Honoring Desmond Tutu on his birthday: 3 ways to create inner peace

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, now retired, was the first black Archbishop of Cape Town and bishop of the Church of the Province of Southern Africa.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, now retired, was the first black Archbishop of Cape Town and bishop of the Church of the Province of Southern Africa.  (Reuters)

In the midst of an array of national and global conflicts peace mongering is more urgent than ever. As Desmond Tutu the Nobel Peace Laureate celebrates his 83rd birthday on October 7 millions around the world will also celebrate his courageous peacemaking – a lifelong pursuit of social, economic and environmental freedom and justice.  You can as well by Tweeting @DesmodTutuPF.

The work of peace-making always includes being grounded in your own inner peace. Tutu’s birthday is an invitation to think about three ways you can do that. 

At The Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation we provide tools for young people to create what we call Peace3 or peace to the third power: peace within, between and among people. They’re all inter-connected and essential in creating lives of well-being.  Peace and well-being within your own life is the foundation for contributing to peace between the people in your community or country and among the diverse global human family.


The transformative power of the African wisdom tradition of "Ubuntu "says that a person is only a person in the context of others. In other words we need one another in order to each discover our magnificence and allow it to shine by what we do with our lives. It is a way of life that acknowledges that every person is of infinite value. It replaces fear and distrust of others with an expectancy, curiosity and celebration of them.

Living a life of Ubuntu is a way of active engagement with the world. It means that whenever the magnificence of others is confined, scorned or dismissed you intuitively join with others in actively seeking to expand our consciousness of what it means to be human. 

This affirmation of the dignity of each person often involves the pursuit of justice so that the magnificence and well-being of all can be celebrated. It is ultimately a joyful way of life.

Here are three practices by which this Ubuntu way of life finds expression in creating peace within so that we can also create peace between and among peoples.

1. Be attentive to those around you. In the bustle of daily life it is common to take those around you for granted as a known quantity. You may admire, tolerate or be dismayed at people for qualities or behaviors they display. Those who dismay or anger you will drain your energy if you cede them that power. Your bandwidth for engaging with others is a limited and precious resource. The choices of whom to surround yourself with will either detract or enliven your vow.

Mindfully choose those whose lives exhibit well-being for themselves and others. Create time to be in conversation with them. Glean from them their truths and discoveries about living in peace. The magnificence of your mutual quest for living in peace will radiate beyond the borders of your own life creating a rippling effect in the world.

2. Own your cluttered conversations. The things that clutter our lives are not necessarily bad but they distract and detract us from the path to well-being. Old story lines and conversations that rattle around inside of us are a pernicious clutter because of their toxicity. You need to own their existence before you can detach and set yourself free from them.

These are the conversations that undermine you by keeping you ensnared in their hurt, pain, betrayal and fear. They undermine and detract you from knowing that living in peace is possible. Name them and detach from them by offering them to the care of the Universe.  It is a toxic cleanse for your well-being. Choose instead to pay attention to the comments and conversations that express a desire for your highest good.

3. Forgive instead of paying back. When you are unable to forgive someone you harm yourself by allowing part of your life to be occupied by an egregious person. The one who harmed you through a previous act gives little thought to you or what they did. Instead it is you who choose to be a victim of the past. To forgive does not mean forgetting but it does mean not seeking payback. It is a choice to be free.

I ran into someone who had led a malicious agenda against me that disrupted my life in unexpected ways. Years ago I had chosen to forgive him and my life opened to new possibilities. But there he was professing to not know me. The unexpected encounter brought back memories of a traumatic experience. Would I allow him to reoccupy my life? I was reminded that the choice to forgive often presents itself repeatedly. Forgiving is a choice to be free.

With these practices for peace within and the desire to live a life of Ubuntu you turn your back on settling for serial moments of peace and instead choose a way of life in which peace within to ground your work in making the world a more hopeful and just place. 

Celebrate Tutu’s birthday by being attentive to how these practices will impact your life. Then learn from the insight of young Hip-Hop artists who use their medium  to celebrate Ubuntu and peace-making as they reclaim Hip-Hop’s original intent to be a medium for reconciliation. They come from one of the Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation’s local partner organizations in New York known as Hip-Hop Saves Lives.

You can also celebrate Tutu’s birthday by posting greetings to him on this blog or via Facebook  or Twitter where the handle is @DesmondTutuPF.

Robert V. Taylor is president of the Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation in New York City which works to democratize peacemaking for a new generation of young leaders.  He is the author of A New Way to Be Human: 7 Spiritual Pathways to Becoming Fully Alive (New Page Books 2012). He lives in Seattle and on a farm in rural Eastern Washington.