Compassion and Hubris: The Dalai Lama Speaks to the Wisconsin Legislature

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Yesterday afternoon the Dalai Lama spoke to the Wisconsin state legislature.

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama speaking to the Wisconsin
State Assembly on May 14, 2013. Photo by Leslie Amsterdam.

Before His Holiness ever spoke a word, he laughed—not a nervous giggle, but an all-out “I’m so happy to be here” laugh. Such an infectious, hopeful thing—to laugh. It was disarming, and delightful. His Holiness is sometimes difficult to understand, as English is not his first language, but the language of laughter is well understood by those who listen with their hearts.

He spoke about his appreciation for democracy and the trust that the people of Wisconsin have put in their legislators, about the importance of humility and “transparency that brings trust.” He spoke about how all human beings are the same, whether they are world leaders or homeless. “Mentally, emotionally, physically, we are the same. Everyone wants happiness.”

While some of us were transfixed, hanging on every word either in person or via Wisconsin Eye, others were less than enthralled. A number of Wisconsin representatives appeared to be asleep or using cell phones.

Some legislators apparently sleeping and using cell phones
while the Dalai Lama is speaking. Photo by Dawn Morris-Henke.

According to one observer, “the ones who fell asleep (or at least appeared to be asleep) [were] Tranel, Marklein, Pridemore, Tittl, Hutton, Bies, Nass, Tiffany, and Knodl. It was hard to tell with some of them, but Tranel was definitely asleep. Nerison, who sits next to him, shook him awake at one point.”

The sheer hubris and blatant disrespect shown here for a man revered throughout the world is breathtaking. This boorishness reflects poorly on us all. A schoolteacher with a gaggle of children listening to any public figure would not tolerate such behavior.

This—while His Holiness spoke of humility and compassion—was a disgusting display of the exact same contempt these legislators regularly show the people of Wisconsin.

According to a press release from Representative Melissa Sargent entitled “A Day of Highs and Lows in the State Assembly,” on the very same afternoon Wisconsin lawmakers

  • Tore down the separation of powers between the judicial and legislative branches in an abuse of power and an assault on our democracy.
  • Attempted to destroy local control of all landlord-tenant agreements.
  • Destroyed the Milwaukee County Board.
  • Honored a leader who is best known for war and destroying the middle class of a nation.

“The bills we voted on tonight cast a dark cloud over what should have been a beautiful day for the state legislature,” stated Rep. Melissa Sargent (D-Madison).

“His holiness, the Dalai Lama spoke to a joint legislative body. He told us of his appreciation of our democracy and said ‘transparency, that brings trust … there is no room for cheating other people.’ I wish that my colleagues on the other side of the aisle could have brought the citizens of Wisconsin transparency or trust in their leadership. Instead, everyone was cheated with these bills passed tonight.”

And here is what Representative Chris Taylor had to say on her Facebook page about this afternoon’s legislative onslaught:

200 years of an independent judiciary trashed by Repubs today. They passed a bill that a court’s injunction to prevent an unconstitutional bill from going into effect can be lifted by the mere act of filing an appeal. Clearly aimed at Voter ID and Act 10. If they don’t like the rules, and 200 years of separation of powers, they’ll just make up some new ones!

The people of Wisconsin deserve real leadership that is compassionate and wise. Instead what we have is contemptuous hubris displaying one wanton power grab after another.


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Many thanks to Leslie Amsterdam and Dawn Morris-Henke
for permission to use their photos.

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