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Understanding Ubuntu

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.

ubuntu
How do you understand the philosophy of ‘ubuntu’?

27 Comments

  1. […] Gratitude as a discipline involves a conscious choice. I can choose to be grateful even when my emotions and feelings are still steeped in hurt and resentment. It is amazing how many occasions present themselves in which I can choose gratitude instead of a complaint.  – Henri Nouwen […]

  2. […] a lovely blog hop by Michelle Wallace on the occasion of her blog completing three. The subject was ‘Ubuntu’ and I thoroughly enjoyed writing my post and reading the other posts on the hop. Do stop by at […]

  3. Loni Townsend Loni Townsend February 24, 2014

    I had no idea that’s what Ubuntu meant. I’ve only known it as an operating system (blame that on being a computer programmer).

    Wonderful and beautiful article.

  4. Michael Di Gesu Michael Di Gesu February 24, 2014

    Very original and insightful, Corinne. Dropped in from the hop. So happy to meet you and read your post. What a fascinating subject you have brought up and the examples of the the two French men that have influenced your life.

    Very impressive, how you tied there findings into Ubuntu. Well done.

  5. Fab Fab February 24, 2014

    Beautifully written, Corinne!! Whenever I hear the term, ‘self-made man’, I always wonder how anyone can be ‘made’ all by themselves. Every person’s success will have so many contributors, some who may even be unknown. That thought is so humbling and inspiring too, because we’ve all probably helped someone without being aware of it. The concept of ‘Ubuntu’ makes everyone feel more inclusive, especially since it cuts across barriers and isn’t confined to any community or region. Loved reading this post!!

  6. Damaria Senne Damaria Senne February 23, 2014

    LOl! You made me laugh Recka, because every time I mention unbuntu, I’m quick to clarify .. not the operating system! I suspect Mark Shuttleworth, whose company developed ubuntu and is South African, was thinking of the life philosophy when he named the software.

    Anyhoo, for me ubuntu means a million little threads that tie me to my family, my friends and my community. It’s the little things that you do help your fellowman in everyday life. Little things really, but accumulating to have a big impact when we all practice this.

    Like when a man I have never met is attracted by my garden and comes to ask if I sell the chilli that I grow (among other things), and I only grow it for our consumption and our families and friends, but I ubuntu says I can’t just send him home empty-handed, when it costs me nothing to pick a bunch of fresh chilli for him.

    Or another local person heard from a friend that I love gardening so on Saturday he brought me me saplings of 3 fruit trees because he had these saplings and it only cost him the effort to pot them and bring them over to my house.

    Ubuntu is knowing that if someone in my community has a wedding, funeral or a big party, someone in my family needs to go there and spend an afternoon or day to help prepare for the celebration. You can help the family clean, cook, wash dishes, make tea to serve the unending stream of guests, run errands and do any one of the million things that Western life says they can pay to get them done. It’s also having the confidence that these people will do the same for you under any circumstance, whether you are friends or not, whether they like you or not; whether you had a big fight last week or not.
    I agree with Chris Abani about how we’ll change the world. He says:” “What I’ve come to learn is that the world is never saved in grand messianic gestures, but in the simple accumulation of gentle, soft, almost invisible acts of compassion–everyday acts of compassion.”

  7. Trisha Trisha February 23, 2014

    I’m so glad there are good people in the world – though more often on the news we hear about the bad people. But there are good people who make the world a better place for me, and I try to make the world a better place for other people as well. That’s what I cling to! 🙂

  8. Pixie Pixie February 23, 2014

    Such a brilliant thought really..
    I’m hearing it for the first time and I’m enjoying knowing more about it and reading all the posts.

    Thank you for sharing Corinne 🙂

  9. WriterlySam WriterlySam February 23, 2014

    That was so beautifully written, Corinne! I couldn\’t agree with you more–the small boy, Chipo, in my story symbolizes the pure spirit of the mentally challenged. There is much we can learn and grow from one another, even the youngest of hearts.

  10. Kathy Kathy February 22, 2014

    I have never heard about this before but what a mind blowing philosophy! Your post is insightful, inspiring, and thought provoking. Your poem is beautiful. My mom always told me to treat others the way I would want them to treat me and I have always remembered it and did my best to do it. ♥

  11. Jas Jas February 22, 2014

    I have never heard about it. A really interesting and wonderful post Corinne.

  12. Rum Punch Drunk Rum Punch Drunk February 22, 2014

    If only we could all treat each other exactly how we want everyone else to treat us, the world would be a much better place. It’s funny because it’s not even a hard thing to do. I wonder sometimes.

  13. Martha Orlando Martha Orlando February 22, 2014

    Corinne, your poem is beautiful and your explanation and examples of ubuntu are wonderfully clear and compelling. I had never heard of this philosophy before I read your post, so am grateful to have been enlightened. It reminds me that we should all approach one another with the heart of a servant.
    Blessings!

  14. Shilpa Garg Shilpa Garg February 22, 2014

    This is such a beautiful philosophy, Corinne!! Was not aware of it, did some more reading after reading your post and I am in awe of it!!“I am what I am because of who we all are. I am a person through other persons”. So, true!! Thanks for sharing.

  15. vishalbheeroo vishalbheeroo February 22, 2014

    Powerful poem, Corinne. Didn’t know Ubuntu means community and without the tribe, one cannot grow. It’s a lesson One can apply in personal life as well.
    Keep the cheerz
    Vishal

  16. Michelle Wallace Michelle Wallace February 22, 2014

    Hi Corinne.
    I love your interpretation of Ubuntu! It’s spot on!
    I simply LOVE the colourful pegs… absolutely delightful.
    It captures the essence of this multi-coloured, multi-dimensional, multi-cultural world we live in, where a connection exists between human beings… shared destinies that bind people… we are the pegs strung together on the clothes line of everyday existence… 🙂

    Here’s a quote I’d love to share with you: ““We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.”
    ― Herman Melville
    …and another…
    “We are all equal in the fact that we are all different. We are all the same in the fact that we will never be the same. We are united by the reality that all colours and all cultures are distinct & individual. We are harmonious in the reality that we are all held to this earth by the same gravity. We don’t share blood, but we share the air that keeps us alive…” C. JoyBell C.

    Thank you for reaching out across cyberspace to share in the spirit of Ubuntu!
    I’m so glad that we’ve had this opportunity to connect… 🙂

  17. Rekha Rekha February 22, 2014

    Err…I have read at least 4 books on Ubuntu, the Operating System. This community thing was completely new information for me. Thanks for sharing!

  18. Vidya Sury Vidya Sury February 22, 2014

    As a child, Vidur always asked why there was geographical demarcation – why not just North, East, West and South. Why status differences and why we don’t actually practice secularism – because what is in the text book is so different from what is reality.

    Ubuntu, in a great measure is such a beautiful philosophy to adopt. Realizing our interconnectedness and living accordingly would bring such peace!

    Beautiful post, Corinne. Namaste!

  19. Geeta Nair Geeta Nair February 22, 2014

    Enlightening Corinne. “There is no me without you.” So true.

  20. Elle Elle February 22, 2014

    Hi Corinne, loved this philosophy ever since I first read about it. In fact I liked it so much I wrote about it on my blog. I’m a great believer in the oneness of us all and you wrote about it so beautifully here. Thank you.

  21. Aditi Aditi February 22, 2014

    This was so enlightening and so beautiful… I don’t why I want to cry out…loud
    ..and tell everyone that stretch out your hand…help, treasure, appreciate… understand that there is no “me” without “you”…

  22. Sulekha Sulekha February 21, 2014

    There is no me without you…lovely, Corinne. Ubuntu to me is the same too, helping each other, rejoicing in each others’ good fortune, sharing their burdens, healing their lives is Ubuntu.

  23. Kajal Kajal February 21, 2014

    I somehow believe in this philosophy too. I heard of Ubuntu a few years ago and I went behind the meaning as well, then. Today you reminded me and enlightened me a bit more. Lovely article.

    If the one above extends the hand to pull your through the other should extend their hand too, that’s collaboration, that’s ubuntu 🙂

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