Africans believe in something that is difficult to render in English. We call it ubuntu, botho. It means the essence of being human. You know when it is there and when it is absent. It speaks about humaneness, gentleness, hospitality, putting yourself out on behalf of others, being vulnerable. It embraces compassion and toughness. It recognizes that my humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.
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Ubuntu is very difficult to render into a Western language. It speaks of the very essence of being human.... you are generous, you are hospitable, you are friendly and caring and compassionate. You share what you have. It is to say, 'My humanity is inextricably bound up in yours.' We belong in a bundle of life.
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I don't often want to speak. I try to be a reasonable person and to be diplomatic, but you go to that place and you see the settlements, you see what has happened to the land that was owned by the Palestinians. I have often said to my Jewish friends: "Please just remember where you come from. Remember Yahweh, who said to the Israelites, 'Treat the alien well with justice.'"
You tend to think that your time is either the best or the worst, and then when you have a sense of history, you'll realize actually, no, there were times things were quite gusty in the world. I mean, just think, nowadays most people will say they support the advancement of women, woman has been equal, the fact that we're so aware of the gustiness, in a sense, also speaks about the heightening of our own sensitivity.
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The acknowledgement that this person is English, white, or French, or German, this is Portuguese, this is Rwandan, this is Senegalese, this is a black South Africans is a glorious thing. To speak of those positively, to say that they have characteristics, each one of them, that the others almost always do not have, and that there is a complementarily about it.
You have to understand that the Bible is really a library of books and it has different categories of material. There are certain parts which you have to say no to. The Bible accepted slavery. St Paul said women should not speak in church at all and there are people who have used that to say women should not be ordained. There are many things that you shouldn't accept.
A person is a person through other persons. None of us comes into the world fully formed. We would not know how to think, or walk, or speak, or behave as human beings unless we learned it from other human beings. We need other human beings in order to be human. I am because other people are. A person is entitled to a stable community life, and the first of these communities is the family.
True forgiveness deals with the past, all of the past, to make the future possible. We cannot go on nursing grudges even vicariously for those who cannot speak for themselves any longer. We have to accept that we do what we do for generations past, present and yet to come. That is what makes a community a community or a people a people-for better or for worse.
Have you seen a symphony orchestra? There is a person at the back carrying a triangle. Now and again the conductor will point to him or her and that person will play "ting." That might seem so insignificant, but in the conception of the composer something irreplaceable would be lost to the total beauty of the symphony if that "ting" did not happen.
What we try to do as Elders is help those who are trying to change their own societies and communities for the better. We hope that by supporting the good work that is being done, especially at the grass roots, we can help to alleviate the suffering of human beings. That is our core mission - to draw attention to the impact that conflict, injustice and poverty have on ordinary people.
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We are living in an historic moment. We are each called to take part in a great transformation. Our survival as a species is threatened by global warming, economic meltdown, and an ever-increasing gap between rich and poor. Yet these threats offer an opportunity to awaken as an interconnected and beloved community.
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Poverty - the greatest cause of human suffering on the planet - is itself exacerbated by conflict, competition for resources, injustice, even the global downturn and climate change. Diseases like AIDS, TB and malaria cannot be tackled without adequate resources. So you see everything is connected. In order to address any major cause of human suffering, we have to work together across many fronts.
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There's no way in which you can ever win a war against terror. As long as there are conditions in many parts of the world that make people desperate: poverty, disease, ignorance, etc. I hope that we will discover soon, that we can survive, only together. We can prosper only together. And I think people are beginning to realize this, that you can't have pockets of prosperity in one part of the world and huge deserts of poverty and deprivation and think you can have a stable, secure world.
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We must not allow ourselves to become like the system we oppose. We cannot afford to use methods of which we will be ashamed when we look back, when we say, '...we shouldn't have done that.' We must remember, my friends, that we have been given a wonderful cause. The cause of freedom! And you and I must be those who will walk with heads held high. We will say, 'We used methods that can stand the harsh scrutiny of history.'
I would hope that wherever I was I would be me. I have been influenced by some wonderful people who showed me that there is an integral relationship between faith and life at home. Evil is evil, repression is repression anywhere. And if it is not consistent with what one believes is God's will, then I would hope that one would be able to witness it, and there are wonderful people who do so in very great risks to themselves.