Several Peace Partners volunteers attended the Summit. This is a personal report by one of them:
Earlier this month I was very pleased to be invited to the Fourth Annual Desmond Tutu International Peace Summit, a day long conference and forum held on a sunny spring day in the beautiful oasis of the Regent’s University campus, situated in London’s lovely Regents Park, though just a stone’s throw from the full hustle and bustle of the UK capital.
The Summit’s theme was ‘’Hate: causes , consequences and cures”. The introductory keynote was a conversation between Michael Palin, documentary maker and member of the Monty Python comedy team, and the broadcaster Carole Stone. Michael remarked on the unfailing generosity of ordinary people in North Korea, where he had travelled recently. The contrast between this grassroots reality and the current political tensions associated with the country could not have been more stark. Each themed session, two in the morning and two in the afternoon, consisted of a chairperson and three or four panellists, with each panellist then giving a short talk, with a final period for questions and discussion from the floor. The talks were from a variety of well informed professionals, academics and activists, including Peter Taylor, well known for his reporting on Northern Ireland, the MP Andrew Mitchell, and Nomatemba Tambo, the South African High Commissioner to the UK. The closing keynote was given by Shaun Bailey, who as Conservative candidate for the next Mayor of London election is aiming to be the city’s first black Mayor.
I had attended last year’s Summit and remembered how inspired that day had left me feeling. What on the surface could have been a serious and dreary debate (about providing mediation in severe conflict situations), became something much more enlightening: if the principles of conflict resolution can be understood at a person to person level, why can they not be applied at collective and social levels as well. Again this year I felt the same way. The conference seems to be uniquely valuable in addressing how public crisis and conflict situations, such as those today in Syria and the Middle East and in parts of Africa, are also personal crises where the level of anger and hate spills over into a violence that is catastrophic for both its victims and perpetrators.
I was especially inspired by the second session in the afternoon 'Youth and Gang Gun and Knife Violence - Hate Crimes'. The contributions from Natalia Morgan - an eloquent 17 year old - and Mark Murray from Youth Futures spoke powerfully from their own experience of knife crime, and their naturally urgent response seemed to speak directly to the audience, many of whom commended the personal initiatives taken by these two young people. Without expressly trying to achieve it they seemed to articulate clearly the very human message of Ubuntu espoused by Desmond Tutu.
At lunchtime in the courtyard the sun was still beating down, it must have been one of the warmest days of the year to date. I was able to meet up with my fellow volunteers from Peace Partners who were attending, and a very enjoyable and inspiring lunch ensued, including spending some time with Ella Matheson, one of the trustees of the Tutu Foundation, and someone closely involved with the Ubuntu Roundtable project (highlighted in Peace Partners' recent Waves of Change Workshop).
The Tutu Foundation UK was set up to use and promote the idea of Ubuntu in the UK because “Ubuntu encourages us to recognise our common humanity, our connectedness and inter-dependence as fellow human beings. It emphasises what we have in common rather than our differences." ... " Desmond Tutu explains it like this ‘We believe that a person is a person through another person, that my humanity is caught up, bound up, inextricably, with yours. When I dehumanise you, I inexorably dehumanise myself.' “
Walking through the surrounding park on my way home the sun was still shining. I found myself reflecting on the truth of Ubuntu, and feeling that to be an effective actor on any level: personal, communal or wider, I really needed to know my own humanity; only then could I recognise the humanity in others. Some will take this as a simple truism, but in my view it contains the kernel of a real wisdom. In a different tradition, and many years ago, Socrates taught that a city state could only be truly governed wisely when the governors themselves possessed wisdom! The personal work to reject anger and accept tolerance can be challenging, and is ongoing, but the rewards are wonderful: being able to see and connect with someone else just as yourself, an individual person. This message has an incredible potential.
To say it again, I was extremely appreciative of the invitation to attend this year’s Peace Summit. Although it had been quite a long and tiring day I wasn’t concerned: for now the most important kind of sunshine was shining, the sunshine in my life and in my heart.
Written by Robin Watkins