There’s No Excuse for the Dalai Lama Saying This to a Child
In news that will be sure to make you very angry, disgusted, and perhaps want to unplug today for a hard reset to see if maybe it can just not, the Dalai Lama has been forced to issue an apology because he asked a young boy to suck his tongue after he kissed him on the lips at an event in February that only came to light recently. This is a sentence I wish I never had to write.
As a reminder, the Dalai Lama “is the spiritual and temporal leader of the Tibetan people” and lives in exile in India due to the Chinese occupation of Tibet. Here is the full official statement on the matter via the Dalai Lama’s Twitter account:
The statement passes it off as “innocent and playful” and says that he “wishes to apologize to the boy and his family” and “regrets the incident.” I don’t know about you, but as far as I’m concerned, the appropriate way to tease a young child is to joke that they’re 7 feet tall, or facetiously ask if they’re in high school because they’re growing so fast. Apparently, all of my jokes about children are geared toward height. They are never about touching, like ever, because bodily autonomy is for everyone, and having boundaries is F-ing great.
The exchange between the two went as follows, per CNN:
In the video, the young boy can be seen approaching the Nobel Peace Prize winner before asking, “Can I hug you?”
The 87-year-old spiritual leader then invites the boy on stage and points to his cheek and says, “first here,” prompting the boy to give him a hug and a kiss.
The Dalai Lama then points to his lips, and says: “then I think finally here also.” He then pulls the boy’s chin and kisses him on the mouth.
“And suck my tongue,” he says after a few seconds, poking his tongue out.
Naturally, the response to this was swift and horrified. I can’t wrap my head around this. Saying it was a joke is genuinely the only way out of this, I guess, because how else can you explain how wholly inappropriate it was? But even that explanation isn’t a good one, and it doesn’t explain the kissing on the lips, which is bad enough, but at least it didn’t escalate further.
Thank goodness that boy was protected and nothing escalated, and media outlets are not releasing any further details on the child, shielding his identity—as it should be.
I hope that the little boy is well, has no long-lasting trauma from this, and has a safe space to discuss how inappropriate and predatory (intended or not) the actions were. He has nothing to do with what the Dalai Lama did or said.
Some of his supporters are trying to contextualize his actions. Per CNN:
Some of the Dalai Lama’s supporters have decried the criticism, however, arguing the leader’s actions have been misinterpreted under a Western lens.
“Expression of emotions and manners today has been melted together and become vividly westernized,” Namdol Lhagyari, a Tibetan activist in exile, wrote on Twitter. “Bringing in narrative of other cultures, customs and social influence on gender and sexuality to interpret Tibetan way of expression is heinous.”
Sticking out one’s tongue is a sign of respect or agreement and was often used as a greeting in traditional Tibetan culture, according to the Institute of East Asian Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.
To which I will add, sure, sticking out your tongue might be a cultural Tibetan norm, but asking a child to suck on it surely is not—especially when the event was held in India, so presumably the child was not Tibetan. Additionally, sometimes when something is just so bad, you need to let the person apologize and say nothing more, because the actions are so egregious, they need to stand on their own.
There are no winners here. This story is awful and gross, and as I said, I hope that little boy is well cared for.
(featured image: Pallava Bagla/Corbis via Getty Images)
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