Desmond Tutu’s message
It has been a very long time ambition of mine to hear Desmond Tutu speak.
Yesterday I was privileged enough to be able to attend the memorial service for Nelson
Mandela at Westminster Abbey. I could scarcely believe my luck when I discovered that Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu would be speaking.
His address was even better than I had expected. Of course, it was a perfect lesson in virtually every aspect of public speaking, so worth listening to just for that. It’s also a great lesson in leadership. But there was a key message too.
I’m sharing it with you, because I think it is a valuable one. I hope you like it.
You may not think that it’s relevant to you. For me his message struck home and made me wonder if I always behave as well as I might towards my fellow human beings and, most importantly, made me want to do better.
So, here is an overview of what he said, including his simple key message for us all at the end.
A Funny Story
After thanking everyone for organising the service, he started with a funny story. No one else who spoke did that. He described how 20 years ago, South Africa was a nation that sported signs reading:
Drive carefully natives cross here
And that, in his own words “rather hair-raisingly” (made more amusing by the face that he is bald) some people had changed them to:
Drive carefully natives very cross here
The serious side
He described how the apartheid system treated black people as if they were “scum” and gave a few examples.
He went on to explain how high-ranking persons in both the UK and the US regarded Mandela as a terrorist and wondered what would have happened if he had died in prison. He gave his impish laugh as he pointed out that this had not happened and said it was thanks very largely to the amazing international anti-apartheid movement led by the Englishman, Arch Bishop Trevor Huddleston.
He then when on to thank the people who had contributed, as he said “on behalf or our people. How I wish you could open our hearts and see the depth of our gratitude.”
He thanked those who regularly picketed SA house, the “elegant ladies” who boycotted produce and those who “followed a long-haired Peter Hain”. You could feel people beaming with pride as he thanked them.
He described visitng10 Downing Street and the Oval Office with pleas for sanctions that fell on deaf ears.
Then he mentioned that instead of retribution and revenge, black and white South Africans walked the path of reconciliation.
He then described how Nelson Mandela came out of prison transformed, from an angry militant young man to the magnanimous leader who believed that each person, every single one of us has the capacity to be great, magnanimous, forgiving and generous.
The message: What we are made for
Desmond Tutu believes we cannot give up on anyone. He admitted that Nelson Mandela may not have put this quite the same way, but he believes that “no one is a hopeless case with a first class ticket to hell”. We, all of us, have the capacity to be saints. He said that Mandela made us believe that all each one of us is made for goodness, for caring, for loving, for laughter and for peace.
If you believe that about people, it makes it so much easier for you to treat them well and to help them, and probably to feel good about yourself.
Try it out and see what you find.