Ubuntu is an ancient African word that roughly translates to “humanity to others.” It speaks of humanity as a quality we owe each other as human beings. This Southern African philosophy believes that society as a whole and not an individual or transcendent being confers humanity upon all human beings.
In a nutshell, Ubuntu means,
“I am what I am because of who we all are.”
or “I Am because We Are”. My first real exposure to the power of Ubuntu, the beautiful South African philosophy that speaks to the fact that we are all connected and that one can grow and progress only through the growth of others.
The coach and her coachee connected with their shared experiences as South Africans, but they also deeply connected as two people. It was very powerful to see in action what happens when we apply the framework of See More, Hear More, Love More, Illuminate More, Be More and Do Less!
How do we embrace Ubuntu?
In these times of upheaval and change, how can this belief in a sort of connection, a universal bond, help? Well, for one thing, it serves as a reminder that despite the isolation we might be thrust into on occasion, we still remain a part of a larger whole. We are still a part of the physical, societal, communal, environmental, and relational whole. We are authentic, and we are very much connected: what affects one affects all in certain ways, whether we see it that way or not.
Perhaps the COVID-19 pandemic and repeated lockdowns took away the We from the I, leaving one to feel alone and rudderless, separating us from everyone we knew. This is felt particularly acutely in a dynamic, extroverted society such as the one we live in.
Remembering Ubuntu and the tangible as well as intangible connections we thrive on will make change easier. The five pillars of Ubuntu are family, community, society, environment, and spirituality. How can we use them to construct a more disciplined, purposeful, and fulfilled life for ourselves and benefit the world as we go about it?
For one thing, we can embrace this philosophy to create a new routine for ourselves. We can introspect on what matters to us as individuals, what we do, and how it impacts society. We can use this time to reflect on whether we are aware of our purpose, whether we are fulfilling it, or whether there is something else we should be doing. We can vet what we want to say yes to and what we want to continue saying no to. Finally, we can decide what our new role in society will be, once we are allowed to be out and about, an active part of it once again.
Perhaps the embodiment of Ubuntu is seen in Nelson Mandela, whose lengthy incarceration took nothing away from his humanity; rather, it shaped him into a person who had the power to shape the world around him with immense kindness and empathy.
In the spirit of collaboration that Ubuntu represents, adapting our thought process to this philosophy can help us seek out partners who will benefit our purpose and serve society in a manner that benefits everybody. No man is an island, and nothing is really accomplished alone. Our environment and society shape us from the beginning. Ubuntu Diplomacy talks about a world “where all sectors belong as partners, where we all participate as stakeholders, and where we all succeed together, not incrementally but exponentially.”