THE BLOG
07/11/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

America Does not Always Know What's Best

"We all have our own Tibets."

That was a quote and a very important conclusion that grew out of several days of outward and inner struggle of a group of very lofty thinkers, who initially focused their energies on trying to resolve the China and Tibet "problem" while gathered at a meeting with the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, India, home to the exiled Tibetan Leader.

What was meant by having "our own Tibets" was that it is far too easy for us to focus on solving the problems of some other part of the world rather than focus on the problems in our own backyards, and for that matter, in our own hearts and minds.

It is a trait that Westerners in particular have a distinct tendency to carry around. As was so pointed out by some of the participants in this gathering of thinkers assembled for a conference in India, and captured so well in the documentary I recently saw, Dalai Lama Renaissance, which did an excellent job of capturing this tendency and exposing it for what it really is: Western arrogance and a belief that we can solve the world's problems if only people would listen to us.

That belief, and the result that flows from it, really is the key to why so many in the world do have a problem right now with America and Americans. It is what President Obama is up against as he tries to rebuild America's relationship with the Muslim world. We come across as know-it-alls and we believe we have the solution to solving everybody else's problems, while turning a blind eye to some of the very major problems in our own country, like poverty, racism, lack of health care for many, etc.

But boy we sure have the answers for China on how they should treat Tibet, and we know what's best in Darfur, and in other parts of Africa, Asia, the Middle East, you name it. Americans, and Westerners, in general are the world's problem solvers. Not realizing sometimes that the simple, short solution only creates more long-term problems.

America is a young country, and, as was also pointed out in the documentary I mentioned, we are process and results-oriented, expecting problems to fit neatly into our plans and be able to be fixed in short order. But as the Dalai Lama said, the world's problems didn't get to where they are overnight and they certainly won't be solved very easily either.

China and Tibet, Darfur, Iran, North Korea, Palestine, these are countries, regions, and situations that have been developing for centuries, when the U.S. was not even a figment of someone's imagination. So solving them won't be easy and no short term answer is really going to do it. No matter how used to seeing problems solved in one hour episodes on TV have made us accustomed to quick fixes.

Am I saying we should not try to make a difference in the plight of others around the world? Of course not. We always have a moral obligation to be of assistance to people in need. However, the solutions we offer cannot come from a position of arrogance or supposed higher position of intellectual or moral knowledge. This was one of the most powerful lessons gained by the highly intellectual and spiritual participants of this encounter with the Dalai Lama in Dalai Lama Renaissance.

As a group they decided they wanted to help solve the problem of Tibet and China and brought their Western intellect and desire, coupled with quick results process orientation to bear, and presented their ideas to His Holiness. It didn't take long for them and me as a viewer to realize, thanks to the wisdom of the Nobel Prize winning Tibetan Buddhist leader, that while their heart was in the right place, their methodology, coupled with that sense that there are easy solutions to the world's problems, was a mighty hindrance.

It was an incredible moment and one that certainly changed the participants and me as well. Our worldview is limited, even if we have traveled near and far. We have no choice but to see through the culturally tinted lenses we were raised with.

There is inherently nothing wrong with that. But what we must not do is continue to believe that we know everything about how the world should be and how to solve its problems. And we certainly have to recognize that throwing money or military might at people and situations is not always the answer. In fact I would venture to say it is rarely the answer.

We tend to see situations as having winners and losers. It is a wrong view but one that needs to change before we all lose. It was interesting that in pushing back against the "solution" for Tibet proposed by the group, the Dalai Lama made it clear that any lasting answer had to be one that benefited both sides, the Chinese and the Tibetans. Both had to win.

That's a tough prescription. But accepting that this is the way it is, should be our mission. And finding solutions -- in Tibet and China, in Israel and Palestine, in America -- requires long term thinking, which is the easy part I think. The hardest part is the removal of our sense that we know everything.

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