Before this conference, I would never have imagined that I would sit down next to a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and talk to him, let alone fist bump him goodbye like me and my friends do. Alas, this was no ordinary Nobel Prize winner – is there such thing as an ordinary Nobel Prize winner? - and a man who’s quick wit and even quicker sense of humor would definitely assure him a spot in my Friday nights.
Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, one of the key figures in organizing a peaceful movement that ultimately brought down the Apartheid system in South Africa, took the stage to offer the closing remarks on the Reconciliation Forum. It was the perfect ending to our program; after all, and as he remarked to the audience, South Africa was able to go from an oppressive and divisive system to a state concerned with unity and equality in a surprisingly peaceful way. “Instead of that bloodbath [everyone predicted], we saw those long lines of people waiting to vote in a democratic election,” he observed. The key, he contended, was putting constant pressure on all side to forgive and reconcile, something facilitated by the fact that “most people want to be happy, make amends.” Citing South Africa as an example, he dismissed the idea that there can be a path out of conflict that eschews forgiveness and reconciliation. “Let me let you in on a little secret: there is no way you’ll ever find true peace and stability through the barrel of a gun.” Ultimately, he remarked, it lies in our individual responsibility to seek out reconciliation.
The past few days showcased powerful examples of the worst and the best humanity offers, the perceptions of the actions of man torn between that of an insensible beast and a courageous being. In fact, for those of us in the hall, the stories and images – I suggest you visit www.jamesnachtwey.com to see for yourself - of horror were almost countered by equally powerful stories of redemption and reconciliation. If we came away with a message, it was that individually we do have the capacity to work towards change: as businessmen, students, academics and other professionals, we find ourselves in positions where our actions can have concrete repercussions. These actions can be positive or negative, the latter just by choosing to do nothing.
If you had a chance to bring reconciliation to the world, would you do it? Well my friend, we do have that chance.
I thank the organizers of the ABC Reconciliation Forum, as well as the many other attendees that made this a noteworthy event.