The goal behind this column is to explore various concepts that lie behind a word or a term adopted by different cultures that are worth investigating and even adopted in our lives for our growth and well-being.
One such term is Ubuntu, which embodies an African philosophy where each individual needs to operate with kindness, compassion and integrity towards another. It is essentially about togetherness and how all of our actions have an impact on others and on society.
Former South African president Nelson Mandela once said: “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, entertain him. That is one aspect of Ubuntu but it will have various aspects.”
Former US president Barack Obama said at the 2018 Nelson Mandela annual lecture that Mandela “understood the ties that bind the human spirit”.
“There is a word in South Africa − Ubuntu − that describes his greatest gift: his recognition that we are all bound together in ways that can be invisible to the eye; that there is a oneness to humanity; that we achieve ourselves by sharing ourselves with others and caring for those around us,” he said.
In other words, Ubuntu means ‘I am, because we are’. It speaks of the fact that because we are all connected, we can only grow and move forward through the growth and progression of others. Ubuntu is a reminder for society on how each one of us should be treating others. It is a reminder that nobody is an island and whatever we do, whether good or bad, affects our family, friends and society. So, we need to be careful with our choices and the impact we want to leave on others.
Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, who led the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1996, had also touched on the meaning of Ubuntu and how it defines people as a society.
Everyone’s aim should be to exercise fairness and equality for everyone regardless of race, gender or social status
“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,” he said.
“When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.”
So how can one adopt an Ubuntu lifestyle?
Often, there is a lot of judgement and blaming and with Ubuntu we start by feeling our shadows − the hatred, anger, jealousy and the like, and refrain from throwing them at other people. We will be aware of these emotions and that they can trigger a reaction where the cycle of hatred and negativity will perpetuate into a never-ending loop.
Through Ubuntu, we need deep listening. First we need to listen to ourselves to note our negative emotions − which is, after all, part of being human and there is no need to beat ourselves for feeling so.
If we realise that we are feeling uneasy with someone’s skin colour and get caught up in the stereotyping of memories and hatred, it is time to pause, feel our anger and judgement, and then deeply breath these emotions out of our system.
Next, listen to what others have to say. By doing so, we start to transform not only ourselves but our culture and community by being more humane, kind and receptive to others.
The ongoing gender inequality, poverty and violence going on all over the world is proof that Ubuntu is not being exercised. Where is the kindness, compassion and sense of integration which, if adopted, would have certainly prevented all these miseries?
We all have a role to play in society and it is important that our actions inspire others towards a better future.
Ubuntu is also about justice towards anyone. Therefore, everyone’s aim should be to exercise fairness and equality for everyone regardless of race, gender or social status − something that our country could certainly benefit from.
The concept of Ubuntu covers respect, helpfulness, sharing, community, caring, trust and unselfishness – it’s one word that means so much.
Essentially, it is about togetherness as well as a fight for the greater good, something that Mandela was prepared to sacrifice his life for.
Ubuntu is a healthy mindset for how we work, live and lead. Without the spirit of Ubuntu within us, we cannot implement great change in our society. It’s important that we help all people, young and old, to achieve only the best for our future.
Ubuntu lends us so many values and ethics to live by. If we all adopt this philosophy in our lives, we would do far better than all the international peace talks that often lead to nowhere.
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