Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Reflections from Ms. Nontombi Naomi Tutu

Ms. Tutu, the daughter of Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, recently visited Minnesota for the Nobel Forum.  As Minnesota considers the creation of a Truth & Healing Commission, there are plenty of lessons we can learn from South Africa, El Salvador and the Nuremberg Trials.

She spoke about the South African hearings that were televised and shared her shock at how many people chose to lie even though they were promised amnesty in exchange for their testimony.  She attributed the lying to a protective instinct because of the difficulty in facing the bad part of ourselves. 

Her bottom line: It is natural for people to lie to ourselves. 
We believe we could never be that bad.

She recounted remembering hearing a soldier admit during the South Africa Truth & Reconciliation hearing: 'I am two people.  I am father, husband.  But I tortured and killed people.  I kept those two people apart.'  

I was writing notes quickly, but I'll try to share some quotes from her address:
"We want to see ourselves as in the right.  We want to be able to blame others, to rationalize our behavior or lack of action.  It makes it easier to stereotype and to label 'us' and 'them.'"

"Each of us has the potential for evil, for abuse, for being the thing we despise.  Part of the 'Price of Peace' is to be willing to see the parts of ourselves that are not beautiful or caring.  Similarly, we must look at others that we despise and concede that they too can be compassionate, caring and loving.  It's not black and white that one of us is completely right and good.  The 'others' are human beings with their own stories. We must be willing to see the possibility of grey rather than black and white.  The price of peace is ultimately our pride."

She related the story of going through a roadblock as a child growing up with apartheid.  She saw that the worker was a young man of a different race.  "I was scared of him because of the stories I had heard about the 'others.'  Then something clicked...he was a young person just like me. I have now learned that the easier a label comes to mind, the more suspect it should be.  We must see each others' humanity."