I’d like to present this image of Buddhist monks in Myanmar offering food to the military in the midst of their attempted coup of Myanmar’s democracy, and their violent crackdown on democracy protesters. It is very clear what these monks are doing in this photo: they are giving food to members of the military. What is not clear to me is the meaning of this gesture and its political implications. So I’d like to offer some thoughts I had about its ambiguous meaning and possible interpretations.
The Monks are giving food to the Military because they believe that if they show kindness to these soldiers, they will be more reasonable and less violent towards others. By this gesture, the Monks are actually protecting the people.
The Monks are giving food to the Military because they are supporting the soldiers and possibly the military regime. According to some reports, soldiers have been deliberately deprived of food by their superiors to make them more angry and violent. By this gesture, the Monks are showing concern for the hungry soldiers.
The Monks are giving food to the Military because they believe that if they show kindness towards the Military, they will be less violent towards the Monks and leave the monasteries unharmed. By this gesture, the Monks are protecting themselves.
So which of these interpretations, if any, are true? Could they all be true? All false? How do we interpret the motives and behaviors of others? What stereotypes and biases do we bring to our interpretations of other’s behavior?
I have to admit that I thought all three interpretations could be true, possibly all at once. There’s a strong faction of Monks in Myanmar that oppose the coup and support the democratic resistance. There have also been reports of Monks who support the military regime. The facile reaction would be “The Monks should be giving food to the people who are resisting the coup and fighting for democracy, not the military.” Yes, that’s righteous as well, but perhaps the reasons for showing kindness towards the soldiers are just as good and important.
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