The Dalai Lama's Non-Apology And Death Threats From Dog Lovers
The Dalai Lama recently gave us a masterclass in how not to apologise. He was forced to issue one after a video clip of him asking a young boy to kiss him and ‘suck his tongue’ went viral. It reminded me of another recent instance on Twitter when an Indian woman expressed a ‘unpopular’ view about pets and found herself in the eye of a terrifying twister of threats.
But first, the Dalai Lama. I’ll reproduce his apology for easy reference: “A video clip has been circulating that shows a recent meeting when a young boy asked His Holiness the Dalai Lama if he could give him a hug. His Holiness wishes to apologise to the boy and his family as well as his many friends across the world, for the hurt his words may have caused. His Holiness often teases people he meets in an innocent and playful way, even in public and before cameras. He regrets the incident.”
The Dalai Lama conveniently skips what he is apologising for. His explanation for why he asked the boy to suck his tongue sounds, at best, like a weak excuse/justification—he "teases people" in an "innocent and playful way"? The Dalai Lama doesn’t say he won’t do it again, or even that he understands he needs to review the way he interacts with his underage followers. He uses the cop out word "regret" instead of sorry, a bare minimum in an ideal apology. He doesn’t show any understanding for why his words "may" have caused hurt. He absolves himself from any further action, and doesn’t offer to make any amends. His language is vague, and he takes zero responsibility for his actions.
A friend said something about men she’s dated who seek forgiveness from her after apologising that felt profound to me: “I feel they have apologised only to feel better about themselves. So, I feel used then after their apology.” It’s something His Holiness needs to meditate on.
I hope Sorry Watch, a website that analyses apologies in the news and tells you why they don’t work, has a go at the spiritual leader’s sorry apology.
India’s highest court, too, has strict rules about apologies, especially in contempt of court cases. Recently, the Supreme Court to accept an apology from Odisha lawyers saying that it would wait to see if the apology “came from their heart” or if it was only a way for the lawyers to extricate themselves from contempt of court proceedings.
The Dalai Lama likely ‘apologised’ because the video of him with the child went viral. Sometimes though, you can find yourself in a position where the world is railing against you and you don’t feel like you owe anyone an apology. That’s what happened to an acquaintance, let’s call her M.
The character Flynn from the movie Tangled. (Source: Priya Ramani)
“What unpopular opinion can put you in this position?” This viral tweet is illustrated with an image of a man surrounded by swords pointed at him. It’s Flynn, from the 2010 Disney movie Tangled. Prompted by this tweet, people across the world shared unpopular thoughts on live-in relationships, veganism, the death penalty, overrated celebrities, ChatGPT, people who don’t have children and religion.
M, an Indian woman, had the following response: “Your dog and cat do not ‘love’ you. They are animals who are food and comfort-motivated and/or have been bred to be affectionate. They are not capable of human emotion, nor should you expect them to be.” Her tweet, which she requested me not to provide a link to because of all the death threats she was receiving via direct messages, has 12.5 million views and 14,200 quote tweets, mostly from angry dog and cat lovers.
Twitter users showed her the finger, ‘cancelled’ her, called her ‘ugly’ and other names, shared stories of pet love and commiserated that she had never been loved by an animal. They voted her ‘most likely to kick puppies in high school’. American pet Twitter came out in full force.
Should M have apologised? Did she do something wrong? Did her opinion harm anybody? If she had apologised, would it have come from a place of fear (of the vicious attack she was facing) or from remorse? Is it necessary to apologise for what you are clearly stating is an unpopular opinion?
I sent M a text expressing sympathy and asking her to ride out the storm. In the age of hurt sentiments, egos are easily bruised and people are instantly offended by words. Courts routinely decide who needs to apologise to whom.
Some people defended the Dalai Lama’s ‘grandfatherly’ behaviour. For her words, M faced a backlash that was only a few notches lower than the storm the spiritual leader faced. I can tell you my ginger cat Inji, who loves my husband more than he does me, couldn’t care less about M’s tweet. The two stories I’ve shared teach us a valuable lesson about when we should and shouldn’t apologise. And what we need to keep in mind when we do say sorry.
Priya Ramani is a Bengaluru-based journalist and is on the editorial board of Article-14.com.
The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of BQ Prime or its editorial team.