Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu is simply urging us to see those around us through the eyes of God, says Murray Williams.
Cape Town - The Arch’s view of the world is simple. But before we go there, let’s consider the full weight of this astonishing character we hold so dear.
Wikipedia reports: “Desmond Mpilo Tutu (born October 7, 1931) is a South African social rights activist and retired Anglican archbishop who rose to worldwide fame during the 1980s as an opponent of apartheid.
“Tutu’s admirers see him as a man who since the demise of apartheid has been active in the defence of human rights and uses his high profile to campaign for the oppressed. He has campaigned to fight Aids, tuberculosis, poverty, racism, sexism, and more…
“He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984; the Albert Schweitzer Prize for Humanitarianism in 1986; the Pacem in Terris in 1987; the Sydney Peace Prize in 1999; the Gandhi Peace Prize in 2007, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009. He has also compiled several books of his speeches and sayings.”
That’s just for starters, a basic cut-and-paste.
The full details of his global travels, audiences and high-level missions, encounters and campaigns would fill this page, and the next 10.
The Arch has an almost unearthly power – not derived from a ballot box, but his unique brand of leadership.
So how, then, would a figure of such extraordinary global stature distil all that he knows to be true?
On Thursday, at Somerset College school in the Cape Winelands, he stood before an enthralled school body – pupils, teachers and parents packed to their chapel’s rafters – and explained: “I am, because you are.”
The view is this: from our earliest years, we human beings are defined by our fellow humans. We learn to walk, talk and eat from those we witness around us.
It’s the view that “we are not created for self-sufficiency, but complementarity, togetherness, family”. That we do not flourish alone, but “find fulfilment in each other”. That “we need each other to be human”.
In a word, it’s called “Ubuntu”, the Arch explained, simply.
“And it’s more radical than any political philosophy,” he argued.
Because Ubuntu, in turn, fosters forgiveness, compassion and magnanimity, which are “like oxygen” for the human soul, the Arch argued.
And that’s it – that’s the full philosophy. Put bluntly: no man’s an island, we’re in this together. So let’s forge our common destiny as sisters, as brothers, as a never-to-part human family.
It can take some time to fully understand the gravitas of that message, of just how foundational it is to everything we think, to every way in which we act.
It was once explained to me in a different way, by a very precious doctor in the Banhoek Valley outside Stellenbosch, like this: “If you can see your own emotions, your own fears, your own desires, your own ego – then you are not those things. You are above all those.
“That ability to independently see yourself, and to truly see, and thus empathise with, others around you… some call that view ‘The Eye of God’.”
And that, perhaps, is all the Arch is saying. Urging us to see those around us through the eyes of God.
* Murray Williams’ weekly column Shooting from the Lip appears in the Cape Argus every Friday.