A Life Well Lived

"Anywhere where the humanity of people is undermined, anywhere where people are left in the dust, there we will find our cause." 

Desmond Tutu died earlier this week. He was 90 years old. As I look at my office bookshelf, I see his books and think, how did this religious leader who lives on the other side of the planet find his way into my life? How did this man, living under such an oppressive regime, break through the systems of apartheid? How was he able to rise to his position of leadership as the first Black archbishop within the Anglican faith? How has he, despite the conservatism associated with his faith and geography, become such an ally for the LGBTQA++ communities

Desmond Tutu has had such a profound impact on me, an outsized impact that goes beyond books and translates into my life. 

  • His lifelong dedication to ending oppression in all forms
  • His deep friendship and support for others, including Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama
  • His writings on forgiveness and finding joy have provided me with both spiritual and emotional solace. 
  • His infectious laugh coupled with a solid intellect and humanity made for an unfettering call to action for all those who care about the well-being of the world. 

I find these all to be remarkable examples of what made his life so special - his service to others. He knew that we are all connected and that ending oppression and generously giving of oneself to others is not altruistic. It is in our own best interest. 

So, Desmond Tutu’s brilliance, for me at least, is thinking about how he makes me feel about myself. I feel more humble, grateful. I feel a need to do more. I feel like apathy is not an option. I feel as though the excuses that I could make, “It’s not my problem.” or “People like me never get to…” are just reflections of my own limited confidence, skill, or willingness. When I recall how Tutu not only surmounted major obstacles, he became “South Africa’s moral conscience,” it motivates me to reflect more consistently and demonstrably on the values I hold so near and dear – that each of us is worthy of opportunities, access, generosity, and forgiveness. 

For my entire adult life, I have cared deeply about the impact I can, and am having, on the world. At this point in my life, this manifests:
 

  1. As a mother, I often sit and talk with my son about our culture and history. I expose him and normalize relationships with people from many backgrounds and identities. I make sure that he understands what it means to have privilege and the associated responsibility.
  2. As a Black woman, I actively support other Black women, other Black people, other women, and others from marginalized identities. I don’t applaud them quietly. I show up at their functions. I write letters of recommendation. I hire them. I buy their books and products.
  3. As the CEO of a company, I talk about and encourage our team to share our values actively, internally, and with our clients. We hire people who share a commitment to anti-oppression and inclusion. We dissolve relationships with people, including clients, who use their privilege as weapons. We donate 5 percent of our time pro bono to social justice organizations. We give 1 percent of our proceeds to organizations that serve underserved communities. 

I still have a helluva gap between my intention and the actual impact I have on others. So for 2022, I’m doubling down on my commitment to close that gap. 

As we come to the close of another very difficult year, I am thankful to have Desmond Tutu top of mind. This is exactly the headspace that I want for myself; to be reflective and focused on the commitments I am making for the new year, my relationships, my life. 

What about you? As you reflect on your life, the past year, your work, in what ways are your values present? I encourage you to make a short list of commitments for yourself. Take into account the various dimensions of your life–personal, work, leadership role. How can you be the change you want to see in the world? If enough of us keep working on it, this world is going to keep getting better. Let’s make it happen. 

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DeEtta Jones & Associates (DJA) guides leaders and organizations on a journey that builds capacity, strengthens innovation, and increases organizational performance by creating a more equitable, diverse, and inclusive environment.

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