Cam Taylor

Be inspired. Be focused. Be tenacious.

Ubuntu

You can’t exist as a human being in isolation
 Desmond Tutu

We in the west have a lot to learn from our African brothers and sisters. One of the strengths of their culture is the value they place on community. In the west, we sometimes put the good of the individual over what’s best for the community.

community

Lately, I’ve been challenged to be a little less “self” focused and a little more conscious of the community around me. There is no doubt perseverance and individual effort has helped me push through pain and make strides in my recovery but there’s more going on around me that I need to pay attention to.

A closer look at the history and meaning of Ubuntu

The term Ubuntu first appeared as an idea in South African society in the mid-19th century. At first, it was translated as “human nature, humanness, humanity; virtue, goodness, roughness.”  It later grew to be a term used by religious, political, and community leaders in various settings.

Here are just a few of the statements describing Ubuntu:

  •  I am what I am because of who we all are (Leymah Gbowee).
  • 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 (Desmond Tutu).
  • 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 (Desmond Tutu).

Nelson Mandela explained Ubuntu this way:

A traveller 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 and attend 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?

How might we apply Ubuntu?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big believer in individual effort. You need it to push through adversity, achieve goals and see growth. The problem is, if we apply individual effort without being sensitive and well connected to those around us (family, friends, neighbourhood, work place, church community, etc.) the quality of life goes down and the glue that holds us together evaporates.

Three ways to apply Ubuntu to life

1.      Remind yourself often – “It’s not just about me”

Being self-absorbed is natural when you’re hurting but unhealthy if it continues for prolonged periods of time.

Living out Ubuntu means to look in the mirror and say to yourself, “It’s not all about me. Who do I need to care about today? Who do I need to thank? Who needs my ear? God is with me. My community needs my input.”

2.     Take time for solitude but don’t isolate yourself

When you’re struggling to get through what you’re going through (surgery, recovery, loss, stormy weather), it’s easy to turn inward being unable to reach out and connect. The problem is, the very act of connection is risky but a key pathway to recovery.

Personally, I’ve been returning to undisrupted solitude where I practice spiritual reading, journaling, reflection, and prayer as a way to stay better grounded through my season of suffering. On the flipside, I’ve taken the initiative to connect with others and be involved with others around me. The balance has been critical to my healing and recovery.

3.     Remain open and generous with others

Staying connected with others means a willingness to share your joys and struggles in meaningful ways. It was exciting for me this week to share a milestone with my greater community. I was given the green light by my Physiotherapist to ride a “real” bike outside after three years of waiting and tons of hard work and help from an army of people.

I realize this milestone not simply because of my rugged individual effort. I arrived here because of my community that played a key role in helping to make it possible. And for that, I’m grateful!

In what way might you be self-absorbed and need to appreciate your community?
How are you keeping in tension solitude and generosity?

Image source: Free image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net
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About Cam Taylor

Life and leadership coach, transition & change specialist, husband, dad, leader, writer, life long learner.

One Reply

  1. Reed Sellwood

    Thanks Cam:
    This is something we should all strive to work on.

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