Finding the power of Ubuntu to celebrate our shared humanity
It was the 19th century nobleman and moral philosopher Lord Acton who said “Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely”.
Though he may have borrowed that telling observation from elsewhere it has gone on to be proved incontrovertibly true on countless occasions.
Absolute power is both dangerous and unnatural and, I would argue, can neither be achieved nor exercised by anyone without trampling over the rights of their fellow men and women.
I am certain that having faced the tyranny of apartheid, freedom fighter and peace campaigner Archbishop Desmond Tutu will know this to be true.
A lifetime’s struggle for social justice has shown him that true power is not achieved by a dictator riding roughshod over his people whether they be politicians, the staff of a corporation or the members of a criminal gang.
True power can only be found in our shared humanity and love and understanding of each other. Which is why Archbishop Tutu has long believed in the effectiveness of the South African philosophy of Ubuntu which is based on our love, respect and understanding of each other.
He once observed: “When a pile of cups is tottering on the edge of the table and you warn that they will crash to the ground, in South Africa you are blamed when that happens.”
This is all too often the sad truth. That cautioning against disaster is often punished rather than rewarded. Whistleblowers in the political or business arena who expose malpractices, deadly shortcuts and compromises over health and safety are often taking a big personal risk to do the right thing.
Yet they should be applauded. For in a world with less greed and a shared sense of humanity minor miracles can happen.
The practice of Ubuntu has shown time and again that seemingly insurmountable problems can be overcome merely by listening to the point of view of others and, even if you’re convinced they are wrong, trying to understand them. It may not entirely resolve a problem but it can give you the space and knowledge to work towards a resolution. This was one of the founding principals of Desmond Tutu’s post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission and it is a philosophy promoted the Tutu Foundation UK.
In its work with Youth Futures and the Metropolitan Police, Ubuntu has been central to the TFUK’s remarkably successful attempts to find a way of reducing inner city crime, gang violence and drug dealing.
There were those who were understandably sceptical about the the chances of success when the Foundation set up a series of ‘roundtable’ talks bringing together police officers and gang members for one to one meetings. The sceptics were wrong. The two sides soon realised that they weren’t talking to the enemy but fellow human beings trying to survive in an unforgiving environment under challenging circumstances. It gave them pause for thought and room to develop a more healing relationship and just maybe a way of pushing those tottering cups back from the edge of the table. Ubuntu works.