Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Tools for the Journey #14 - Ubuntu

Ubuntu ([ùɓúntʼú]; English: /ʊˈbʊntuː/ uu-buun-too).
Ubuntu means what makes us human is the humanity we show each other.

It is a Xhosa (South African) word and philosophy emphasizing community, sharing and generosity. Many parts of Africa have a similar word with the same definition and spirit.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu explains:

"Ubuntu is about the essence of being human. 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 which comes from knowing they belong to a greater whole. We believe a person is a person through another person; my humanity is caught up, bound up inextricably with yours. When I dehumanize you, I inexorably dehumanize myself. The solitary human being is a contradiction in terms and therefore we seek to work for the common good because our humanity comes into its own in belonging. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas the truth is we are connected and what we do affects the whole world."

The concept of Ubuntu runs counter to the die-hard Western creed of individualism. Our Western society bases so much of its values on the "Marlboro Man", solitary mindset...the lone cowboy riding the range. However the best of who we are as a people, as a community, shines brightest during times when we pull together.

There are responsibilities (and yes, hassles) which undoubtedly come with our interconnectedness, but there are many treasures associated with the same. Our true power lies in what we can do together as families, as neighbors, as communities, and as a human tribe.

Archbishop Tutu describes this perspective,

"Ubuntu is not, "I think therefore I am." It says rather: "I am a human being because I belong. I participate. I share." In essence, I am because you are."

Thinking back on the events of September 11, 2001, I am heart-full of those who gave their lives that day. Along with a nation, I cried on September 11, 2001 and every September 11th since then. I weep both for what was lost, but also in gratitude for what we gained. Ubuntu was alive and well and working overtime on 9/11/2001.

The unspeakable, horrible acts of terror witnessed on 9/11 were only overshadowed by the rising up of people around our country, the steely determination that we would pull together, we would help out, lend a hand, get our hands dirty, put differences aside and all for a common cause against an unfathomable evil which landed in our country that terrible day.

Most of us remember for weeks afterward people were kinder, friendlier, more tolerant and more patient with each other. I remember how it felt in those days and weeks after 9/11...I was deeply moved by the profound sense of connectedness to my human family during those times. Now my annual practice each September is to remind myself of those feelings, bring myself back into a place where I am freshly aware of my interconnectedness because in the final analysis what else is there really?

Life is messy; it just is. It is not a question of IF there will be some sort of "train wreck" in our midst, but only a matter of when. This isn't a tidy life no matter how much we try to make it so; it is a messy, painful, beautiful, breathtaking, heartbreaking, gorgeous, torturous and splendid life. People we love die; things don't always work out, we get hurt along the way and really bad things can and do happen to very good people. But we are all in this together and with this awareness of Ubuntu, I am better able to cope with my own hard times and more prepared to help you through yours.

As a human tribe we thrive together, not incrementally but exponentially.


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