It is the expression of a particular philosophy for living and it translates to suggest that: “I am because you are.” It is Ubuntu.
Much more than a word, Ubuntu is in fact for many, an aspirational mandate; a sacred ideal with its origins in the Bantu languages of South Africa:
A person with Ubuntu is affirming of others, has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are diminished, humiliated when others are tortured or oppressed … You are generous, you are friendly and caring and compassionate. You share what you have. A person is a person through other persons.
Ubuntu. I am because you are.
I believe that each one of us, at our core, yearns to be connected and what I have come to understand is that, above all, every person longs to be affirmed. I have experienced first hand that what ushers in a genuine sense of purpose, that inexplicable feeling of peace and the joy of achieving a profound level of personal satisfaction, is the act of honoring the mere existence of another human being and the willingness to reach out to someone else to offer something of ourselves.
She is never not there.
As I come and as I go about my daily routine, dressed and fed and in my right mind, she is someone who I often encounter. I try not to stare. Each time I hurry past her, I am confronted as I resist the temptation to resent her reminder that the world can be a cruel and unforgiving place.
Does she or did she have grandchildren? Has she ever been called “Mom”? Where and when did she belong? What unexpected twists and turns have left her begging for food and alone? As if on automatic, I advise myself to “mind your own business,” and I rationalize that somebody else will stop and lend a hand and then I deny the possibility that that somebody might in fact be me.
Day after day, I walk by this woman who, once upon a time I imagine, had a pretty good life. Time after time I insist that maybe she has chosen to sleep on the pavement outside of this church, curled up in a neat little ball like a kitten does when he’s trying to keep warm, begging for change so that she can get something to eat. How much longer will I ignore the tiny little voice that whispers deep within my sense of who I really am, the voice that insists that—
We are all connected and that every person longs to be affirmed?
I am because you are. And you?
Do you Ubuntu?
Are you open and available to others? Do you feel humiliated when others are tortured or oppressed? Are you friendly and compassionate and caring when it would be much easier to just walk on by?
An I-got-mine-now-you-get-yours mentality has become an acceptable guide for how to be in a world that can often seem unforgiving and cruel. An It’s-not-my-problem-someone-else-will-deal-with-it frame of mind will often go unchallenged because that kind of thinking, that particular philosophy for living, often serves as a convenient survival mechanism in the everyday struggle to get ahead, and yet it exists in direct conflict with our natural inclination to sincerely give a damn.
I have experienced first hand that what ushers in that genuine sense of purpose, the inexplicable feeling of peace and the joy of achieving a profound level of personal satisfaction, is the act of honoring the mere existence of another human being and the willingness to reach out to someone else to offer something of ourselves.
I choose to believe that most people are friendly and caring and compassionate but, let’s face it, there are some acts of kindness that will require an uncommon brand of courage, the kind of courage that would take us clear out of our daily routine and demand that we put our self identity on the line. And, if in fact “A person is a person through other persons,” then who am I being when I am consistently choosing to look the other way and what have I become if I just continue day in and day out—to do nothing?