The Zulu description of UBUNTU ‘Umuntu ngumuntu ngabanye abantu’, roughly translates into English as: “People are people through other people”.
Now – imagine the following scenario:
A highly infectious disease arrives in town. It either makes you very ill or it kills you. So Government orders a lockdown – everyone must stay at home. As a result you lose your job and your only source of income. So you ask for help.
I have no money –the neighbours respond – ‘that’s your problem, not mine’
I am running out of food – the neighbours respond – ‘sorry, not giving you any of mine’
I am feeling ill; I might have caught the disease – the neighbors respond – ‘stay away from us – just die quietly without making a fuss’.
This is the exact opposite of UBUNTU!
Ubuntu is not some wishy-washy, outdated tribal African philosophy.
It’s not a pious, self-righteous ‘be nice to your neighbour’ value system.
It’s a whole hell-of-a-lot more than this!
UBUNTU – IS A SURVIVAL STRATEGY!
Ubuntu is a practical response in recognition of the fact that we are all inter-connected and interdependent on each other. No-one can actually survive today without the support from others including; Government, local municipalities, grocery stores, doctors, farmers, police, airlines, rubbish collectors, factory workers who make the clothes and shoes you wear, butchers, bakers, cell-phone makers – and a whole hell-of-a-lot more!
You need them as much as they need you!
Unfortunately, Hollywood not only creates highly unrealistic hero’s like Batman and Superman – for your entertainment, it also encourages hero-worship of: the rebel, the ones who do not conform, the ones who say ‘To hell with them, I am not a sheep, I can think for myself – so I will do what I want when I want and how I want’. In the Hollywood movies, these are the ones who overcome unbelievable odds, climb insurmountable mountains and emerge as the heroes who defeat the bad guys. Sorry to have to remind you – these movies do not show reality – they are mostly fantasy (but sometimes based on a few fragments of reality). These are the role-models we have been encouraged to adore, admire and try to be like them!
The result is that far too many people today, think of themselves first and foremost as INDIVIDUALS – separate and independent from the COMMUNITY they live in!
Let’s be clear, expressing your unique qualities, talents, tastes and showcasing your independent thinking – is GOOD. It is a healthy process of exploring, learning, self-awareness and self-development.
But when this is carried to a selfish extreme – when it becomes ALL ABOUT ME and TO HELL WITH EVERYONE ELSE! – Then it becomes destructive both to the community you live in, and in the long run, with the resultant breakdown of society, it also becomes DESTRUCTIVE to YOURSELF. (Because you ARE a part of that society that you have chosen not to care for – resulting in increasing crime, violence, litter, pollution and with jobs and businesses moving elsewhere to safer places – creating a self-destructive spiral of unemployment, poverty and a dysfunctional society)
Do you want a better option?
It’s called UBUNTU!
In pragmatic terms, UBUNTU means taking the time, making the effort – to look after your neighbours in the same way that you would like them to look after you in your time of need. It does not mean abandoning your individuality and your unique qualities, but it does require a lack of selfishness – and sometimes a deliberate and conscious self-sacrifice of your own wants in order to support someone else’s needs. If you do not demonstrate care for others – how can you expect them to care for you!? And that is why I say that UBUNTU is a self-survival strategy!
Now, here is some good news – this dreadful COVID-19 virus – it too shall pass!
Sooner or later a vaccine will be discovered and like Polio and HIV, we will find ways to defeat it.
HOWEVER, there are other MUCH BIGGER threats to human survival – that will not go away in your lifetime or even in the lifetime of your children, including:
- Climate Change
- Pollution of the air we breathe, the waters we drink and the soils in which we grow our foods
- Destruction and burning of ‘the Lungs of the Earth’ – the Amazon
- Overconsumption of the Earth’s Natural Resources – for the financial benefit of a greedy few
You on your own cannot stop this, and you on your own may not survive these huge threats to yourself and the community you live in.
BUT COLLECTIVELY – WE CAN MEET THESE CHALLENGES and WE CAN SURVIVE THEM!
Here is a way forward:
- Start cultivating a mutually supportive UBUNTU culture in your own community. It begins with YOU – giving of your time and energy to show your neighbours that you do care for them and are willing to support them if they need your help. Give the love and you will be amazed at how much more flows back to you. With intelligent effort, you can co-create a happy, secure, generous, healthy and thriving community to live in. This is not some ‘pie in the sky’ wishful thinking – it has been successfully implemented in many places around the world today (See some useful links to examples at the end of this article).
- Use your VOICE, your vote, your participation in petitions – against the kinds of abuse to this planet that are causing climate change, pollution, destruction of eco-systems and greedy over-exploitation of the Earth’s natural resources. PARTICIPATE IN THE FIGHT AGAINST THEM – collectively we can stop them just as collective action did stop slavery and apartheid. We can and we are gradually winning the battle to stop such destructive behaviours towards Mother Earth. But you can’t wait for ‘others’ to do it for you. It’s YOUR EARTH and YOUR SOCIETY – if you want to protect them – then YOU need to practice UBUNTU on both a local and global scale.
Here are a few links to give you reason for hope and inspiration:
- https://www.brandsouthafrica.com/people-culture/people/ubuntu-is-about-relationships – a more detailed explanation of UBUNTU
- https://www.ted.com/talks/boyd_varty_what_i_learned_from_nelson_mandela?language=en – what I learned from Nelson Mandela and in the Cathedral of the Wild
- ’Eco-Ubuntu’ –an article written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu for The Enviropaedia
In our next blog, we will explore how to become an ‘Ethical Consumer’.