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Desmond Tutu
Desmond Tutu
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Desmond Tutu Interview (page: 4 / 4)

Nobel Prize for Peace

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  Desmond Tutu

You provided extraordinary leadership at a crucial time in your country's history. What do you think are the essential elements of leadership?

Desmond Tutu Interview Photo
Archbishop Desmond Tutu: You might say that it helps if you maybe are articulate. It helps if you can be funny and it helps -- it helps to know -- I mean -- and it's not because you are being humble. It is that you know that you are standing out in this crowd because you are being carried on the shoulders of others. You know, you may have the capacity to articulate their aspirations. That is maybe something special you might have. But what is a leader without followers? I mean you would have all of these interviews and people will not -- would not necessarily want to follow. No, I am a great believer in the fact that everything is corporate. Everything is corporate and you -- as a leader you are one who can coax the best out of others.

What do you say to young people? Dream. Dream. Dream. Be like God, dream because God believes in you young people. Most of God's best collaborators and partners have been young people. Joseph, David, Jeremiah, St. Francis. They are young, young, young. And in many ways Jesus was young. Many of those who have been God's best works -- fellow workers have been young. And don't allow oldies to fill you with their cynicism and disillusionment.

Desmond Tutu Interview Photo
Dream. Dream that this world can become better as you do dream, in fact. I mean, when these young people go off and work as Peace Corps and other volunteering groups in poverty stricken places where they don't get any better headlines for dreaming the good things. Dream. Dream. Dream. Dream that this can be a world without poverty. Dream that this can be a world without war. Dream that this is a world that will recognize that every human being matters. Dream. Dream. Dream.

Our Lord Jesus Christ provided a revolutionary paradigm shift for what a leader should be, turning sort of topsy-turvy the prevalent conventional views according to which the leader is one who lords it over his underlings. Basically they have to know their place.

It seems that the lines are often blurred that distinguish between a political leader and a spiritual leader. Your ambitions didn't seem to set you on a path to holding a political office. Did you ever envision yourself pursuing a politics?

Archbishop Desmond Tutu: There will always be so many who might say, "Ah, he's a politician masquerading as an archbishop." Politics is so all-pervasive, and in my theology, obviously, all of life belongs to God, and you don't have compartments, this is your economic life, this is your political life, this is your religious life. Religion encompasses all of those. But yes, I wouldn't myself have said I was setting out to be a political animal. It is just how things have panned out that at a particular moment, our political leaders were not available. Either they were in jail or in exile or restricted in some form or another, and I just happened to be a leader by default to our people and that particular time in our history.

Someone said, "There are two rules in this operation. Rule number one: the leader is always right. Rule number two: in case the leader is wrong, refer to rule number one." It is that we think of the one who leads as a person who uses verbs in the imperative mood. "Do this!" "Jump!" You ask, "How high?" Now Jesus said, in fact, the real, the authentic leader shows the attribute of leadership in a kind of paradoxical way, almost an oxymoron.

The leader is the servant. So leadership is not having your own way. It's not for self-aggrandizement. But oddly, it is for service. It is for the sake of the led. It is a proper altruism. Now that paradigm sounds hugely unrealistic, idealistic, something for dreamers, namby-pamby -- when you think of our current world as a world of cutthroat competitiveness, dog-eat-dog, where stomach ulcers become status symbols, survival of the fittest, everyone for himself, herself, and the devil take the hindmost. And yet, you see, if you live by this latter code in your corporation, in your school, in whatever organization, you may indeed succeed, but it is at very, very great cost. You end up being feared rather than loved, as happened with a former state president of South Africa's, P.W. Botha, when the knives were out for him. No one, not even his closest associates, mourned his departure. And so they frequently say, "On your way up, be nice to those you meet. You might encounter them on your way down."

[ Key to Success ] Integrity

Desmond Tutu Interview Photo
And you realize that this isn't just something that is idealistic, romantic, sentimental. Just look at a Dalai Lama and Mother Teresa and Aung San Suu Kyi and Nelson Mandela, and you'll see that one of the outstanding characteristics of each one of these is how they have poured themselves out prodigally on behalf of others, of their being so utterly selfless.

And when you thought that in a hard-nosed, cynical age such as our own, you would be wanting to admire, hold in high regard the macho, the aggressive. It isn't the "hose" that we revere! Mother Teresa? You could say a lot about her, but "macho" is not one of the words you would use of her. And yet the world has had an incredibly deep reverence for her. She's not been even successful. And yet people almost universally would say this is true leadership, this is authentic leadership, because she has a credibility that seems to come far more easily through suffering.

Suffering seems to authenticate the leader. And so you see a Nelson Mandela, who was President not of a usually successful country, militarily or economically, and yet one has to admit that perhaps we have to say he stands head and shoulders above virtually every other statesperson in the world. And you say, "Why?" And it will be that people will say, "Well, his magnanimity, his readiness to have forgiven those who treated him so shabbily." Ultimately, it is that we recognize goodness. Goodness! Mother Teresa, she is good. Not successful, not macho. The Dalai Lama, mischievous, and yet with an incredible well of serenity at the center of his life. Someone who's been in exile for several, several decades. And so you think, I mean, that to some extent, suffering has to be a component of that which goes to make a good leader. And then you lead by leading, being willing to take risks. Mikhail Gorbachev did that with glasnost and perestroika. Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk, they were not doing things that were hugely popular within their constituencies. And then I think you have to be someone who affirms others, someone who is ready to see the good that is in others, and perhaps help to coax it from them.

There was a cartoon that showed God looking at a poster that said, "God Is Dead." And God, looking somewhat quizzical, said, "Oh, that makes me feel so insecure." We, each of us, need so much to be affirmed. For each of us has -- gnawing away at the center of our being -- a sense of insecurity, some more than others. And frequently, the more insecure, the more aggressive we become. The more we like to throw our weight about and say people should recognize us. If they don't recognize us for goodness, then they will recognize us for being stroppy (obstreperous).

Almost all seem to want to see in the leader the attributes that they wish they themselves have: integrity, compassion, gentleness, magnanimity -- the things that make you and I proud to be human, to say, "Ah yes. There are awful things about us, but I realize I am actually made for the transcendent. I am made for goodness. I am made for laughter. I am made for caring. I am made for sharing." And those leaders who somehow embody these things show that it is achievable. Yes, the sky is the limit, and we are meant to reach for the stars and dream God's dream.

How can a leader gain the trust of his enemies after peace has been declared? How can the United States, for example, begin the process of peace in Iraq through the eyes of the world?

Archbishop Desmond Tutu: Remember that the resentment and the anger leveled at the United States is not leveled against Americans as Americans. It is leveled against a particular policy followed by a particular administration, and change the policy or maybe change the administration, and you will find, I mean, that there is very little anti-Americanism in the world. There is a lot of -- I mean, there is a lot of anger at an America that has been arrogant and an America that believe it is good, go it alone. You know, your unilateralism where you went to the United Nations thinking that they would just endorse your view, and when they said no, you said go jump in the lake, and you went and you did your own thing, and you landed in a huge mess. Well, people don't want to say we told you so, you know, because you realize, I mean, after 9/11, most of the world was deeply -- I mean, America was held in the highest. People really felt deeply for you, and I'm sure you all felt loved, and you dissipated it in next to no time. You know, I mean, chop, chop, chop, and it disappeared, but it shows, you know, it isn't that there is an ingrained hatred of America. There isn't. I mean, people love you, and you can still travel I think. On the whole, you can travel in most parts of the world, but they certainly -- and I share -- I share that anger at your arrogance, at your bully, bully boy behavior. I mean, it doesn't sit well. If you change that, you will be -- you will be the blue-eyed boy, blue-eyed girl of the world.

Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us, Archbishop.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu: God bless you.

A lot of people will draw inspiration from your words today.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu: Thank you.

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This page last revised on Aug 19, 2009 15:04 EDT
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