The most important thing for me now is reminding people that they are good. We are all essentially good. That is why we admire people like Mother Teresa or Nelson Mandela so much. They are not powerful in the conventional way – they are not racy or macho – they are good.
Being good also explains why we are appalled by evil, by what is wrong. We are bombarded in our media every day with all of the “bad things,” like what is happening in the Middle East, in the Sudan, in Burma, and so forth, and there is no question that those things are bad. You can’t pretend that unaccountable governments, abuse, deprivation, rape, or poverty aren’t bad – but that is not the total picture. There are wonderful things happening in the world at the same time.
It might not appear to be the case, but the truth is that eventually goodness will prevail. When you look at modern history, we’ve had the Holocaust, fascism, apartheid. The perpetrators of all of these systems seemed at one time to be invincible, but such perpetrators will always bite the dust. It may take a while, and it will obviously involve suffering, but it is important to remember that they will not have the last word.
So how do you choose the better choice? How do you choose to be good? Well, how do you learn to swim? You learn to swim by swimming. How do you learn to play the violin? You learn to play the violin by playing the violin. Trust your instincts. Trust your intuitions. Where you would have wanted to give a scathing reply, just try once to bite your tongue. One little victory helps you to get to the next victory.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu is Chairman of The Elders, a group of world leaders who address some of the world's most pressing problems. He works energetically for human-rights and in his ministry; learn more at www.tutu.org. This essay originally appeared on LifeByMe.com and was reprinted with permission. LifeByMe.com publishes one original essay by a thought leader each weekday.