I’ve long insisted that goodness and compassion will win the day, despite the injustice and despair in our world that often appears overwhelming. Whenever I have difficulty believing this truth, I think of young people.
I recall coming to North America in the 1980s, when my country was in turmoil over the oppressive regime of apartheid. I was exhilarated by the students I met on university and college campuses who were demonstrating in solidarity with our struggle. They understood that we’re all connected. The suffering of people they had never met became the subject of their passions and their energy. They were unknowingly living the traditional African concept called ubuntu – that we’re human only because of each other. We’re part of a fabric – one human family.
We adults sometimes forget this basic law. We spend obscene amounts of money on “defence” when people are dying because they don’t have clean water. But young people in every generation have seen more clearly that, if we attack depravity and injustice instead of one another – if most people in the world had enough money, were free of disease, had children who all went to school – we wouldn’t need to spend so much on “security.”
I’m eagerly anticipating my visit to Vancouver on Thursday, when I’ll take part in a truly miraculous event. This is the only way I can describe being surrounded by 20,000 young people who have come together to share their determination to contribute to a better world. These young participants in We Day – Canada’s national celebration of youth and their power to change the world – are proof that humanity is designed for good.
Canada has long held a unique place in the world. It has been praised for the creation of United Nations peacekeepers and respected on a global level for its leadership on issues such as the campaign to ban land mines. In the 1980s, Canada had the courage to impose sanctions on the apartheid regime in South Africa.
Yet, the circumstances of Canada’s aboriginal peoples are appalling. There is homelessness, despair and injustice in Canada as well as throughout the world. The Canadian economy continues to grow, yet its international aid budget is tightened, at a time of rising global hunger and many people slipping further below the poverty line. I’ve often called for Canada to recognize the dramatic need for action on climate change. The poorest on my continent face undue suffering caused by the choices of those in wealthy nations who pollute without conscience.
I visit Canada to speak to its young people because they have an innate sense of compassion and justice. I believe they will steer the country to its proud tradition of creating a more peaceful and equitable world.
At We Day, they show that small actions, put together, make a huge difference. They’ve built schools, they’ve given the gift of clean water and they’ve fed families in need in their own communities. Small actions might not make banner headlines, but a small difference in the life of one other person affects what he or she does with his or her life. In this way, doing good spreads more goodness in a ripple effect of kindness and compassion. This is why I say we’re all capable of our own special miracles.
There’s much work to be done in our world. We read about it every day, but we must look beyond the headlines to the problems that don’t catch the eye in the news.
You wouldn’t be a normal person if you weren’t depressed by all the work that needs doing – but it must be done. I thank the young people of Canada for doing it.
Archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu, a Nobel Peace laureate, was a key player in the fight against apartheid.