“People are good; they are made good and they really want to be good” – lessons from Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu
Today we join the world in mourning and paying tribute to the life of the Archbishop Desmond Tutu. I can’t claim to have read all he has written, but the words I have read have prompted pause, reflection and contemplation of our work and that of the people we work with and serve. In 2017 an excerpt from The Book of Joy that chronicles a long discussion with his lifelong friend, the Dalai Lama, included one of his many profound statements on the fundamental defining characteristic of humanity, one that crystallised what it is we see in health workers – “that (people) are good, that they were made good and they really want to be good.” His words resonated because we have always striven to see past those who complain that health workers are uncaring, rushed and unsympathetic. We respect and trust that health care workers want to do the very best they can for the person sitting in front of them; that their own capacity for compassion and clinical judgment has been shaped often by many years of steadfast service delivery in the face of little recognition or acknowledgment; that is has instead frequently been eroded by feedback regarding poor facility performance; that it is limited by the long queues of people assembling outside their clinics or hospitals; by incomplete access to the tools, equipment, medications and referral pathways they need to provide the care that would stand to benefit the person in front of them the most.
In the pile of books next to my bed is Everyday Ubuntu, written by Tutu’s granddaughter, Mungi Ngomane, in which she outlines the meaning and practice of Ubuntu in 14 lessons. It has made for comforting reading in yet another December unquieted by COVID. In the introduction to his granddaughter’s book, Tutu writes “On any given day, we are offered many chances to be the person who – whether it be through words, actions, or even silence and inaction – offers space to those we encounter to experience care and relationship.” It has been a great honour for our team this year to have joined the Health Foundation to which Tutu granted his name, patronage and support. We are grateful for his long life lived with compassion, courage, integrity and vulnerability. We hope that our work continues to pay tribute to all he stood for.
~ Professor Lara Fairall, Director, Knowledge Translation Unit, University of Cape Town Professor of Healthcare Delivery, Global Health Institute, King’s College London
26 December 2021