What Was Sharon Stone Thinking?

by Iman Kurdi, Arab News, May 30, 2008

London, UK -- What was she thinking? Sharon Stone on the red carpet at Cannes, in full glitter and gala sparkle, cameras snapping at her, found no better than to make the following comment:

“I am not happy about the way the Chinese are treating the Tibetans.” “Then I have been concerned about ‘how shall we deal with the Olympics?’ because they are not being nice to the Dalai Lama, who is a friend of mine. And then this earthquake and all this stuff happened and I thought, ‘Is that Karma, when you’re not nice that the bad things happen to you’?”

Over 60,000 people have died, another 20, 000 or more are still missing, five million are homeless; and thousands of miles away, an American actress calmly smiles and puts it all down to people not being nice to her friend the Dalai Lama. How could anyone be so irresponsible and heartless?

In essence she is saying that the Chinese have harmed the Tibetans and so a kind of divine retribution is falling upon them in the form of an earthquake.

Take apart that many Tibetans have died in the earthquake, or that just as in most natural disasters, it is society’s most vulnerable people who have been most affected — children, the elderly, the sick, the poor — how can you make the victims of an earthquake responsible for a tragedy of such awesome scale?

Karma is one of these words people bandy about without really knowing what it means. Sharon Stone of course is a Buddhist and, as she points out, is also a friend of the Dalai Lama’s, so she should, in theory at least, know the full meaning of the word. She didn’t just say karma like that, it clearly formed part of the essence of her worldview, which seems to be that every action has a consequence and everything that happens to you happens as a consequence of an action.

The first part I happily agree with. You reap what you sow. Everything you say or do has consequences, some that are direct, some that are immediate, some that are visible but many that are none of the above but exist none-the-less. Human beings are responsible for their own actions, and more over, it is the thought behind the action, the intention, which matters most. And this I believe to be in line with Buddhist beliefs about karma.

Where I differ with Sharon Stone is the idea that things happen to you because of things you have done. Sometimes they do, but sometimes things just happen. It is another form of blaming the victim. You see instances of it every day. Sometimes it’s just that, saying it is your fault: If a pickpocket steals your phone it is because you dared use your phone in public! If your husband leaves you for a younger woman, it is because you didn’t go to the gym every day! And it goes from the banal to the serious, the most common being: If a woman gets raped it is because she was asking for it.

The misuse of the karma idea is slightly different, it is not so much that it is your fault but that negative deeds done by you, or by people around you, have created the consequences for this event to happen. It is a chain effect rather than a direct act/consequence. And hence Ms. Stone’s simplistic assertion: Chinese people are not nice to Tibetans, bad things happen to Chinese.

I say misuse because Buddhists do not believe that everything happens to you because of karma. There are other causes for what happens to us mere mortals on this planet. Most importantly and most pertinently, they don’t believe that natural disasters are a result of bad karma. In fact, weather conditions and seasonal changes are a cause of effect in their own right. Which is kind of pretty obvious.

Sharon Stone has issued an apology for her comments. She calls her words “inappropriate” and says she is “deeply sorry and sad about hurting Chinese people.”

I am sure she regrets her words. They have not been without consequence: Dior has dropped her from their ads in China and Chinese cinemas are refusing to show her films. I would hope that she regrets them too because they are more than just “inappropriate”, they are cruel. She essentially said to the millions of people who have been killed, displaced, made homeless or orphaned that they deserved it. It shows a total lack of empathy for human suffering. She should be sorry, she should be very sorry indeed.