ubuntu

photo taken by jurvetson, flickr creative commons

image courtesy of jurvetson, flickr creative commons

I arrived in southern Africa in January of this year.  After 7 months, I took a trip home to the states to visit friends & family.  Now I’m back, stoked to be here during springtime with fragrant flowers and mild days, rolling into the unrelenting yet beloved sun of summertime.  While I was home, I realized that one of the most apparent messages I’ve come across this year is that we are how we are through other people.  Of course we have our own core- our ways of being, thinking, and doing that change over time, yet contain something that is undeniably “me”- that remains intact throughout our lives.  In addition to this, so much of who we are comes from our friends and family, the people with whom we interact, exchange ideas, and experience life.

This thought comes back to the eastern idea of the body as a vessel- that we provide storage & transportation for consciousness that flows through us.  If I take my self back to the states and spend time in Portland, Oregon, then I will absorb the conversations, feelings, sights, smells, sounds, and ideas that flow through daily life there.  Life in Georgia has a significantly different feel, tone, and smell and this too is absorbed.  Botswana is an entirely different place than either of these, and because of the people I interact with, the things I do, the food I eat, the conversations of which I am a part (or eavesdropper… 🙂 ),  I am shaped for this time.

I like thinking of people as somewhat solid flexible, living walking sticks enveloped by a rounded, semi-permeable membrane like a corporeal cortex in which contains different colors and frequencies of sound that change depending on the person’s environment and relation to it.  All of this rambling leads to the concept of ubuntu.

ubuntu: a person is a person through other persons

It is a beautiful concept that comes from Zulu people (South Africa). Ubuntu is the philosophy that as humans, we are made up of the people with whom we interact; we are not solitary individuals acting in a vacuum.  In Zulu, it means, “a person is a person through other persons.”  As I’ve seen it used, it generally is in the context of the message that if we support each other and teach each other, then we are strengthening the whole.  If we choose to act selfishly, then the whole is undermined.

I am who I am because of other people, those who are close to me as well as those who are far away.  As a global community, we realize the need for a collaborative effort to protect our planet and people for our future and generations to come; we are intimately interconnected on this planet.  On a smaller scale, we choose who we spend our time with because we realize that in friendship we exchange parts of ourselves.  Ubuntu also applies to the people we interact with in everyday situations, such as the waitress at a restaurant, the taxi driver, or the shopkeeper- so if we realize we are all part of a whole, maybe we’ll take a breath before being rude.  I hope not to sound preachy, because most of us lose our cool at one time or another… I’m just laying out some thoughts.

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