I’m not sure when I first came across the word ‘ubuntu‘ but in my mind I registered that it meant ‘community’ and ‘sharing’. Now that’s a subject close to my heart. So when Michelle Wallace invited folks to a blog hop on the topic, I was quick to register.  What I didn’t realize that I’d find out that this word is much more powerful than I thought it was.

But before I expand, let me congratulate Michelle, her blog,Writer-In-Transit, completes 3 years. I’m so glad I’ve connected with you, Michelle and look forward reading your blog more regularly.

Michelle quoted Nelson Mandela to help us understand the concept better: “In Africa, there is a concept known as UBUNTU – the profound sense that we are human only through the humanity of others; that if we are to accomplish anything in this world, it will in equal measure be due to the work and achievement of others.” – Nelson Mandela.

Now this took the meaning to another level for me and I decided to ‘investigate’ further. I came across a fascinating explanation from Chris Abani, the much-acclaimed Nigerian poet and novelist, that really blew me away. He said the meaning of ubuntu, and I’m not going to forget this for a long time is: the only way for me to be human is for you to reflect my humanity back at me.

Reflecting on this, I begin to form my own definition of the philosophy of ubuntu: ‘an acknowledgement of our shared humanity…an openness to show you my vulnerability and be ready to see yours….our humanity is the string that binds us.’

Growing up, I was blessed to have read Henri Nouwen and Jean Vanier, both of whom had a great influence on my thinking. Nouwen was a Catholic priest who spent some years ministering to the mentally challenged people who lived in L’Arche, the community founded by Jean Vanier. In both their writings they brought out the beauty of the hearts of the mentally challenged – open, expressive and most of all vulnerable.

Henri Nouwen was so deeply influenced by his experience of caring for Adam, a severely handicapped young man, that he dedicated a book to him – Adam: God’s Beloved. He considered Adam to be his spiritual guide, for from him he learnt how to be open and vulnerable. I particularly recall how he shares initial experiences of helping Adam to dress – if he was hurried, Adam would have a seizure.  Here’s what Nouwen said about learning to understand Adam: “that he wanted and needed me to be with him unhurriedly and gently asking me if I was willing to follow his rhythm and adapt my ways to his needs.” 

In a world that’s always striving to prove power, strength and influence, Adam and the thousand of other like him, call out to us, to make ourselves vulnerable to others.

I hear the call deep within my heart
A call to be true to the deepest part of me
I dare to show you who I truly am
And trust that you will show me ‘you’.
I know I am weak and often fail
And I know that you fall too
But when I reach out to take your hand
And you stretch yours out too
Our humanity – the thread that binds
Our vulnerability- our strength
For there’s no Me, without You.
That, to me, is Ubuntu.

How do you understand the philosophy of ‘ubuntu’?