Ubuntu philosophy- the essence of humanity
Ubuntu is an African term often translated as “humanity towards others”.
Growing up in a small Northern Romanian village, I was one of those irritating children that never stopped asking ‘why’? I would ask my parents the silliest questions such as ‘Mom, why aren’t there any more dinosaurs? Why are there so many languages in the world? Why is that man homeless?’ Doubtless it got on their nerves – to the point of sibling mockery for being ‘the curious one’ – but this childlike curiosity and willingness to question has developed and compelled me to seek a deeper understanding of how our constantly changing society operates.
It was precisely this curiosity that led me to question, as I grew up, different aspects of life, such as our purpose as humans here on Earth, the true meaning of life, or how to find happiness. My whole teenage years were a constant battle in pursuing happiness, self confidence and all the things that I lacked due to my depression and anxiety.
Due to this endless need to find myself, I learnt many thing, but one thing that stuck with me is a key African concept that guided my life ever since the moment I stumbled upon it.
The African Ubuntu philosophy, claims that ‘a person is a person through other people’ – that common humanity is a building block of society. As society breeds the individual, it is to the individual’s advantage to play an active role within it. It also speaks of the fact that my whole existence as a human being is bound up in others. A person with Ubuntu could never be happy and fullfiled while the others are humiliated, oppressed and being treated like less than who they are. Within this training I heard a truly inspiring story about a anthropologist wo has been studying the habits of an African tribe. He’d always been surrounded by the children of the tribe, so he proposed a game for the children to play. He’d bought lots of candies placing them under a solitary tree and explained to the children that after his signal, they have to run from a certain point up to that tree. The first to arrive there would win all the candies. When he gave his signal, the children held each other’s hands and ran together as a group. Once there, they shared the candies equally, and happily ate it. To the man’s surprise, the children simply explained to him the Ubuntu philosophy: “How can one of us be happy if all the others are sad?”
“Africans have a thing called ubuntu. It is about the essence of being human, it is part of the gift that Africa will give the world. It embraces hospitality, caring about others, being willing to go the extra mile for the sake of another. We believe that a person is a person through other persons, that my humanity is caught up, bound up, inextricably, with yours. When I dehumanize you, I inexorably dehumanize myself. The solitary human being is a contradiction in terms. Therefore you seek to work for the common good because your humanity comes into its own in community, in belonging.” — Archbishop Desmond Tutu