Ubuntu

In this morning's meditation on my Calm App by Calm the Head of Content Tamara Levitt introduced me to concept of ubuntu. This came at a very apt time given my current struggles with comparing myself to others because it reminded me that life is much more rich if rather than dividing ourselves from others we embrace our common humanity whilst still embracing our personal differences.

Ubuntu (oǒ'boǒntoō) comes from the African Bantu dialect and means ‘humanity to others’ and ‘I am what I am because of who we all are’. It carries with it a deep sense of community.

It is easy to decisively to set ourselves aside from others because of actual or perceived differences. In extreme cases, as we have been reminded so violently of recently, this results in atrocities in the form of acts of terror, war etcetera. More common and lower key manifestation of this can come in the form of judgement or minor conflict, or indeed internally beating ourselves up etcetera.

Recently, I watched a very inspiring video by CBeebies featuring children who were each with a friend and asked to explain how they were both different to each other.

Visibly there were differences such as accent, ethnicity, height, level of physical ability that as an adult are immediately apparent. The children, however, saw the biggest differences being in things like whether they liked lettuce, sushi or goujons, how much they talk or whether or not they are good at dancing.

Two little boys in particular struggled to come up with any difference, settling ultimately on one of them being more skilled at playing tag.

‘When it comes to difference, children see things differently,’ reads the message at the end of the video.

According to Dr Sally Palmer, a lecturer in the Department of Psychology and Human Development at University College London whose research focuses on children’s development, children learn how to group people into categories from a really young age. She explains, “They start categorising people by gender at around two years old, and by race and ethnicity a little after that.”

Indeed if you were to ask these adorable children a direct question such as "Does your friend here have a different skin colour they would not deny it. So, whilst they may be capable of seeing the differences if prompted specifically about something, they do not place particular importance on them.

From the perspective of these children, there is a strong sense of shared humanity and connection. Drawing it out further, they clearly feel they have more in common than the things that set them apart.

This can really inspire adopting a sense of ubuntu by recognising a common bond between us all and thence through this link and our interaction with our fellow human beings discovering our own human qualities. We can develop a self assurance by knowing that we are part of a greater whole.

Legend has it that an anthropologist studying the habits and customs of an African tribe acquired some sweets from the nearest town and put them in a decorated basket, and placed them at a foot of a tree.

Beckoning the children, he suggested they play a game. When he shouted “now”, the children had to race to the tree and the first one to get there could the basket to him/herself.

The children all lined up waiting for the signal. When the anthropologist said “now”,  they took each other by the hand and ran together towards the tree. Arriving all at the same time, they divided up the confectionery, sat down and began to happily munch away. Surprised, the anthropologist asked why they had all run together when any one of them could have had the candy all to themselves. The children responded: “Ubuntu. How could any one of us be happy if all the others were sad?”.

The story of the tribal children holding hands with each other to collectively share treats rather than competing for them,  and the friendships of the youngsters in the CBeebies video  can really inspire us to reach out to others, embrace that we are all humans better united,  recognise that our actions impact others and in turn appreciating that we are who we are because of who we all are.




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