Thursday Thought: Hegel, MLK, Obama, and the Dalai Lama

TD-EV-0156: An elderly Tibetan pilgrim prays outside the Potala Palace, Lhasa, Tibet. I definitely tend toward the left side of the political spectrum, and identify myself more as a Democrat than otherwise. But, I make a conscious effort not to be partisan…I try my best to praise the positive things the "other side" does and accomplishes, and make my voice heard when the leaders I support are, in my estimation, making bad decisions.

This, to me, is the very essence of democracy: The ability – and, in fact, the need – to voice our disagreement with those in power, whether they be friend or foe. As the historian Henry Commager wrote: If our democracy is to flourish, it must have criticism; if our government is to function it must have dissent.

So, it was with dismay that I heard President Obama chose not to meet with the Dalai Lama while he was in Washington to accept the Lantos Human Rights Prize. I'm a supporter of Tibet and it's quest for spiritual autonomy, but, even more so, I feel strongly that, for us to be a leader on the world stage, we must be willing to make a stand, to defend our beliefs and our ethics…regardless of the political capital on the table.

Certainly, President Obama felt that a meeting with the Dalai Lama would create friction in US-China relations. It almost certainly would. But, our ethics and beliefs should transcend our short-term priorities. By meeting with the Dalai Lama – which has been done by all sitting US presidents since George H.W. Bush – Obama would have sent a clear message to China, and to the world, that we as a nation believe what we say, stand up for our core values, and have a true desire to make the world a better place for all people.

Today's Thursday Thought offers a little advice on taking a stand to President Obama, and indeed to all of us, from the great minds of Georg Hegel and Martin Luther King, Jr:

To be independent of public opinion is the first condition of achieving anything great.
- G.W.F. Hegel

Cowardice asks the question: Is it safe?
Expediency asks the question: Is it politic?
Vanity asks the question: Is it popular?
But conscience asks the question: Is it right?
And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular,
but one must take it because it is right.
– Martin Luther King, Jr.

And, for those who are interested, here is a video of the Dalai Lama accepting the Lantos Prize on Tuesday:

Jake Norton is an Everest climber, guide, photographer, writer, and motivational speaker from Colorado.

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