This is an image of Green Tara, a female Buddha and bodhisattva who is revered in the Tibetan Buddhist traditions. I’m posting an image of her because I’ve been thinking about all the courageous #MeToo posts in reference to what I’ve learned about biology and Buddhism.
When a guy is afraid, a typical response is to “fight, flee, or freeze.” Women also react this way but they’re also far more likely to adopt what biologists call a “tend-and-befriend” response – meaning look for ways to diffuse the scary situation through kindness, communication, diplomacy – exactly what we encourage our children to do when we say “use your words” and what we hope our world leaders (mostly men) will do.
I think it’s fair to say tend-and-befriend is the more enlightened response (all the more so in an era where violence is rarely needed for survival). And though this is an over-generalization, it comes more naturally to women. Literally, kindness is more baked in to female DNA.
In arguing why having a human life is the perfect opportunity for enlightenment, Buddhist sages throughout the ages have often pointed to the fact that we are not a big scary animal. Our fingernails are soft. We don’t have fangs for tearing flesh. We’re a species that is more suited to, say, making medicine, knitting sweaters, or becoming Buddhas (awake, happy, and compassionate) than making war. Obviously we (mostly men) have decided we should also excel in weapon-making to be the big, scary animal – and maybe that was necessary wandering the Serengeti. But it’s not now. It’s time to evolve past that. And in learning how we evolve past that, our teachers are easy to find. Our moms, sisters, girlfriends, daughters, and wives.
This isn’t to say Men don’t have enlightened qualities that women can learn from. But in building an enlightened society, kindness and compassion are clearly the place to keep our compass. So dudes, remember what mom (and hopefully dad) taught you and use your words.