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.
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