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Two years ago I was introduced to Ubuntu by African refugees I connected with at work. Two days ago a new LinkedIn friend who was born in Africa shared his thoughts on Ubuntu. And just today a friend posted a classic Ubuntu story on Facebook.
I can take a hint, especially if it’s repeated often enough! Sometimes it seems things come together for a reason if you just open your eyes and mind. We stand to learn a lot from Ubuntu but I was letting it collect dust. It’s high time to flip the spotlight back on.
My Experience With Ubuntu
My past employer had many refugees working in the plant, including a wide cross-section of Africans from several countries. When we first started bringing these people in, I studied up on their customs, norms, and history so I could connect with them on a personal level. I feel incredibly richer as a result.
My new Liberian friends were amazed when I wished them Happy Independence Day on July 26th. My musician friend from Uganda had a lot of fun at my expense as I struggled to learn a song in Lugandan so I could sing a harmony part with him. Judging from his face and laughter, I was probably singing something like “you smell like a water buffalo” before he got me straightened out with phonetics rather than spelling. Wasn’t easy.
An incredible lesson was given me when one of my Sudanese friends introduced me to ubuntu. We were talking about the importance of teamwork and what it meant to be a real team. He listened intently, then said simply “you are talking about ubuntu. What other way is there?”
He was right. Ubuntu is perhaps the purest expression of true community at the cultural norm level, and could be a powerful expression of teamwork in the workplace.
Norman’s Perspective on Ubuntu
Norman is African born, but mostly grew up in the UK and Europe. These are his thoughts. “The concept of Ubuntu is about:
- one’s conduct both in terms of manners (social etiquette) and ethics (don’t do unto others what you don’t want others to do to you) and,
- a Spiritual worldview.
Ubuntu at its most basic emphasizes brotherly love and neighborliness on the part of an individual. It offers a set of expectations put on an individual on how he/she should treat others and a spiritual worldview that emphasizes the connectedness of individuals to everything that surrounds them including the view that an individual’s action can rebound to affect his/he life for good or for worse. At its extreme, it seeks to emphasize the Africaness of an individual, to get him to stay within that Africaness and not to adopt Western sensibilities.
I interpret it to mean that one should stay humble, should look after the environment and should respect all human beings regardless of age, gender, religion and in return, the world will give you everything you want. I practice it most times, and it appears to work, for me at least. The truth though is that manners can get you very far anywhere in the world.”
Archbishop Tutu on Ubuntu (The Tutu Foundation is a great Ubuntu resource!)
“Ubuntu is 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, for he or she has 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.”
“If the world had more ubuntu, we would not have war. We would not have this huge gap between the rich and the poor. You are rich so that you can make up what is lacking for others. You are powerful so that you can help the weak, just as a mother or father helps their children.”
This started with a plug, it may as well end with a plug. We collectively need a greater understanding of others, full inclusion even if someone is “different than me”, a true worldview. What better place to start than with our children? Imagine a curriculum that included learning and really understanding the values system of other cultures, other beliefs systems, including the religions of the world? See Character-building and Ethics in School here, also posted at LinkedIn Pulse where at last check there is a decent discussion brewing…must be signed up on LinkedIn.