Ubuntu in Action

Some readers wanted to know more about the concept of “ubuntu,” and the quotation, “If I diminish you, I diminish myself,” that I wrote about in last week’s column. These are from the book, “Believe,” by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Blue Mountain Arts. He so eloquently states it in the introduction that I will quote directly from it, excluding what I shared about last week, and what I think is not essential for understanding ubuntu.

“People with ubuntu are approachable and welcoming; their attitude is kindly … They are not threatened by the goodness in others because their own esteem and self-worth is generated by knowing they belong to a greater whole. To recast the Cartesian proposition “I think, therefore I am,” ubuntu would phrase it, “I am human because I belong.” Put another way, “A person is a person through other people …” No one comes into the world fully formed. We would not know how to think or walk or speak or behave unless we learned it from our fellow human beings. We need other human beings in order to be human.”

“Because we need one another, our natural tendency is to be cooperative and helpful. If this were not true we would have died out as a species long ago, consumed by our violence and hate. But we haven’t. We have kept on despite the evil and the wars that have brought so much suffering and misery down the centuries. We have kept on because we strive for harmony and community, a community not only of the living but also one that honors our forebears. This link to the past gives us a sense of continuity; a sense that we have created and create societies that are meant to be for the greater good and try to overcome anything that subverts our purpose. Our wars end; we seek to heal. But anger, resentment, a lust for revenge, greed, even the aggressive competitiveness that rules so much of our contemporary world, corrodes and jeopardizes our harmony.”

Ubuntu points out that those who seek to destroy and dehumanize are also victims — victims, usually of a pervading ethos (cultural beliefs), be it a political ideology, an economic system or a distorted religious conviction. Consequently, they are as much dehumanized as those on whom they trample”

So it was in South Africa under apartheid. Certain white military men were forced to inflict torture on the black population. Sometimes the villagers struck back. It was vicious. How does a country heal from that?

 Tutu was the head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission when apartheid (racial segregation) fell in South Africa. It was basically his task to generate that healing. It was done under the wings of ubuntu. Compassion had to be felt for both the victims and the perpetrators on both sides … the perpetrators who had lost their way, and forgotten that they all belonged to the one human family.

Each would tell of their experiences, their motivations, and how the actions left them and their families. In most cases, they would reconcile, in other words, rebuild an accepting, if not caring, relationship. In some cases, prison was assigned.

 For those of you inclined to see this in action, there was a movie called, “In My Country,” based on the book “Country of my Skull” by Antjie Krog. It stars Samuel Jackson as a black American reporter, and Jacqueline Binoche, as a white South African reporter. She understands ubuntu, and works from the perspective of restoring humanity to the victims and offenders. He comes in angry, wanting a kind of revenge, but is transformed by the generosity, kindness, willingness to forgive … (ubuntu), of the people as they go through the truth and reconciliation process. This process brings the victims together with the perpetrators, and they each listen as the other tells their side of the story. It is a very moving movie, but has an R rating.

 Mother Teresa had another way of approaching ubuntu. She said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

Do you think that we humans might ever think of ourselves as one great family that takes care of everyone in it? If it happened, can you just imagine how safe and peaceful, trusting and happy we’d be?

Hale `Opio Kaua’i convened a support group of adults in our Kaua’i community to “step into the corner” for our teens, to answer questions and give support to youth and their families on a wide variety of issues.   Please email your questions or concerns facing our youth and families today to Annaleah Atkinson at aatkinson@haleopio.org


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