On May 1, Albie Sachs was met with an enthusiastic audience of 250 students from 12 Taipei-area schools, including Jianguo Municipal High School, Taipei First Girls High School, Zhongshan Girls High School, and Hua Xing High School, who listened to Albie talk about his experiences and asked the freedom fighter questions ranging from protests and politics to remaining true to oneself.
In the opening to his speech, Albie spoke of his early years in South African schools, where he was often punished corporally by his teachers while being told that “boys don’t cry.” This story prompted one student to ask Albie how to stay true to oneself and one’s emotions. In human relationships, Albie answered, honesty is of utmost importance. Hiding or disguising how one feels is not only bad for the Other and the relationship, but it also keeps one uncomfortably bottled up and closed off from the outer world. He suggested that, to build up the courage to speak freely, young people should practice speaking candidly and being yourself with close friends. Once that courage becomes habit, a person can avoid letting the Other define the Self. But this disentangling from the Other comes with a caveat, one should not be disobedient for the sake of being different. Genuine curiosity is also a form of honesty.
One of the most heated topics of recent years in Taiwan is capital punishment. Albie, in answer to one student’s question on the issue, said that each society ought to ask themselves whether capital punishment is compatible with that society’s values, whether a killing in cold blood should be me met in kind. He stressed that a state should not use the same tactics as the killer to gain justice, which in effect allows the killer to dictate morality.
As Albie’s trip to Taiwan came during the recent protests in Baltimore, Maryland, one student was eager to know what advice Albie would give to countries like the US who are dealing with the questions of race and public protest. The enemy, Albie pointed out, is not this or that individual but rather the system that unequally puts people into categories. Using his own South Africa as an example, Albie noted that there were blacks and whites on both sides of the battle of apartheid. Equally irrelevant is where the ideas of equality come from. No matter if it is a particular religion or secular humanism, moral systems from all parts of the intellectual world can be used as the basis for the equality of humanity.
Tang Prize CEO Dr. Jenn-Chuan Chern said of the multigenerational event that Albie and the other four laureates were also young, just like the students in the audience, and that students “can choose to be inspired by their growth and their spirit, their experiences and their ideas, and those particular qualities that made them who they are today.” Dr. Chern closed by saying that he looks forward to the day when one of the students in the audience can stand on the stage to become the recipient of an international award like the Tang Prize.