Ubuntu is the African concept of community. I can’t describe it any better than our former president:
“There is a word in South Africa — Ubuntu — that describes his [Nelson Mandela] 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.”
In the west, we have the concept of the golden rule:
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Not a bad start. It teaches us to be aware of how our behavior affects others.
The problem with the golden rule is the idea of “others”. Ubuntu recognizes there are no “others.”
The community and the individual are one.
My success empowers you.
Your need is my need.
My pain hurts you.
Your joy uplifts me.
The individual doesn’t exist apart from the community. “I am because we are, and because we are, you are.”*
We do not exist apart from one another. If we once believed that we were separate, the realities of climate change and a deadly virus are teaching us otherwise.
Your dog already practices this idea. They have intense loyalty to their community, their pack.
The dog is dependent on its pack and its pack depends on the dog. Our dog's job is to lift our mood, comfort our sadness, to make us laugh, to encourage us to play and take longer walks.
Sandy practices a wider ubuntu beyond her pack.
She loves to meet new people and new dogs.
Her community is everyone with time to pet an
adorable dog, aka Sandy
He was loyal to his friends Jack and Jill (no, not their real names) who rescued him. He loved the techs at the vet’s office because they made a fuss over him.
Most of all, he was loyal to me. He accepted my extended family and Aunt Terry who brought him treats and made him the pillow pictured above. But he was most at ease when it was just the two of us. He defined his pack narrowly because he was afraid.
There is a lot to fear in our world right now. Huff’s fears often made things worse and isolated him more. It was only when he could open himself to love and to trust that he was saved.
Perhaps we have been defining our communities too narrowly: my family, my neighborhood, my country. We push a large portion of humanity into the “other” category. We are learning, slowly that all humans are one: one family, one community.
If humans are to survive, now is the time to embrace a global ubuntu. It is time to recognize that there is no other. All humans are all one community and we cannot survive without each other. And we all have to do our part.
If you want to go fast, go alone
If you want to go far, go together
It is time to decide if we want to go far.
Or we want to end fast.
If you want to learn more about the concept of ubuntu, check this blog from Ted Talks.
Interested what a life lived within ubuntu would look like? Read I am a Girl from Africa a memoir by *Elizabeth Nyamayaro.
© Copyright Suzanne Grosser