One of South Africa's best-known 'prophets' will be speaking in the Tampa Bay area in the next few weeks. (I met him several times in my line of work in the struggle against apartheid, injustice and racism in the southern parts of Africa).
As I was preparing for his visit to this area I revisited some of the pain, failures and successes in South Africa, country of my birth, to see what others can learn from it. Here are some of my thoughts …
The success of a community like yours lies in the success in the grass roots of that community. It is entwined with your personal success, the success of your family, the success of your extended family and finally in the success of your community.
One needs to ask the question: How do we define success? What will success look like if and when we achieve it? How do you define your own success?
The reason this is so important is because of the underlying danger of dressing failure up as success and parading it as such in year-end speeches, political rallies, pep talks, company reports and weekly family meetings. After all, we want to save face, we want to be re-elected, respected, keep our job, etc.
We think we need to hang on at all cost. And we do bravely... or is it stubbornly?
As I traveled as a newspaper and television journalist over the last 20 plus years - amongst these is a visit to LA during the Rodney King-riots - I learned some important lessons the painful way. One of them is that most people and communities (yes, you included) tend to stubbornness and a hardness of heart. So we all learn our lessons the painful way or we don't learn them at all. Experience in itself is not the best teacher. Honestly evaluated experience is the best teacher!
We are all prone to dress up our failures as success, our personal disappointments as a lifestyle, political failures as unavoidable, unintended 'mistakes.' It is not surprising that the number one disease today is not AIDS or heart disease, it is depression! Worldwide.
And it takes someone of prophetic proportions like Bishop Desmond Tutu to confront this habit in us and in our communities. He did that in South Africa at great personal loss.
Every time I visit the Apartheids Museum in Johannesburg, South Africa, I am again and again driven to tears by a video of Bishop Tutu speaking at the funeral of 23 anti-apartheid activists killed in the mid-eighties when the country was in a state of civil war. In the midst of a crowd of mourners - with more smoke, flames and gunshots in the background - he cries to heaven: "God, we know You are good, but why must the price be so high?"
What price are we paying for living the way we do or acting the way we do collectively? What price are others paying for the way you are living or acting? What price are you paying - or the community paying - for the way you and I or others live? Do we even realize or care?
Bishop Tutu is but one of many well known and many unknown voices that rose up boldly and courageously. He was ridiculed, opposed, attacked, hated, threatened with death, jailed, put under house arrest, watched by spies, etc. Yet he never stopped speaking out lovingly. Today - unfortunately only in hindsight - he is a hero; he is one of our champions. He was right after all.
We need to learn to listen and to hear those who speak truths to us that could heal our community and us. The most important aspect of communicating successfully is LISTENING well. When it comes to listening well as individuals and collectively, we need to learn to 'walk' again.
Truth is not proven by success, the fruit we bear as individuals and as people together proves it. Are the fruits of our community a fear of failure, drugs, depression, racism, prejudice, selfishness, self enrichment, complaining, family breakups, hate, murder and more cover-ups OR are they healing, kindness, love, forgiveness, transparency, openness, reaching out, helping, gratitude, etc?
Let's renew our faith and our hope and listen well. Listen to people like Desmond Tutu, listen to your children, listen to your wife or husband, and listen to your parents. Listen to voices that rebuke you, build you and encourage you toward the purpose for which you exist. Forgive and listen.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu will be speaking about "No Future Without Forgiveness" on January 19 at 7 p.m. in the Sun Dome. His visit is co-sponsored by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Celebration Committee & the Peace through Diversity Lecture Committee of the University of South Florida.
(John E. van Heerden is a journalist and speaker now working with orphans and dying AIDS sufferers in Africa. John and his wife, Daphne, and their three children live in Dunedin and can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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