Ubuntu – I am because you are

I came across a post on Facebook a few days ago that told a story of an anthropologist who explained a game to the children of an African tribe.  He placed a basket of delicious fruit at the base of a tree and explained that the first child to reach the basket would get the basket and everything in it. When he gave the signal to start, he was surprised to see the children walking together, holding hands, until they reached the tree and shared the fruit. When he asked why they did that, instead of racing to be the first to reach the basket, they explained – Ubuntu! That is “how can one of us be happy while the rest are miserable?” Ubuntu in their civilization means “I am because we are.”

This story was so interesting to me, and so foreign to the competitive world we live in, that I wanted to find out more. It is the concept that Nelson Mandela used when he was bringing together disparate tribes and communities at the end of apartheid.  The word Ubuntu even appears in South Africa’s Interim Constitution, created in 1993: “There is a need for understanding but not for vengeance, a need for reparation but not for retaliation, a need for ubuntu but not for victimization.”

The idea is about a sense of community, a sense that our own well-being is tied to the well-being of others. The idea that danger is shared, pain is shared, joy is shared, and achievement is shared.

Boyd Varty, an owner and guide of an animal refuge in South Africa tells some heart-felt stories in his TED talk and uses that talk to explain Ubuntu. His talk is entertaining and enlightening. You can watch it here.

With Hey, Boomer I am working to build a community where we share a sense of well-being, a sense of inspiration, a sense of caring for each other. The show is what it is because of you. Help me to continue to build Hey, Boomer by sharing what we are doing with friends and family.  

Ubuntu - I am because you are.

9 thoughts on “Ubuntu – I am because you are

  1. I loved this and wish more people saw the world this way and the actions taken would be from this deep belief that we are all connected and affect others.

    As Boyd Varty said in his Ted talk you shared, which was so heartwarming also, “People need other people.” And as Barbara Streisand sang, People….., people who need people are the happiest people….

    And too, animals like the elephants, help each other achieve their goals. Where would we be without the kindness of others. Thank you for this inspirational story about Ubuntu and the Ted Talk. It made my day.

  2. Wow. Well here I am, a writer, short of words and the only one that comes to mind is, “wow”. For one word to carry such deep meaning. We don’t have that in English (or do we?) but I now have it in my vocabulary. Ubuntu. Gorgeous.

  3. @Wendy Green, It’s a mystery to me as to why our society is not taking care of our elders the way we should in the spirit of Ubuntu. The situation today is obvious in the COVID-19 pandemic. Seniors living in the long-term institutions that should be protected and looked after are dying before their time. Personally, in my field of senior 50+ entrepreneurship most seniors are ignored and made to feel unimportant, invisible and socially discountable. We desperately need to change this around and help seniors achieve inclusiveness and being a part of our society as equal partners or Ubuntu.

  4. Ditto all of the above!
    I first heard the term Ubuntu as a deputy to the General Convention of the Episcopal Church. It was the THEME of the 10 day Convention… and made quite an impression not just on me but on the hundreds present from around the country and the world.
    We are, indeed, BETTER TOGETHER!

  5. Hi Wendy, I love the concept of Ubuntu! On my first visit to S. Africa in 2005, I was taught this idea by a local Xhosa woman. It has stayed with me ever since. It is a beautiful way to move through the world and embrace our one-ness. In 2003, an Alaskan Inupiat man taught me the words, “Mitakuye Oyasin,” a Lakota phrase meaning, “All my relations” or “We are all related.” Many indigenous peoples have meaning in their language that connect and bond humans and our planet as one. We have so much to learn, don’t we?

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