“Love one another as I have loved you.” That is the essence of many religious lessons, this one specifically that of Christianity devoid of dogma. Those words attributed to Jesus weren’t original to him. One can imagine this phrase on the lips of many others before and contemporary with him. Even mothers saying that to a child in a teaching reference.
I came across this same principle in a reference while reading a post by Caroline Fairless on her blog, “Restoring the Waters.” In referencing Ubuntu, she writes, As my goal has been and continues to be, to find deep and holy community in what I have named the space between, it is of critical importance.
In researching this African principle Ubuntu, I discovered it means essentially what John wrote but goes much deeper. It states (demands) that a person’s personhood exists only because of a bond shared with the other. Sounds convoluted which, in fact, is essentially the point. Ubuntu raises the love one another to a much more complex interaction with the other. One does not benefit from the love of another unless that love is reciprocal.
We in the Western culture, especially in the U.S. Might not fully understand that concept perhaps due both to our pioneer roots as well as our free-enterprise economic system. Dog-eat-dog as the extreme outcome. The ‘bootstraps’ charge. The pejorative welfare queen. The quintessential socialism label.
We weren’t raised that way. African Ubuntu is sewn into the essence of that culture; it defines the culture. We don’t get it. That’s precisely why we reward the corporate CEO and disregard the factory worker. That exhibits itself in the political arena as well when an entire political party works to reward the few at the expense of the many.
It seems to me that our American culture could never embrace Ubuntu. At best, we might give lip service to love one another from time to time. Below is an in depth look at Ubuntu.
Perhaps the world would be a more peaceful place if more emphasis was placed instead on teaching respect, decency, and tolerance – on teaching Ubuntu. The word ‘Ubuntu’ originates from one of the Bantu dialects of Africa, and is pronounced as uu-Boon-too. It is a traditional African philosophy that offers us an understanding of ourselves in relation with the world. According to Ubuntu, there exists a common bond between us all and it is through this bond, through our interaction with our fellow human beings, that we discover our own human qualities. Or as the Zulus would say, “Umuntu Ngumuntu Ngabantu”, which means that a person is a person through other persons. We affirm our humanity when we acknowledge that of others. The South African Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu describes Ubuntu as:
“It is the essence of being human. It speaks of the fact that my humanity is caught up and is inextricably bound up in yours. I am human because I belong. It speaks about wholeness, it speaks about compassion. A person with Ubuntu is welcoming, hospitable, warm and generous, willing to share. Such people are open and available to others, willing to be vulnerable, affirming of others, do not feel threatened that others are able and good, for they have a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that they belong in a greater whole. They know that they are diminished when others are humiliated, diminished when others are oppressed, diminished when others are treated as if they were less than who they are. The quality of Ubuntu gives people resilience, enabling them to survive and emerge still human despite all efforts to dehumanize them.”
For many Africans, while they may belong to different societies and have different traditions and rituals, Ubuntu usually has a strong religious meaning. In general, the African belief is that your ancestors continue to exist amongst the living in the form of spirits and they are your link to the Divine Spirit. If you are in distress or need, you approach your ancestors’ spirits and it is they who will intercede on your behalf with God. Therefore it is important to not only venerate your ancestors, but to, eventually, yourself become an ancestor worthy of veneration. For this, you agree to respect your community’s rules, you undergo initiation to establish formal ties with both the current community members and those that have passed on, and you ensure harmony by adhering to the Ubuntu principles in the course of your life.