The Politics of Ubuntu

In December 2013, close to 200 government leaders and representatives from across the globe came together in one place to attend Nelson Mandela's memorial. Madiba has always had an uncanny ability to bring people together, even the most unlikely of people. His hard-won struggle to embrace the power of reconciliation was apparent in the life he lived and in the gathering of leaders who came to mourn him. It seems this uncanny ability of his did not die with him.

When President Obama took the stage during the memorial he said,

"There is a word in South Africa -- Ubuntu -- a word that captures Mandela's greatest gift: his recognition that we are all bound together in ways that are invisible to the eye; that there is a oneness to humanity; that we achieve ourselves by sharing ourselves with others, and caring for those around us."

Ubuntu says that we cannot exist as a human being in isolation. We are interconnected. We are family. If you are not well, I am not well. When Ubuntu is your core value you recognize your shared humanity. You cannot live in Ubuntu and violate the dignity or humanity of another. The two are irreconcilable.

I am here to say that we are not well.

There were no representatives from Syria, Iraq or North Korea at Madiba's memorial, although I was happy to see two representatives from Iran, and a representative from Russia. This is not just about paying respects, this is about the fate of our global community. Perhaps with the passing of Madiba, it is time to look at the concept of reconciliation and the politics of Ubuntu.

Ubuntu does not say that we will not have differences, rather it says we will look at our differences from a framework of reconciliation and renewal. I have said before and will continue to say until my own last breath, there is no situation that is without hope, there is no conflict that cannot be resolved, and there is no person that is incapable of transformation. Ubuntu means that when we walk into a room full of people we immediately look at the ways we are similar, not the ways in which we are different.

Is Iran different from the United States? Is North Korea different from South Korea? Is Israel different from Palestine? Is Syria different? Is Iraq different? Yes, we could list myriad ways the politics of each of these countries and their leaders are different, but the truth remains, the people are the same, not in every custom and tradition, but in their hearts and in their souls. Every parent in Syria wants the best for their child, as does every parent in the United States. Each man in Iraq wants the same as each man in North Korea -- the right to life, liberty and security.

Article one of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says, "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood." This is Ubuntu. We are bound together in our quest for freedom in all its forms, connection in all its possibilities, and in our basic need for our dignity to be inviolate. We are more alike than not.

When we proliferate weapons of mass destruction, we are not living in Ubuntu. When we hypocritically condemn others for pursuing the materials or testing the bombs that we ourselves harbor, this is not Ubuntu. When we say that peace is only secured through threat of punishment, this is not Ubuntu.

For the politics of Ubuntu to prevail, there must be multilateral nuclear disarmament. There can be no leaders who preach, "Do as I say, not as I do." This does not work in the family, nor does it work in the global arena.

Nelson Mandela believed that all of humanity would be better off if there were no nuclear weapons whatsoever. Indeed, South Africa is the only country to build the nuclear bomb and divest itself of all nuclear weapons. If we truly believe in Ubuntu, and in the core value that we are all born both free and equal in dignity and rights, than no nation has the right to threaten another. No man has the right to raise himself up by lowering another down. Ubuntu says that when we violate the dignity of another, we violate our own dignity.

We are only people through other people. We are more alike than not. We are truly interconnected, and as a global family there are no true or real boundaries among nations, among religions, among territories. Every man, woman, and child wants to live, to love, to be free, and to be happy.

If the leaders of the world want to truly honor Madiba, let them honor him by their actions, by their values, by their policies, and their practices. Let them reach out to their global neighbors in a spirit of reconciliation and recognition that we are all equal and striving for the same. This does not mean sweeping grievances under the rug, nor does it mean condoning horrific actions or ignoring the hungry or tortured cries of our children in Syria, North Korea, and elsewhere. It means meeting and recognizing the dignity of one another -- nation to nation, and leader to leader. We can only renew our global relationships through walking the path of forgiveness. Let the people tell their stories, let perpetrators witness the anguish they have caused and acknowledge their wrongdoing. Let apologies be requested and apologies granted. Let justice prevail. Let restitution be made when restitution is called for. This is how we begin again, and this is how we move forward into peace.

None of us exist in isolation and when we recognize our shared humanity, regardless of our differences, then peace is possible. I implore all the world's leaders to step up and carry the mantle of Madiba. There comes a time when we all need to walk our talk.

This is the politics of Ubuntu.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and the Tutu Global Forgiveness Challenge, which is a free 30-day online program developed by Desmond and Mpho Tutu to teach the practical steps to forgiveness they share in their new book, The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World. Learn about the campaign here, and sign up to participate yourself. Read all posts in the series here.