Fri, 19 April 2024

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By Bishop of Leeds
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In a deeply divided world showing compassion has never been so important


5 min read

What is the greatest challenge facing humanity today? Climate change? Inequality? The polarization of political debate? AI? No. The greatest challenge is that we have forgotten what it means to be human.

We have to re-embrace the essence of our humanity at the core of which is our interconnectedness and interdependence within the cycle of Life. Our humanity demands that we act with moral courage to liberate ourselves from mindsets that undermine our essence as one human family.

We have to recognize that if we carry on operating in the same old frameworks that make us value endless accumulation at the expense of valuing our relationships within the human family and mother earth that gives us life, the multiple planetary emergencies I have listed will continue to pose existential threats to life itself. 

We need to free ourselves from the same old ideals that are driving global inequities, conflicts and wars and damage the ecosystems which sustain life. We must shift our mindsets and embrace the values at the core of who we are: respect for human dignity, fairness and social justice, and compassion.

We must shift our mindsets and embrace the values at the core of who we are: respect for human dignity, fairness and social justice, and compassion

This all sounds highly ambitious – and it must be. We’re talking about multiple planetary crises. But change is not impossible. It calls for a return to who we are. I don’t just believe that – I’ve seen it happen.

The people of South Africa know what it means to suffer from a brutalizing regime – one that rules not only by the sword but the pen and the mind. We know what it is to be separated from ourselves and one another. We lived through it under colonialism. We lived through it under Apartheid. But we found our way out.

We found our way because we found our voice. One of my proudest achievements is co-founding the Black Consciousness Movement. We cast aside the humiliation of being called non-European and non-white in a country of our birth. We set as our goal the complete reframing of our country and nation. We transformed corrupt racist and sexist principles. We carved out our own agenda and vision for the future of South Africa – one based on universal, common humanity and socio-economic equity – and we invited others to join it.

So, it is possible. Of course, it wasn’t easy. Even those who should have supported us when we launched the Black Consciousness Movement were initially suspicious – so co-opted were they by a regime that, in almost every other way, they claimed to oppose. My fellow citizens had to first recognize their mental slavery and its imprisoning impact on our politics, socio-economic and cultural systems. Self-liberation meant activating the power within each person to be the best they were created to become. Coming together as a liberated people became an unstoppable movement that captivated both oppressed and oppressors. We birthed a nation united in its diversity and committed to social justice under a constitutional democracy.

We need to undergo a similar transformation at the global level. We must realize that the state we find ourselves in is not normal, natural, or even helpful. Inequality is rising for 70 per cent of the world’s population. The richest 100 individuals on the planet could end poverty four-times over. Climate breakdown is on our doorstep. Loneliness and isolation are, for many nations, on the rise. We urgently need to transform ourselves and our systems of governance and socio-economic approaches to embrace life and the values that promote life. 

Which is why I was so honoured to join the board of the Global Compassion Coalition and now to Chair it. Compassion – or as we would have it in South Africa, Ubuntu – is our nature. Without it we could never have survived or thrived as a species. No man is an island, and no hunter-gatherer could be a food-gathering, predator-escaping, child-rearing individual – at least not for long. Human beings are relational by nature. We thrive only within supportive relationships and in harmony with nature.

The problem is that modern economic ideas, political opportunists, and social norms have pulled us away from our core identity. When we start to see the other as a threat, we will no longer come to their aid, nor listen to their wise counsel. When we learn to hate (even ourselves), we cannot work towards common goals or against shared threats. When we are taught to commodify, use, and exploit, the planet suffers – and so do we.

The GCC is looking to generate a global movement driven by each of us showing up each day with the best of our humanity. We will join hands with others across the world and reimagine and rebuild it into one characterised by equity and wellbeing for all. This is who we are. We are one human family powered by our Ubuntu – seeing ourselves in all other human beings and working together for the common good.

It is a mission I know we can accomplish together. As I write this over 40,000 people have already joined the Global Compassion Coalition. Nearly 1,000 have registered as Connectors and signed-up to our training program. And now I am here in Britain, inviting Members of Parliament to join me as global leaders in a major shift towards compassionate politics in word and deed.

Everyone who joins us has made a commitment to live a life of compassion and to bring that compassion to the places where we live, work, and play. Every act we take – whether it is an act of self-care or political activism, community building or family caring – has intrinsic value. It demonstrates to a divided world that we can live well together. It shows that we all need the support of one another. And it forms the alliances that are going to be so important as we seek to face our worldly challenges together.


Dr Mamphela Ramphele, anti-apartheid activist and co-founder of The Black Consciousness Movement

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