The cure for our modern troubles may be rooted in a South African tribal philosophy
So I have to be honest: I had not really learned about ubuntu until fairly recently. I know I had heard the term before, probably during some class in high school; unfortunately, it hadn’t made a lasting impression. However, and thankfully, this philosophy was recently brought back to my attention. Hana excitedly messaged me:
“Have you heard of ubuntu? OMG, you have to watch The Playbook on Netflix and look out for the part on ubuntu in episode one!”
Check out more things to do while Hangin’ Out!
Seeing as we’re all at home, looking for entertainment during covid lockdown anyway, this was a no-brainer. And this is where I’d like to give a little shout out to Netflix. They’ve made a very compelling show that is interesting, insightful, and applicable to our daily lives. Here is the trailer, in hopes it also inspires you as much as it did us:
History of Ubuntu
Ubuntu is a South African Nguni Bantu phrase that is often said to mean “humanity” or “humanity toward others.” However, the most popular translation of this saying is:
“I am because we are.”
Although it was already practiced during daily life in many various cultures from southern Africa, the term “ubuntu” was not actually used until the mid-1800’s. But it wasn’t until the 1950’s that it was finally recognized as a world view unto itself. And then in the 1990’s it became even more globally known, when it was used as a guiding principle during South Africa’s transition from apartheid to majority rule.
WHAT IS APARTHEID?
Apartheid was a system put in place when the National Party gained power in South Africa in 1948. Its policies oppressed non-white South Africans (a majority of the population) and limited their opportunities by forcing them to live in areas away from whites and use separate public facilities. It finally ended in 1991 when the government of President F.W. de Klerk began undoing the racist laws.
Deeply involved in the anti-apartheid movement, Nelson Mandela offered this on ubuntu:
“A traveller through a country would stop at a village and he didn’t have to ask for food or for water. Once he stops, the people give him food and attend him. That is one aspect of Ubuntu, but it will have various aspects. Ubuntu does not mean that people should not address themselves. The question therefore is: Are you going to do so in order to enable the community around you to be able to improve?”
Desmond Tutu also played a large role in resolving apartheid. Subsequently, the cleric, theologian, and activist continues to advertise and advocate for ubuntu around the world.
I was blown away by the notion that a man cannot be a man without (intimate) connections to the rest of man. To think that communication and even walking require society is very profound.
Read about the Japanese world view of Wabi-Sabi
The more I researched about this philosophy, the more it became apparent to me that this one word is extremely flexible, extraordinarily powerful, and applies to, well… everything!
As I listen to the wise words of others, I think about how this concept of ubuntu and how embrace it, how to live it. I found my head swirling with thoughts about: mindfulness, selflessness, charity, altruism, tolerance, encouragement, non-judgement, non-jealousy and balance. Finally, I came up with the following quote, and a few other thoughts which I summarized below.
“I raise myself for the betterment of others, and as they improve, I also improve. If I deprive another person, then I have deprived myself. Give Only, and give well.”
Be humble, for all your great deeds would not be possible without all those before you and around you. Strive for great things but be selfless, for the more you have, the more you can give.
Be there for them, as they are for you. We are not alone, so don’t feel like you have to do everything by yourself. And certainly: Be brave, because you will always have support.
Many hands make light work… but only if all hands are working, so do your part. Help others be their best so the group is as strong as possible. Because when we all finish the race together, we all win.
Be open to all views, embrace diversity, and encourage discussion. Actively fight against intolerance, because we all suffer if anyone is oppressed. We must realize that we are all one, that we are all connected, and that nothing good was built on fury, deceit, or exploitation. The differences between us are not what divide us; rather, they are what connect us. So learn to build bridges on differences. Pray that our leaders embrace ubuntu; otherwise, become the leaders that do.
Finally, I am reminded of an old African proverb:
“If you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together.”
This last saying may sum it all up for me. Nobody can reach their greatest potential without others. Our knowledge is only as wise as those who can teach us. Our prowess is only as good as those who can challenge us. And our emotions can only be as deep as those connections that bind us. I think we should all strive to share our best ideas, talents and wishes with others so they may benefit and be encouraged. And hopefully they do the same and pass it forward.
This is only a quick summary of what I found. There are so many resources available, I encourage you to continue your exploration of ubuntu and how it improves your life. And imagine how far we’ll all go when we’re all in it together.
PS: As a parting gift, here is another great video that should get you fired up about connecting for a better today.