Kids Give Dalai Lama Rock Star Reception

April 15th 2008

Seattle, WA, USA, 14 November 2008 (By Jennifer Langston, Seattle Post Intelligencer) - At KeyArena on Monday, thousands of children were urged to commit acts of kindness, like raking leaves for a neighbor or sharing a lunch with someone who doesn't have one.

They were reminded to appreciate small delights in their day -- from the perfect strawberry jam sandwich to extended recess.

When the Dalai Lama walked onstage clasping his hands and bowing, children cheered like he was a rock star, standing on chairs and waving gold pinwheels.

But amid the spectacle of Brazilian drumming and Native American stories and toddler hip-hop, the students were charged with a serious task: helping fix the world they'll inherit.

The Dalai Lama emphasized the interdependence of everything in the galaxy, and universal experiences that create pain, pleasure, happiness and sorrow.

Divisions between "we" and "they" are outdated with 6 billion people sharing the planet, he said.  He also argued that compassion and "warmheartedness" should be secular -- not purely religious -- values and should go far beyond those who are easy to love.

"That compassion then goes and extends to your enemies," he said. "We really need that."

Ishmael Beah, the human rights activist and author who has written a memoir about his experiences as a child soldier in Sierra Leone's civil war, told 14,500 students from around the state that their generation has a lot to do.

"The current state of the world, what we've been left with, is not in good shape," he said.

Changing that, he said, "starts with being able to listen deeply, of being aware of others around us ... so that when people are suffering we're able to see it and hear it."

Courage, he said, happens when someone pushes you and instead of pushing back, you think about what that might lead to and think better of it.

Jessica Markowitz, a seventh-grader at Seattle Girls' School, said change starts wherever you are, in your hearts and in your community.

"You lead with peace," she told the Dalai Lama onstage. "I see people in everyday life who are not peaceful, perhaps because they have not found peace within themselves."

Seattle Center School senior Katie Mesmer, leading other students into the arena with a procession of white flags, said she was most interested in how the Dalai Lama manages to show compassion with those who disagree with him.

"With the war in Iraq, it's sort of overwhelming," she said. "Especially for a young person, it seems like we're entering a world where violence is endemic, so what can we do to be compassionate and not angry and retaliatory?" she asked.

The Dalai Lama said "a little fight" is sometimes necessary, showing off fingernails that were his best weapon against his older brother as a child.

Eight-year-old Kailas Krivanka, who is homeschooled in West Seattle and attends a Buddhist temple with his family, said he thought the world would be a different place if everyone took the Dalai Lama's message to heart.

"Everyone would be very kind to each other," he said. "If anybody wanted something, somebody would just give it to them right away ... and everyone would be happy."

Destiny Montgomery, a sophomore at Nathan Hale High School who fudged a permission slip to come, said she was desperate not to miss out on what she imagines will be a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see this Dalai Lama.  And he didn't disappoint. "I'm smiling a lot -- at everyone," she said.


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