“Ubuntu [is] the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality – Ubuntu – you are known for your generosity. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole world. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity. 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. If the world had more Ubuntu, we would not have war. We would not have this huge gap between the rich and the poor. You are rich so that you can make up what is lacking for others. You are powerful so that you can help the weak, just as a mother or father helps their children. When you have Ubuntu, you embrace others. You are generous, compassionate.” (Desmond Tutu)
What a beautiful philosophy! Ubuntu (oo-buun-too) is a belief system out of Africa and is described as the capacity to express compassion, dignity, harmony, and humanity in the interests of building and maintaining community with justice and mutual caring. It is consciousness of our natural desire to affirm our fellow human beings and to work and act towards each other with the mutual good for all. Archbishop Tutu also said of Ubuntu, “I am, because you are; how I behave impacts not only on me, but also others around me because we all belong together.”
There is an African phrase, “Sawa Bona,” which means “I see you.” In response, the other person replies, “Sikhona,” which means “I am here.” Other religions also say something similar. “Namaste” basically means, “I see the divinity in you which is in me.” Even the movie Avatar used the phrase “I see you” to acknowledge our connectedness.
I love this philosophy in that it brings people together. It sees the good in each other and works together for the good of all. In society, people tend to look for the bad first, and if someone doesn’t measure up to our standards, or if they don’t believe the way we do, we don’t want anything to do with them. We demonize, oppress, and separate ourselves from them.
This is one thing that saddens me about some extreme factions of Christianity and other extremists in religions. There is too much hate and bigotry. There is no Ubuntu. Jesus taught love, compassion, and kindness, and he worked to bring people together, as did the many other great spiritual masters throughout time. He saw the good in people and he taught them to see the best in themselves. He excluded no one. His love was unconditional for all of humanity.
There is a great story I saw recently on Facebook about an African tribe and a ceremony they perform when someone strays from being the good person they were meant to be. “When someone does something harmful and wrong, they take the person to the center of the village, and the whole tribe comes and surrounds him. For two days, they will say to the man all the good things that he's done. The tribe believes that each human being comes into the world as good; each one of us desiring safety, love, peace, and happiness. But sometimes, in the pursuit of these things, people make mistakes. The community sees those mistakes as a cry for help. They unite to lift him, to reconnect it with his true nature, to remind him who he really is, until he remembers fully the truth of which he had been temporarily disconnected…‘I'm good.’”
There’s another beautiful story about an anthologist who put a basket of fruit near a tree and told the children of the African tribe that the first one to reach the fruit would win all the fruit. When he told them to run, they took each other’s hands, ran together, then sat together enjoying the fruits. When he asked why they ran like that and that one child could have taken all the fruit for himself, they said, “Ubuntu, how can one of us be happy if all the others are sad?”
Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper May 9, 2014.