Ubuntu

3 04 2008

Desmond Tutu The word ubuntu has its origin in the Bantu languages of sub-saharan Africa. The word ubuntu is very hard to translate directly into English, no single word truly captures its meaning. It is used to describe humanity, the reality of being human. It also translates into generosity. In a speech where Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former President Bill Clinton shared the platform, Clinton gave a literal translation of ubuntu as “I am because you are”.

Ubuntu is fundamental concept among many African peoples, and it represents a major way of thinking about yourself in relation to those around you and the world at large. It represents a way of understanding that you are fundamentally, not just connected with others, but that your own being is dependant upon others.

It seems to me that ubuntu is a powerful word and describes how we live to share in one another. To live beyond yourself and in others. To divest from yourself your own clinginess to being, and to offer youself for the sake of others, to live ekstatically (beyond or outside yourself). Indeed another way to translate ubuntu is “community”, which shares much in common with the Greek idea of konoinia, of sharing and having in common, of partnership and unity–communion.

I think ubuntu might just be one of those world-breaking concepts that can radically shift the very ways in which we perceive the entirety of our reality, especially for us who live in the West with our distorted view of individualism. We tend to have a very narrow and selfish view of individuality, rather than a broad and selfless view of individuality. We stress “my individuality” rather than investing ourselves into recognizing and cherishing individuals as they are, we look inward to ourselves rather than outward to others. We hoard our identity within, rather than share our identity without. Ubuntu, let me have my identity in you, the one that I cherish.

Ubuntu. I am because you are.

-Jon

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