Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama have three things in common:

• they are revered spiritual leaders
• they are Nobel Peace Prize laureates
• they laugh a lot

Tutu, archbishop emeritus of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, laughed repeatedly during a press conference at the Cathedral of Saint Andrew Thursday in downtown Honolulu.

The archbishop reminded me a lot of the Dalai Lama, who I covered during his Pillars of Peace visit to Hawaii in April. Regardless of one’s beliefs, to be in the presence of such men is uplifting and inspirational.

Tutu’s message was simple: The world is full of people who are fundamentally good, we should forgive each other, and we should work to make the world a better place.

But he also had rather more pointed things to say: America is one of “the craziest of places,” full of nice people yet still a racist country. It is also a nation that includes Hawaii, which he credited with producing the first black U.S. president.

“Ha-ha!” he exclaimed.

Tutu praised the diversity and tolerance of Hawaii, something, he said, “We long to have in South Africa. … We want to be the rainbow nation.”

The archbishop is in Hawaii for a series of events, including a $500 and $1,000 per person meet-and-greet Friday that culminates with a conversation between the archbishop and Leslie Wilcox of PBS Hawaii. Proceeds will be used to endow the Desmond Tutu Outreach Fund for community benefit ministries in Hawaii, like Saint Andrew’s support of the Institute of Human Services.

Cancer Survivior

Tutu, 80, was the first black South African to lead the church in his native country, and a strong critic of apartheid.

UPDATE Today he serves as chair of The Elders, a group that “that speaks out for human rights and the oppressed,” according to a press release.1

Besides the Nobel Peace Price, which he received in 1984, Tutu has been awarded the 1986 Albert Schweitzer Prize for Humanitarianism, the Gandhi Peace Prize in 2005 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009.

Praising Hawaii for its openness and aloha spirit — he used the word “fantastic” to describe Hawaii several times — Tutu emphasized the need to recognize that humans cannot live in isolation.

“A person is a person through other persons,” he said.

Because people are fundamentally good, when a tragedy such as the Colorado shooting last month occurs, it is only proper that we be “appalled” at such an “aberration,” he said.

Tutu, a survivor of prostate cancer, was asked about what he would tell cancer patients. He said cancer is not “a death sentence,” but rather a useful reminder of mortality.

“It concentrates the mind quite a bit,” he said, smiling.

Tutu also had a lot to say about the necessity of forgiveness.

Holding grudges is not good for the health, he said, yet it is ultimately “one of the best forms of self-love.”

“‘I’m sorry’ are some of the most difficult words in any language,” he observed. Forgive people even when they don’t ask for forgiveness. Abandon victimhood.

One other thing: The media reports too much negative stuff.

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