The Dalai Lama says “Dialogue!”

I lost all my compassion long before the Dalai Lama stepped on stage. The huge Chinese protest outside the stadium, the assault of posters, banners, leaflets, and even an air message flown overhead, on the mob of thousands waiting to get inside was maddening. They mocked his name with misspellings, and accused the kindly minister of peace of everything from enslaving serfs to being in bed with the CIA. As I stood in line clutching my copy of Pico Iyer’s brilliant new book, The Open Road: The Global Journey of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, I was rapidly running out of tolerance.

Then an earnest young Chinese girl thrust her face into mine and said, “Don’t believe media distortion. They started the fighting. Don’t you want to hear the other side of the story?”

I lost it. I’m a child of the sixties. “Your side of the story? China is a big bully just like the United States. We’re in Iraq. You’re in Tibet. What’s to discuss?” I was screaming the last words.

“Don’t you want a dialogue?” she said, as the line began to move and we pulled away. I didn’t understand her comment until I was inside, listening to the Dalai Lama’s address to the Seeds of Compassion program in Seattle. A treasured word of the Dalai Lama is dialogue. That’s the only way to arrive at peace. Hold your temper and sit down with the enemy and find your common ground. Learn how to listen. Ask questions. The only time the Dalai Lama has ever corrected a translator was when one fellow used the word “conversation” instead.

“Dialogue!” insisted His Holiness. “Dialogue!”

It’s a technique as old as Socrates, and just as powerful a tool today in the search for knowledge as it was then. And at its best, it can be the foundation of a book group that is willing to take on books with content open to controversy. A hearty dialogue over the interpretation of a complex novel enriches everyone.

I’m talking about books like What Is the What or The Reluctant Fundamentalist that have content beyond plot and emotion. There is no trigger to a good discussion better than two readers who take polar opposite points of view on a plot turn or a character flaw or the author’s message.

Our book group’s discussion of Gilead was one of the best meetings we ever had, due almost entirely to one of our club members, novelist Mary Morgan, daring to take an opposing view to the novel. Her confidence in sparring with the other readers allowed us all to reach a new level of understanding. It was exhilarating. The best ace you can ever have for a club meeting is someone with an opposite point of view and enough intelligence and restraint to discuss it. The truths that come out of real dialogue are many.

Where does that leave me? There’s an angry young Chinese student out there that I owe an apology. I’ll cool my anger if you cool yours, and I’ll meet you at the stadium.

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About the Author:

Nick DiMartino is a university bookseller in Seattle, WA. He was a Booklist contributor from 2007 to 2009 and is the author of Seattle Ghost Story (1998) as well as numerous plays.

1 Comment on "The Dalai Lama says “Dialogue!”"

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  1. edonovan@u.washington.edu' Elaine Donovan says:

    Nick:

    Bev sent me this.

    I was sitting with you at the Dalai Lama convocation on Monday. I like how you wrote this. Just wanted to let you know that.

    E

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