Five hundred kids were lined up at 9 a.m. and the 8,000 free tickets to see the Dalai Lama were gone within three hours. I’m not exactly surprised by the popularity of the event – after all, he is the world’s most famous monk – but I’m curious to know what exactly it was that motivated thousands of college students to crawl out of bed on a freezing morning to get tickets to hear an old man speak.

Was it the mere prospect of being in the presence of greatness? Were students anxious to check off “see the Dalai Lama live and in person” from their life to-do list, or waxing obedient and fronting for their parents? Or were young intellectuals simply compelled by the promise of words of epic wisdom and unparalleled inspiration? After all, this is the Dalai Lama we’re talking about.

He’s probably the strongest voice for peace in our time, the most prominent proponent of harmony and the most legitimate hippie to date. He’s a Nobel laureate, an honorary Canadian citizen and recipient of America’s prestigious Congressional Gold Medal. Now, he’s advocating a movement towards “post-identity thinking.” As he proposed in a TIME magazine interview, we should “look past divisions of nation, race and religion and try to address our shared problems at the source,” rather than taking them out on one another.

The magazine called this a “new global vision” and described it as “one of the brightest hopes for our new world order.” But I don’t quite understand why. Hasn’t the bulk of society been striving to achieve this apparently “revolutionary” ideal of ethnic, religious and racial equality for quite some time now? All things considered, history suggests that this goal of utopian coexistence is more than a tad too ambitious for humanity to handle. I can’t help but write off the Dalai Lama’s suspiciously peaceful idea as nothing less than a fantastically far-fetched daydream – let’s be serious, this is the 21st century, we don’t really do that whole peace thing anymore.

In many respects, our troposphere is just as heavy with hatred as ever. A declining global economy, stacked on top of heightened immigration and intensifying globalization, has pitted natives of all countries against immigrants of all heritages. And rising inflation in many nations seems to be levering the ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor even further open. In many cases, prejudice is being crystallized, if not created, everywhere everyday. And his 68-year reign – which has earned him the status of the most seasoned leader on the planet – has ensured that the current Dalai Lama has not missed any of this.

So, considering all he has seen, how can the Dalai Lama still fervently expend his energy and Tibet’s resources, advocating what seems by all accounts to be nothing more substantial than a happy daydream? It could be his religiosity (after all, he is the world’s foremost Buddhist monk) that ties him to this outlandish ideal. But he actually claims to value the scientific over the spiritual; he aptly advises people “not to get needlessly distracted by religion,” and has taken heat for endorsing secular ethics more so than any of his predecessor. So, essentially, the Dalai Lama appears to be a level-headed and world-renowned advocate of a mentality that I, for some reason, consider to be about as realistic as magic wands.

And so, ironically, that makes me, the fresh-faced (but apparently not so much) representative of youthful optimism, absolutely skeptical about the value of the Dalai Lama’s “new” campaign. But isn’t youth supposed to be synonymous with optimism? Upon consideration, I wonder if I am a product of a generation that has entirely skipped the rose-colored glasses phase of young adult life and made my way through college to promptly settle right into the mindset of a weary, late-life cynic? It seems so, by all accounts. I don’t know if that’s because the world we live in has been much less idyllic than it was for our parents, but I am a 21-year old with the cynicism of Diogenes. I cannot even fathom a world of post-identity, non-prejudice, all-embracing, completely equitable proportions.

And I don’t believe that I am alone in my unlit tunnel. When the Dalai Lama takes the podium in a few weeks and turns his wide-eyed gaze out into the sold-out audience, perhaps he will be looking out into a sea of my counterparts – young people seeking a reason, or a way, to be inspired about the prospect of a better world.

Ashlea Surles can be reached at ajsurles@umich.edu.

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