(Continued from UBUNTU Part I)
Ubuntu is a term derived from the word “muntu,” meaning a person, a human being. According to ancient African traditional wisdom, each individual possesses positive, loving qualities. These qualities represent our natural internal state of being, and when we express them we are being genuine, an authentic human being. To be otherwise is to be out of harmony, and to be out of harmony brings unhappiness to ourselves, others, and our world. The values of Ubuntu manifest in good deeds, things like being sensitive to the needs of others, being compassionate, forgiving, caring and generous.
As these values are the basic foundation of each individual, they can guide us in how our life should be lived. They allow us to measure our actions in day-to-day life against our ideals. Do we practice Ubuntu and as a result live in harmony with ourselves and others, or are we living busy lives, deluded, self-centered, interested in only our own welfare, unable to practice love and compassion because we have lost our way? Ubuntu forces us to look at our actions to see if they match our values, for Ubuntu is measured in actions not good intentions.
Ubuntu is the art of being a human being. It is the living of our humanness. It is the unfolding of our natural goodness. Each living human being has this opportunity to discover their basic goodness and to practice it. “Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu.” I am because you are. It is through you that I am a human being.
Let’s examine some of the pillars of Ubuntu living:
- Caring: Caring is embracing others. Their needs become your needs. Their joys and sorrows become your joys and sorrows. It is the practice of concern and oneness, which Jesus expressed as “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” It is putting the problems, interests and circumstances of others at a higher level of attention. For as Ubuntu teaches, “we are human through our interaction with others. Without others we are not human.” From this perspective we should welcome our interaction with others regardless of whether they are pleasant or not, for all interactions allow us to express our humanness.
- Empathy: Empathy is the ability to successfully enter into the emotional situation of another, to listen and feel genuine sympathy because you hear and feel what others share with you. You listen with your mind but you also feel with your body, and this feeling allows you to “see” the situation from a deeper perspective. When we cultivate the practice of empathy it deepens us and gives us access to more humanness with which we can help others.
- Sharing: In the Ubuntu culture it is normal to share generously with others. “Mahala” is the traditional African practice that teaches that it is proper to give to others without expecting anything in return. Not everything needs to be done for money or gain. You work to support your family and if you prosper you share with others. Even if you don’t prosper you must share because there is always someone else worse off than you. By sharing you express your humanness and find joy within because you awaken your heart. Heartless people have no joy, though they might have riches. People with heart have joy because they have discovered their humanness. To discover your humanness is to discover something great, a treasure unlike any other. Each day of our life gives us opportunity to discover and practice our humanness.
- Respect: Respect covers many things. Respect for elders, children and all members of your community, respect for your ancestors, traditions, the ancient teachings and practices. Respect for oneself, for if one does not respect oneself how can one respect another? Respect for your environment and all living creatures. Respect for the Ubuntu way of life as a way to happiness and self-awareness.
A human being from an Ubuntu perspective should be kind, generous, friendly, living in harmony with himself, the environment and others, and at one with the creator. “This is what Africa can teach the world,” said Credo Mutwa, the respected Zulu Sangoma, “We have forgotten how to be human beings, and we must remember quickly if we are to save the world. Life is an instrument and we have lost the ability to play it. People live but they are not alive. We must use life and play it like an instrument and make beautiful music.”