We had a TV series in London. One of our fellow TV presenters seriously upset the camera crew when they arrived at his house. He was rude and dismissive, essentially putting himself on a pedestal and treating them like lowly workers. Minutes later, when the camera was turned on, he became the perfectly smiling spiritual icon he was publicly known to be. But, as the crew told us later, he had already shown them that he did not walk his talk.
In contrast, Ed was meeting with Jo, our TV producer, in a small London cafe where the tables were situated very close together. Two well-dressed African men sat down next to them, which effectively meant they were sharing the same table. Ed asked them where they were from and one said South Africa. His name was Jacob Zuma, then president of the ANC and now president of South Africa. Ed gave him a book that we had written with contributions from President Gorbachev, the Dalai Lama, and President Vaclav Havel. Jacob said the book would be in the hands of Nelson Mandela the following evening, someone who supports Jacob’s presidency.
Usually, if you sit next to someone in a big city cafe, they do not even make eye contact, let alone conversation. Jacob had never met Ed before but he treated him in a very friendly and gracious way. He could have been distant and polite, and he certainly did not have to talk, let alone maintain communication, which he did over the following few years. He even hugged him! In this way, he displayed no sense of discrimination or elitism.
How we walk our talk shows far more than just our public behavior. Rather, it highlights how we view the world and our place in it. A few days ago a friend was telling us that a business agreement she had been nurturing for over three years had abruptly come to an end. “He wanted to exclude me from part of the discussion with one of my contacts, which I said was absolutely not agreeable. So he said that was it and he got up and left.” But instead of being shattered after losing all the years of work, she felt a huge relief. He had shown her his true colors. As she said, “He had shown me how he treats the waitress.”
Many years ago we met with the Dalai Lama at his residence in India. While we waited for the meeting Ed was standing on the veranda, enjoying the beauty of the mountains stretching in front of him, when he saw a monk at the far end of the veranda trying to get his attention by beckoning us to come. We thought he would bring us to our meeting but as we came closer to the monk we realized that he was the Dalai Lama. In traditional Buddhist custom, we immediately began to prostrate but he took our hands and lifted us up, saying, “No, no, we are all equal here.”
That teaching stayed with us. As Deb first thought, ‘Oh sure! You are the great Dalai Lama, spiritual leader to millions. How can we possibly be equal?’ But over the following months I felt his words in the core of my being and experienced the true equality he was referring to: the equality of our shared humanness and, simultaneously, our shared heart.
The Dalai Lama showed us how he treats a waitress – with the consideration and respect that he treats all beings. No matter who we are, whether a street cleaner or a president, we are all here together as one human family.