Africa, the birthplace of the first human, may just hold the key to the survival of humanity. How fitting and appropriate that the country where homo erectus was first identified is also the birthplace of the philosophy that points the way toward a sustainable future for us, its offspring.
No, I’m not talking about a new technology that will solve our dependence on non-renewable energy resources or that will stop climate change. Not directly at least. But I am talking about a way of seeing the world and all its inhabitants that, if adopted by a critical mass of human beings, would have a major impact in our ability to work together and ultimately shift the context of what it means to be a human being living on Planet Earth in the 21st century.
The philosophy is simple enough. It doesn’t cost anyone a single dime. But it does require a massive shift in how we think about ourselves, how we see each other, and how we view every other living thing on the planet.
I’m talking about the philosophy called “Ubuntu,” which translated means “I am what I am, because of who we all are.” The word “ubuntu” has its origins in the Bantu languages of southern Africa.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu defines it this way:
“One of the sayings in our country is Ubuntu — the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality — Ubuntu — you are known for your generosity. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole World. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.“
“A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, based from a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.”
Nelson Mandela describes it thus:
“A traveler through a country would stop at a village and he didn’t have to ask for food or for water. Once he stops, the people give him food, entertain him. That is one aspect of Ubuntu, but it will have various aspects. Ubuntu does not mean that people should not enrich themselves. The question therefore is: Are you going to do so in order to enable the community around you to be able to improve?”
Sometimes the hardest thing in the world to do is to change is one’s mind. And yet, a massive changing of minds is what will be required if humanity is to weather the challenges we now face.
There are those who believe, and I would be among them, that everything begins with consciousness. Your state of consciousness determines your experience. Period. End of story. Two people can experience the same event, and depending upon their state of consciousness, can have entirely different accounts of what happened, what they felt, what they saw, etc.
Imagine that you and I are standing in line at Disneyland waiting to ride on the rollercoaster. Neither of us has ever ridden it before. Both of us feel a heightened sense of energy in our bodies, anticipating the experience ahead. Our hearts are beating fast, our palms are sweating, our throats are feeling dry and tight.
So far, we’re having the exact same experience at the physical level. But one of us is having an internal dialogue that says, “I’m really scared, I don’t know if I trust this. What if I fall out of the car? What if the ride is mechanically faulty? This is very scary!” And the other one of us is thinking, “I can’t wait! How exciting is this? I’ve always wanted to ride on a rollercoaster! I’m going to throw up my arms and shout ‘Woohoo!’”
Different states of consciousness produce entirely different experiences of the same event. And so it is that the predominant state of consciousness in the world today, that we are separate from one another, produces the experience of separation, which produces what we have on the planet: war, poverty, hunger, disease, homelessness, injustice, greed, etc.
It does not take a rocket scientist to see that this story is not headed toward a happy ending. We all have different ideas of how to solve the problem if we even concern ourselves with the problem at all. Mostly we deny there is a problem or ignore it or think it’s someone else’s problem to solve. Or a small group of those who wield the most power among us want to solve it in a way that benefits their interests alone and neglects the interests of the vast majority.
In the main, we do not see ourselves as connected to each other. We see that there’s “me” and there’s “you.” “You’re” different (and separate) from “me.” You’re in that body over there, which is very different from mine. You live in a country far away from mine. You speak a different language, have an entirely different culture, different beliefs, make different kinds of choices about how you want to live from the choices I make, etc. From a consciousness of separation the paradigm is “You’re on your own.” “I’ve got mine. Get your own.”
We see this consciousness demonstrated in our politics, but it’s not limited to such. A belief in separation is woven into most of the world’s religions as well, which teach there is only one way to salvation and that’s the way of (name of religion here). The world is divided into good and evil, those who believe according to the teachings and those who do not. Unbuntu transcends all this.
Ubuntu is not a religious philosophy. Neither is it political. But it challenges every belief of most religions and political ideologies. It simply states, “I am what I am because of who we all are.” It requires a state of consciousness that understands and accepts the fact that at the quantum level, we are all made of the same star stuff. We all come from the same origins. Beyond the appearance of separation, lies a greater truth. We are all connected.
Ubuntu is about having an impact on each other in ways that expands and deepens our understanding of why we’re all here on the planet and our responsibility to one another. Even though one would be hard pressed to find evidence in our current cultural ideologies, the truth is, none of us wins unless all of us win. Collaboration is the ultimate winning strategy.
Imagine that you could view Earth from outer space. Imagine you could witness, at the same time, all of the ways in which humanity does harm to itself. Imagine you could view all the rapes, murders, abuse, starvation, and greed that we perpetrate upon each other and the planet. Imagine that you could experience all the hurt and anger in our collective hearts because of what we do to one another.
Now imagine that all human beings were suddenly able to see with clarity their connectivity. Imagine that instead of hating or judging, we opened to compassion instead. Then, imagine that we could all hear a little voice in our heads asking “What can you do to make a difference?” What would you say to yourself? What would you do? What could you do?
Now think about Ubuntu: “I am what I am because of who we all are.” What if what you want to be will only come about when you ensure that others get to be that as well? And what if all of humanity was on your team, working toward your good?
What if you were to make it your mission to express Unbuntu in your daily life? Do you think you’d see others differently? And if you did, what would be the impact in their lives? And what about your own?
Imagine the kind of world we’d have if the spirit of Unbuntu was the dominant paradigm. It can happen, but only if enough people see it and claim it as their personal responsibility. The choice is ours. The time is now.