Ubuntu; it’s meaning and application

Ubuntu is a Nguni Bantu word that has been attributed to meaning “I am, because you are”.

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The Nguni Bantu language is spoken in South Africa and is one of the Nguni languages alongside Xhosa, Zulu, Swazi and Ndebele.

Ubuntu is a word that describes a sense of connectedness between all humanity, between people.  We cannot exist without one another. People need each other. This is what Ubuntu is describing in one word.

Although we cannot see or even touch this connectedness it is self-evident through our actions and inter-actions with each other.

Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu mentions Ubuntu in his book ‘No future without Forgiveness’ that people with Ubuntu are “open and available to others, affirming of others”.

What a beautiful sentiment, and when you think about it it’s true. I could not survive if farmers didn’t grow the food I ate. That food couldn’t get on shelves without trucks to drive it or ships to move it across oceans, those trucks need roads built to move the goods. Ships couldn’t be made without ship-builders. Ships builders can’t be built without metal which has to get mined, smelted, cast, forged and assembled. Hospitals couldn’t function without the construction workers building it, construction couldn’t work without shops selling the supplies they need. I think you get the picture.

 “Humanity is dependent on sustained supportive behaviour between one another”

If the pandemic has taught us anything, from supply chains and logistics it may be that the world is greatly interconnected. We rely on each other more than we first thought. Some think that’s a sign of fragility but it is also a sign of inter-dependence, which has flourished as a result of global co-operation.

We are slowly in more ways than one, working together to create a future.

So, Ubuntu.

If we work together what kind of future could be created for the next generation?

We share an invisible thread of connection to people we haven’t even met.

So, next time you see someone, think: “Maybe they are making my life better or easier without even knowing it. Maybe my existence making their life better”

If that’s to be true, wouldn’t it be a better stance to adopt a mindset of wanting to be helpful to others? They may just be growing the food you need or be the nurse that will help you when your sick.

Ubuntu. You are because I am.

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