By Janhabi Nandy
For 50 years Tibetans have worked tirelessly to preserve their culture in the face of violent onslaught. As I traveled toIndia as a staff person for the Delegation to visit with the Tibetan community in exile, I thought about the idea of preserving culture.
Long before I began this plane journey I worked for the people of Micronesia, a beautiful island nation in the Pacific. One day two Micronesians were helping me move a couch from one part of the island to another, a young man and an older man. They hauled the couch onto the back of a truck and then we found we had no rope with which to secure it. As the young man and I scratched our heads for a solution, the older man took out his machete and stripped a piece of bark off a nearby tree and used it to tie down the couch. He then said something to the young man in Pohnpeian who translated for me. The older man was apologetic that my “fancy” couch was being tied down with bark. I was apologetic for being a useless product of an industrial society in which I was dependent on having to go to a store to buy plastic rope made from petroleum byproducts in order to get the same job done that he did with a machete and a nearby tree.
I don’t need to be a humanitarian or an anthropologist or a hippie to care about the survival of the Tibetan or Micronesian culture. All I need to be is practical. When cultures disappear, evicted from our global community by political and military forces, we lose knowledge based on the lived experience of hundreds of generations. And we never know when we’re going to need that knowledge. Like right now, as we reel from the tragic consequences of the society we’ve built in the last few hundred years. If, as Einstein said, “the significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking at which we created them,” we need to practice greater respect for different levels of thinking. I look forward to experiencing a little of another level of thinking in Dharamsala.