Everybody agrees that we need to protect our culture. Some people take that to an extreme by hiding embarrassing truths and condemning critical opinions. Unfortunately, it seems to me, these people are exactly some of the ones harming Tibetan culture the most, replacing our imperfect reality with a fake image.
The fake image is not even our own myth, it’s a reflection of what foreign supporters want Tibetans to be like. Dissatisfied with the societies they are familiar with at home, foreigners often look to Tibetans to represent the kind of peaceful, harmonious, and deeply spiritual community they wish for. It has more to do with their desires than our actual way of life, but we play the part. We make sure the whole world sees, and only sees, us in terms of what other people would like us to be. Although we all know it’s just a show, the danger is that we spend so much time acting that we forget who we were in the first place.
The benefits aren’t worth it. Our audience is not even that large, just ask a random Westerner about their views on Tibet and wait for the puzzled look. A typical answer might be, “Umm…Is that part of China, right?” or “Oh right, I saw that movie” if they have any idea at all. Yes, there are enthusiastic supporters, but they are a tiny piece of the population of the places they come from. As hard as we work to impress supporters, most people still have little or no idea that Tibetans exist.
Instead of sacrificing our identity to appear a certain way, I’d like to see all of us working both to embrace the best parts of our culture and to improve on the areas that need it. If we are truly proud of ourselves and our traditions, and we should be, we don’t need to worry about that anyone else thinks.