Friday, January 09, 2004

This week Dale brings up the question of the Dalai Lama and his alleged remarks condemning homosexuality, and whether he could condone some sort of remark of that nature. A rational look at the subject, worth a read. I especially resonate with Tonio who responded with one of my primary concerns about this sort of thing: "The sad thing is that it doesn't matter what he meant. If it can be taken out of context and used hurtfully, it often will be."

I dug around on the web, and found some info that appears as if the Dalai Lama explained his comments in a conference with gay rights organizations in 1997, and that these comments differentiated between his view of human rights (which extend to sexual orientation) and the teachings or the tenets of Buddhism which basically prohibit certain sexual acts regardless of the genders of the two partners. From what I read of his quotes, it was clear he was trying to balance his own set of values about tolerance with the stated guidelines of the Buddhist faith, and he came across totally genuine in his compassion for gays.

But as I thought about the question of how we hold leaders accountable to their stated beliefs and actions, it occurred to me that I had a pretty simple expectation which although possibly unrealistic, is my measure of the worthiness of those people who we place in positions of teacher, manager, elected official, role model. The words and actions of these people should be congruent, and should be consistent to a set of values or operating principles that guide the words and actions without failure. I felt pretty secure from the other things I had read and heard about the Dalai Lama's teachings and speeches and activities that he could not be condoning a position which would condemn a group of people and their actions on the basis of who they were. In 2000 at the Millennium World Peace Summit the Dalai Lama said this: "there can be no peace as long as there is grinding poverty, social injustice, inequality, oppression, environmental degradation, and as long as the weak and small continue to be trodden by the mighty and powerful." He has a long history of advocating support of diversity, dialogue about differences, mutual respect, he has felt firsthand the impact of oppression. If this is his experience, his belief, his promised vision of harmony, then to condemn homosexuals would undermine much of what he claims to stand for.

Similarly, I use the same rationale to question the election of Schwartzenegger as governor in CA. Maybe the media contrived to throw the election, maybe they went looking for dirt. But Arnold's comment that he hadn't lived in a way that assumed he'd be running for public office someday simply reinforces my belief that his man does not have any real respect for women. Can we trust someone who only behaves per the rules of the game they are playing and not out of any deeper personal value set? What makes me ill about that election is the message it puts out there to both men and women in general, that this sort of behavior, this lack of respect is not just acceptable, but to some degree irrelevant to a person's competence as a leader. He used his position as a public figure to treat the women he worked with inappropriately, and we failed to see that as a problem when we elevated him to a greater position of power.

Of course all of us have biases which affect our ability to work with others, which make us uncomfortable or unsure or ineffective in certain situations. But leaders are looked to as the role models for the values of an organization, in part we elevate them to do exactly this. By elevating them, whether in business, or elections, or following them as teachers and leaders in a faith, their value systems become the demonstrated right way for the people "below" them in the structure. When they goof up, they at least need to correct themselves so that the values have some credibility, so the system has some integrity.

When we put these leaders under pressure, in crisis, on the spot, they will fall back on their instinctive responses, which arise out of core values and beliefs, and in time most of us can then intuit the truth about who they really are. We can believe the Dalai Lama would practice tolerance and compassion for gays and lesbians even if we see information that might indicate otherwise, and we can doubt whether women in Schwartenegger's office will have equity, respect and opportunity even if he puts a good face on his future or a good denial on his past.

I guess I think it comes down to something I was asked to edit today for a group of Christian employees at work. In explaining some of the tenets of their faith, they mentioned how integrity of inner character was so much more significant than just the surface actions. At some point, a person of "bad character" will reveal their true nature even if they are trying to act good.

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