I had the opportunity to spend last week in Jordan with a remarkable group of leaders from the Middle East. This photo was taken one afternoon as the group took a long hike in a national park high above the Dead Sea, which you can see just off the horizon.
I love this picture, because for me it symbolizes so many important things. The park is dry and arid, the heat and sun were intense. We were all alone on the mountain. Amidst the isolation, heat, and stark beauty of this park, however, we journeyed together. Sometimes walking alone caught up in our own reflections. Sometimes walking alongside one other, deep in conversation, and sometimes in a group, telling stories and laughing. Building invisible bonds of trust, friendship and hope that can transcend the politics and prejudices that so easily divide us.
This picture captures a bit of a deeply felt belief I have: that what we hold in common as humans is far more powerful than what we allow to divide us. But we must pause long enough to reflect, to listen, and to laugh and cry together, to allow our differences to melt away.
When that happens, what remains is what the South Africans refer to as "ubuntu". Desmond Tutu says that Ubuntu:
is to say, “My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours.” We belong in a bundle of life. We say, “A person is a person through other persons.” It is not, “I think therefore I am.” It says rather: “I am human because I belong. I participate, I share.” A person with ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed, or treated as if they were less than who they are.
As I returned to my hotel room, reflecting on our hike, and the spirit of Ubuntu I had experienced, I was struck by one further thought I'd like to share with you. The photo above was taken from my hotel. The hotel itself is not for from Mt. Nebo, where Moses was granted a view of the Promised Land, but told he could never enter. The Dead Sea is just under the blue sky on the horizon, and the elusive promised land just beyond.
The Middle East today has potential that can feel equally elusive. The region continues to face huge challenges: political difficulties in Egypt, unrest in Tunisia and Libya, civil war in Syria, an Iraq trying to rebuild, sectarian violence between Shiite and Sunni Muslims, ongoing tension between Palestinians and Israelis, Lebanon caught in the middle, and Jordan amidst dramatic political reforms. There is a lot happening. And if I simply read the press at home, it is easy to become discouraged. But I leave my visit to Jordan encouraged. This was a remarkable day; and the beginning of a remarkable journey for this group of courageous and inspiring leaders from the Middle East. They showed me ubuntu, and in so doing, gave me hope.