Refugees And The Birth Of Empathy – President Obama, Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu and a CS Perspective

 

We can learn from a young boy named Alex, who lives not far from here in Scarsdale, New York.  Last month, like all of us, Alex saw that heartbreaking image — five-year-old Omran Daqneesh in Aleppo, Syria, sitting in that ambulance, silent and in shock, trying to wipe the blood from his hands.  

And here in New York, Alex, who is just six years old, sat down and wrote me a letter.  And he said, he wanted Omran to come live with him and his family.  “Since he won’t bring toys,” Alex wrote, “I will share my bike and I will teach him how to ride it.  I will teach him addition and subtraction.  My little sister will be collecting butterflies and fireflies for him…We can all play together.  We will give him a family and he will be our brother.”  

Those are the words of a six-year-old boy.  He teaches us a lot.  (Applause.)  

The humanity that a young child can display, who hasn’t learned to be cynical, or suspicious, or fearful of other people because of where they’re from, or how they look, or how they pray, and who just understands the notion of treating somebody that is like him with compassion, with kindness — we can all learn from Alex.  Imagine the suffering we could ease, and the lives we could save, and what our world would look like if, seeing a child who’s hurting anywhere in the world, we say, “We will give him a family and he will be our brother.”

Remarks by President Obama at Leaders Summit on Refugees

For Immediate Release

https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2016/09/20/remarks-president-obama-leaders-summit-refugees

 

Date: 2016 Description: logo for Summit on the Global Refugee Crisis - State Dept Image

 

Refugees And The Birth Of Empathy

09/20/2016 09:41 am ET | Updated Sep 21, 2016

In April 2015, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu met in Dharamsala for a historic conversation about joy. The Book of Joy (on sale now) chronicles the week-long discussion. Learn more at bookofjoy.org and on social media with hashtag #sharethejoy

“Many of us have become refugees,” the Dalai Lama tried to explain, “and there are a lot of difficulties in my own country. When I look only at that,” he said, cupping his hands into a small circle, “then I worry.” He widened his hands, breaking the circle open. “But when I look at the world, there are a lot of problems, even within the People’s Republic of China. For example, the Hui Muslim community in China has a lot of problems and suffering. And then outside China, there are many more problems and more suffering. When we see these things, we realize that not only do we suffer, but so do many of our human brothers and sisters. So when we look at the same event from a wider perspective, we will reduce the worrying and our own suffering.”

I was struck by the simplicity and profundity of what the Dalai Lama was saying. This was far from “don’t worry, be happy,” as the popular Bobby McFerrin song says. This was not a denial of pain and suffering, but a shift in perspective—from oneself and toward others, from anguish to compassion—seeing that others are suffering as well. The remarkable thing about what the Dalai Lama was describing is that as we recognize others’ suffering and realize that we are not alone, our pain is lessened.

Often we hear about another’s tragedy, and it makes us feel better about our own situation. This is quite different from what the Dalai Lama was doing. He was not contrasting his situation with others, but uniting his situation with others, enlarging his identity and seeing that he and the Tibetan people were not alone in their suffering. This recognition that we are all connected—whether Tibetan Buddhists or Hui Muslims—is the birth of empathy and compassion.

I wondered how the Dalai Lama’s ability to shift his perspective might relate to the adage “Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.” Was it truly possible to experience pain, whether the pain of an injury or an exile, without suffering? There is a Sutta, or teaching of the Buddha, called the Sallatha Sutta, that makes a similar distinction between our “feelings of pain” and “the suffering that comes as a result of our response” to the pain: “When touched with a feeling of pain, the uninstructed, ordinary person sorrows, grieves, and laments, beats his breast, becomes distraught. So he feels two pains, physical and mental. Just as if they were to shoot a man with an arrow and, right afterward, were to shoot him with another one, so that he feels the pain of two arrows.” It seems that the Dalai Lama was suggesting that by shifting our perspective to a broader, more compassionate one, we can avoid the worry and suffering that is the second arrow.

“Then another thing,” the Dalai Lama continued. “There are different aspects to any event. For example, we lost our own country and became refugees, but that same experience gave us new opportunities to see more things. For me personally, I had more opportunities to meet with different people, different spiritual practitioners, like you, and also scientists. This new opportunity arrived because I became a refugee. If I remained in the Potala in Lhasa, I would have stayed in what has often been described as a golden cage: the Lama, holy Dalai Lama.” He was now sitting up stiffly as he once had to when he was the cloistered spiritual head of the Forbidden Kingdom.

“So, personally, I prefer the last five decades of refugee life. It’s more useful, more opportunity to learn, to experience life. Therefore, if you look from one angle, you feel, oh how bad, how sad. But if you look from another angle at that same tragedy, that same event, you see that it gives me new opportunities. So, it’s wonderful. That’s the main reason that I’m not sad and morose. There’s a Tibetan saying: ‘Wherever you have friends that’s your country, and wherever you receive love, that’s your home.’”

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post to mark the occasion of two critical conferences at the UN on the Refugee and Migrant crisis: the UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants (Sept. 19th, a UN conference) and the Leaders Summit on Refugees (Sept. 20th, hosted by U.S. Pres. Barack Obama, at the UN). To see all the posts in the series, visit here. To follow the conversation on Twitter, see #UN4RefugeesMigrants.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/his-holiness-the-dalai-lama/refugees-and-the-birth-of-empathy_b_12051306.html?section=us_religion

Image result for five-year-old Omran Daqneesh in Aleppo, Syria, sitting in that ambulance, silent and in shock, trying to wipe the blood from his hands.

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