lose interest in sex at a certain age and what men can do to hold their attention.
I’m too shy to go around asking women fifty and over, but I don’t think the issue is about age. The real issue comes when women don’t have a history of enjoying sex over the course of a relationship. If sex is something that happens between a couple when the man wants, anytime the man wants, and the focus is on the man having a good time, it shouldn’t be a surprise if the woman eventually decides she’s had enough. The attitude that sex is for men, and the women’s job is to let men take care of their business, has to change. Some men think women don’t even like sex no matter what. That is totally not true. If men pay attention to a woman’s feelings, women can be just as interested in sex as men are.
The first part of the solution for this problem is that men need to recognize when it’s a good time for the woman or not. If it’s not, that needs to be respected every time. Work for it, show her a little romance. A good time will come for sure if the man makes an effort. Next, the couple should communicate. If two people can have sex, they should be able to talk too. If you want to know what the other person in the relationship likes, trying asking. Finally, Tibetan men need to learn to respect their partner’s privacy about what happens in privacy. When the woman knows her boyfriend or husband is going to go out and describe every detail of their sex life to his friends she isn’t going to feel comfortable.