Fear of the Unknown

© 2012 Dlo08

For the past month, as the number of self-immolations climbed, my adviser and I sat down several times, trying to figure out activities we can do to highlight the situation better here at the University I’m currently studying at. Then last week, I saw the video campaign with messages to world leaders launched by SFT spreading in the web-sphere. My adviser, Carole McGranahan, called me and my friend, Ben, who is also doing his PhD related to Tibet, into her office to ask if we wanted to do our own videos for the campaign.

At first I was hesitant. I told her I had been thinking about it but was having second thoughts because I plan to go to Tibet at some point in the future and didn’t want to hurt my chances of getting my visa to go in. Carole was supportive but reminded me that there were individuals related to Tibet who have gone to Tibet and China despite having been related to high profile activist-related activities in their past.

Instantly I went, “Oh yeah!” and remembered Lhadon Tethong, Tashi Rabgey, and Elliot Sperling to name few highly known individuals within the Tibetan diaspora context who have gone to Tibet and China.

In 1998, Lhadon Tethong and Tashi Rabgey shared the stage to speak to thousands on Tibet at the Freedom Concert in DC.

Both Tethong and Rabgey have continued to be highly visible figures in the Tibetan diaspora context with their work, at different capacities, towards empowering Tibet at-large. Since their speeches at the Freedom Concert in 1998, both women have continued, in different but sometimes similar paths, their work and have travelled to China and Tibet.

Lhadon was not only able to secure a visa but was residing for a short period in China in 2007, writing and reporting daily about Tibet in the runner up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics on her blog Beijing Wide Open. Tashi Rabgey has continued to travel to Tibet and other places to continue her work that focuses on empowering communities, including our own. Both of these women have taken very different paths since 1998, however, both women have still stayed true to themselves and their shared goal to better the cause of Tibet, be it grassroots political movement or capacity building through community development on-or-for the Tibetan plateau.

A few years back, I had the pleasure of listening to Professor Elliot Sperling give an explosive and politically charged lecture on Tibet through skype while he was IN China. He was, at the time, visiting several Chinese universities giving lectures on Tibet.

After reminding myself again of these highly visible individuals in exile who have pushed the boundaries for what you can do for your community in their youth and continue to be challenge those boundaries in their adulthood, I wondered why I was hesitant in the first place—especially when I have yet to make any splashes that will have the Chinese take notice of me? Why start making compromises now and what else will I have to compromise later? I recorded this short video calling on President Obama shortly after reflecting over my own fear.

My initial reluctance for making this video was based on fear of the unknown. The idea of, “would I not get a visa to Tibet if I: made this video, attended this talk, went to this vigil, shouted in this protest, talked to this journalist, and so on?” The likelihood of you not getting the visa to Tibet because of A, B, C, and D are true but the same can be said for you not getting that visa for not doing anything and being completely silent. Sure, maybe you can reason to yourself that not taking part in something you feel passionate for may provide you with a better chance for getting the visa to Tibet, but that same assurance can be guaranteed by simply changing your name legally on your passport without ever having to give up anything you feel strongly about. The possibility and loopholes on how to get around that system is endless.

The increase in the number of self-immolations have been weighing down on my mind and I’ve been especially frustrated with the lack of coverage by international media but when it came time to give voice to the situation I instantly thought about hurting my chances of going to Tibet and possibility of becoming useful inside. We all want to go there someday, and some of us have plans on how we can be useful inside, however, why start compromising now when most of us have barely begun that journey?

This is not to make some of you feel guilt nor is it a plea for you to make a video. Your journey is your own, how you choose to speak is your own choice and should remain that way. However, saying “don’t be afraid, speak up!” is not to say that we should treat words lightly.

“It is never my custom to use words lightly. If twenty-seven years in prison have done anything to us, it was to use the silence of solitude to make us understand how precious words are and how real speech is in its impact on the way people live and die.”

— Nelson Mandela at the closing address of the 13th International Aids Conference in Durban, South Africa on July 14 2000.

Silences, like words, also have power but for different reasons, for those who hold themselves back from speaking: Don’t compromise who you are and your own voice for fear of the unknown.