Each has left a legacy of wisdom and grace.
bell hooks often spoke and wrote about the connections between racism, patriarchy, economic injustice, and poverty. She saw the connections clearly and spent much of her life trying to show them to the world.
Desmond Tutu often spoke and wrote of the connections between all of us. He, perhaps more than any other South African, brought the concept of ubuntu to the rest of the world. The Zulu concept of ubuntu, Tutu described as:
“The philosophy and belief that a person is only a person through other people. In other words, we are human only in relation to other humans. Our humanity is bound up in one another… This interconnectedness is the very root of who we are.”
We see here a similar message. Desmond Tutu describing our interconnectedness, and bell hooks reminding us that ignoring our connections gives rise to social classifications and thence the intersection between oppression.
Perhaps the most radical offering that each of them gifted to the world was their understanding of the role forgiveness and compassion could play. Radical – because forgiveness and compassion are often seen (by all sides of the political spectrum) as “soft options.” Neither of these two pillars of humanity could be thought of as soft. Let’s hear from bell first.
“For me, forgiveness and compassion are always linked: how do we hold people accountable for wrongdoing and yet, at the same time, remain in touch with their humanity enough to believe in their capacity to be transformed?”
This is a truly radical question, for it shifts us away from a good/evil, right/wrong, me/you, us/them dualism, towards a recognition of our common humanity (faults and all.)
Desmond Tutu grappled with exactly this question throughout his long life (he died at age 90.) His penultimate book, published in 2015, was a collaboration with his daughter – Mpho – titled The Book of Forgiving.1
In that book he outlined a four-fold path of forgiveness, contrasting this with the Revenge Cycle – a never ending continuing cycle of violence, harm, revenge/retaliation, violence…
For Tutu, forgiveness was not just a practice with personal or familial benefit; it also has benefit at world and global level.
Yes, within days of one another the world has said farewell to two of its wise elders.
I will leave the final words to Desmond Tutu.
“We can’t create a world without pain or loss or conflict or hurt feelings, but we can create a world of forgiveness. We can create a world of forgiveness that allows us to heal from those losses and pain and repair our relationships.”Note: