Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Not the Dalai Lama, or someone like him*

(Updated below.)

A graphic has been making the rounds again on Facebook, one that appears to go back at least four years in one version or another. It pictures His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, with his trademark expression of infinite patience mixed with secret amusement, and the text begins as follows:
The Dalai Lama, when asked what surprised him most about humanity, answered
It continues:
"Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived."
A nice sentiment, I suppose, boosted along by the oppositional phrasing and the ascending structure moving from work and the present, to the future, and finally to death. But I always felt that final clause about dying "having never really lived" seemed to have a false ring about it. Not something that the fellow who mostly talks about compassion and kindness would say.

And there's a reason for that. He didn't say it.

Plug the first sentence or so into the Google device and you'll quickly find it's a slight tweaking of something by James J. Lachard, the penname of a writer born in Essex, England in 1923, who eventually became CEO of World Vision International, an evangelical Christian humanitarian and advocacy organization.

Facebook and the like are, of course, an endless source of wrongly attributed quotes. Just ask Abraham Lincoln. And the name (or penname) of WVI's former CEO probably wouldn't be as recognizable to most social media users as the name of the world's most famous religious/political refugee. So perhaps whoever first mis-matched the quote to the leader of Tibetan Buddhism thought the expression just needed a little extra push. A little rebranding.

But if you help recirculate it online, incorrect attribution and all, it's on you now.

Still, this bit of literary vandalism did create one memorable moment a few years ago at, of all places, A contributor who describes his beat as "the intersection of entertainment and technology" (he's a video game reviewer) saw that meme somewhere and attacked it with the intellectual brio of a college sophomore who just aced his first philosophy elective. It's titled – seriously, now – "The Dalai Lama is Wrong" and it begins like this:
This quotation from the Dalai Lama has been making the rounds.

It’s one of those irksome sentiments that sounds really wise and profound and makes all of us sort of cringe in self-examination. Or worse, causes us to look outward at “humanity” and think to ourselves, “Yes, all these people are living for tomorrow. They should slow down and live for the here and now. They should spend less time being greedy workaholics and hang out with their families more.”
And then it continues in much the same vein for another eleven paragraphs (twelve paragraphs, if you count the extended block quote from the pilot episode of "The Wonder Years"), heaping withering scorn on the Dalai Lama for disrespecting the workaday life the rest of us lead while he led "a life of celebrity."

Readers eventually pointed out the attribution error in the comments section, although the post itself appears to stand as originally published in 2011, despite the large, Lama-shaped hole blown clean through the middle of it.

Oddly, though, the author cast references to the object of his derision in the past tense, suggesting that he might have been unaware that the man who didn't actually say the things he found so offensive hadn't actually died, either – in fact, he turned 80 on the 6th of July this year.

Update: And while we're at it, here are a list of things I meant to include that George Carlin never said, either.

*Acknowledgment is made of the works of The Firesign Theatre.

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