Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Hearing

You can imagine my surprise when the Dali Lama himself called to ask if I could accompany him, as his translator, on an urgent and secret visit to North Korea. I accepted immediately and was curious to find out more about the trip. I learned that on January 8, 2012 an organization called the International Coalition to Stop Crimes against Humanity in North Korea had sent an open letter to Kim Jong-un,  the Supreme Leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The letter expresses condolence on the passing of his father Kim Jong-il, congratulates the young new leader as he assumes his duties, and raises concerns about a long list of human rights violations occurring throughout the country.


The accusations in the letter infuriated the Supreme Leader, and he demanded immediate and violent revenge on the many signatories to the letter.  In an attempt to placate the enraged leader, the Dali Lama offered to meet with him, hear his grievances, and do what he could to resolve the conflict.

“Both Kim and I were thrust into leadership at a very young age, facing great challenges while our countries were being ravaged by dangerous and violent conflicts” His Holiness explained to me. “We will have much in common to talk about. But I must listen much and talk little.” And listen we did …

“My most important purpose here is to listen and understand what you want to tell me” began the Dali Lama, when we finally met privately with Kim.  “I’ll spend as much time or as little time as you want meeting with you. We can meet as often as you want. Our meetings will be entirely private; nothing you say here will be repeated to anyone. I want to understand your viewpoint and what your concerns are. When you are ready, please begin. What’s on your mind? “

Kim unleashed a tirade. He ranted incessantly about the immense difficulties he faces, how hard he works, the lack of appreciation he receives, how his greatest love is for the welfare of his people, and how hard his people work for the good of the nation. He renounced the accusations in the coalition letter point by point and in immense detail. “Who are these people writing to me? What do they know? Don’t they realize how hard I work? Why do they blame me? This is just another part of the international conspiracy to shame me and attack my people.  Look how many cowards signed the letter. Why are they ganging up on me? Don’t they know I put traitors in prison only so the loyal people of our great country are not harmed by these thugs? We face great threats from so many people in so many nations outside our country who do not understand us and want to harm us. The United States alone has thousands of nuclear weapons atop missiles aimed at our small and peace-loving country. Yet they denounce us as the axis of evil. How can that be? We need a great army to protect our tiny nation from so many threats. This is very costly, but we all understand the need and are willing to make the sacrifice. Our people encourage the military by showing their great love for this country and their unwavering loyalty to our cause. After supporting our military with their donations, sacrifices, and loyalty, not much else is left for the hard working people of our country.  The peasants choose to go hungry so our military has what it needs to protect us against so many belligerent nations. What else can we do?”

The Dali Lama sat quietly, listened closely, nodded gently, and spoke rarely. Occasionally his Holiness would carefully reflect, clarify, and affirm what he was hearing by simply stating “You are angry.” Knowing he was being heard encouraged Kim to continue.

The Dali Lama radiates calm and compassion. Kim Jong-un, not so much, but after days of listening and accurately reflecting what Kim had to say, the young leader began to trust the gentle old man. Compassion was beginning to make inroads.

After days of patiently listening, the Dali Lama asked his first question. “The letter mentions the Kwan-li-so. I am curious to learn more about that.”

“These are rehabilitation centers my father and grandfather worked to create,” Kim began to explain. “Many outsiders are entering our country, misleading our people, telling lies, and producing discontent. We need to find out who these enemies are, and who has been misled by them. We will not tolerate traitors working against our good people.”

Kim went on to explain, “The traitors in these rehabilitation centers have betrayed their Leader and thus deserve execution.  However our kind Workers’ Party has decided, in its mercy, not to kill, but to keep alive these people and allow them to repay the nation for their treachery by providing rehabilitating labor for the rest of their lives. We teach these traitors collective responsibility where individuals ultimately take responsibility for their own class’s wrong doing. We help them learn by allowing them to carve inspiring excerpts from my Grandfather’s speeches into wood signs and door entrances. We expect much work of these traitors. To encourage them we reduce their food rations if they fall behind in their rehabilitation duties.”

“When a dentist fixes a toothache, he must dig deep and remove all the disease so the infection does not recur. Many of these people have been taught treachery and disloyalty over several generations” Kim explained. “Therefore we retain three generations of family members and provide rehabilitation to all of them so we can properly educate everyone who may have been wrongly influenced. This is very costly to our government, but it seems to be the only way we can protect our people from those who are determined to destroy our simple way of life. “

“Have you ever visited the Kwan-li-so rehabilitation centers and spoken to any of the people there?” asked the Dali Lama.

Kim suppressed his outrage, thought for some time and responded, “The duties of a great leader are great indeed. I spend my time with the loyal people struggling to protect and serve our country. I have no time for traitors. I do, however, take time to listen to reports from the courageous men running the rehabilitation centers. They tell me of the enormous struggle they are enduring to reeducate these ungrateful traitors.

“With your permission, I would like to travel to a Kwan-li-so rehabilitation center, meet with some of the detainees, and learn more about your approach to rehabilitation. Would that be possible?” asked the Dali Lama.

Kim was surprised by this request, thought about it for some time, and responded, “Go ahead, visit the traitors, I will send a military unit along to protect you. Learn what you can and tell the world of our great struggle. “

“Thank you for your sincere kindness and generosity. I have learned much from you. I look forward to visiting the rehabilitation centers. Is there any chance you would be willing to join me and meet some of the traitors who are threatening your country?  You could teach them yourself. It could have a great and lasting impact.”

Image courtesy of Wikicommons 

Copyright 2012 by Leland R. Beaumont, All Rights Reserved.

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