These audio samples are part of an interview conducted for “Make It Right,” the Summer 2015 issue of YES! Click here to read the Q & A.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu is perhaps the closest thing the world has to an expert on forgiveness. A Nobel Peace Prize laureate, he led the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was charged with healing the wounds inflicted by generations of institutionalized racism.
“What you do to me lives in you.”
His work helped South Africa transition from an apartheid state to a multiracial democracy. In the process, Tutu and the Commission considered more than 7,000 applications for amnesty, acting on the idea that everyone deserves the chance to walk the road of redemption.
Tutu remains widely sought after for his wisdom, particularly as countries around the world attempt to use the process of truth and reconciliation to heal from their own legacies of conflict and hurt. He and his daughter the Rev. Mpho Tutu recently released their Book of Forgiving, a guide for both perpetrators and victims of violence to embrace their mutual humanity and learn how to forgive, and how to be forgiven.
For the Summer 2015 issue of YES! Magazine, titled “Make It Right,” Desmond and Mpho Tutu were interviewed by YES! Editor in Chief Sarah van Gelder and contributor Fania Davis, a civil rights attorney and executive director of Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth.
We wanted to know how the United States could recover from a legacy of slavery, lynchings, disenfranchisement, and mass incarceration. What is the process of forgiving on such a scale, and could a truth and reconciliation process work in an America currently boiling over with racial tensions?
The Tutus responded in an audio recording. An edited version of the interview appears in the Summer 2015 issue, but the full interview, featuring the voices of both father and daughter, is presented here.
Ubuntu is an ancient southern African belief that suggests individuals exist only in relationship with other living beings. As all living things are relatives, it is our responsibility to take care of one another. Desmond and Mpho Tutu begin by speaking about Ubuntu, and how its basic precept of interdependence informs the cycle of forgiveness by emphasizing that, as Mpho says, “what you do to me lives in you.”
“Truth and reconciliation” has become part of the lexicon since the end of apartheid, but what do those words actually mean? The Tutus explain how the act of truth-telling plays a vital role in facilitating the process of reconciliation, and why the ability to reconcile and forgive is a sign of courage rather than weakness.
On history and human nature
One major obstacle to reconciliation is the lack of a shared perspective between perpetrator and victim, and in the case of healing racial trauma, the divergent experiences of whites and blacks. Desmond and Mpho Tutu argue that while there can be no truly common narrative, reconciliation relies on each side telling their version of truth while maintaining respect for the other’s story. And Archbishop Tutu talks about his realization that all human beings carry within them the best and worst of human nature
On truth and reconciliation in the United States
In the wake of the storm of police violence against black people raging across the United States, the Tutus consider the question of whether a truth and reconciliation process is needed in America, and if it could help heal the still-bleeding wounds of racism.
On forgiveness, family, and inner peace
In the final part of the interview, Desmond and Mpho Tutu reflect on the power of apologies, the need for material reparations, and the importance of forgiveness in dictating the world’s future. They also speak about truth and reconciliation within their own family, and how they are able to maintain their own inner peace.
Fania Davis is a civil rights attorney, restorative justice practitioner, social justice activist, writer, scholar, and co-founder and executive director of Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth.
Miles Schneiderman is a freelance writer, podcaster, fact-checker, and media producer. His work can be found on www.mjschneiderman.com
Sarah van Gelder is a co-founder and columnist at YES!, founder of PeoplesHub, and author of The Revolution Where You Live: Stories from a 12,000-Mile Journey Through a New America.