ubuntu (noun) : an African philosophy based on the belief that one's humanity towards others is the essence of being human and that one's personal identity is defined by one's community. The belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all people.
Ubuntu is a beautiful word with a simple meaning that’s also sewn throughout virtually every religion, ethnic group, language, and culture.
- Ubuntu = Good for you, me, everyone, earth
- No Ubuntu = Bad for you, me, everyone, earth
This post is going to be a bit different from the standard airy, random, brainiarrhea that you normally get from me, but don't worry - some more of that is soon to come! This is actually my first time writing long-form since December! Thanks for keeping the blog happy Adrienne!
Ok so now to rip off that bandaid;
In South Africa, they have these things called Townships. Townships are official or unofficial settlements (slums) of hundreds or thousands of people with little to no infrastructure (maybe no roads, running water, electricity, safety). So a bunch of tin & wood shanties haggled together into dwellings filled with immigrants, refugees, and locals without even the most meager of monetary savings or physical possessions. Also, no Apple Watches. If your visual image is Slumdog Millionaire with less curry, you got it. Many of these people will work their way out of it, and many will live a full life there, in what Westerners would consider; constant, unfathomable struggle. Township life is hard and filled with stresses of the unknown.
There’s poverty and suffering of all types back in the US, but not quite like this. They’re people who’ve escaped regional wars, political persecution, religious oppression, lack of food / clean water, or lack of any work opportunities. They’re your waiters, house maids, taxi drivers, grocery store clerks, gardeners, gas station workers, construction workers, “car guards,” cooks - just normal folks that we interact with every day. They’ve been some of the most loving, gracious, kind, and accommodating people that we’ve met here.
We peel back the layers in a quick chat with someone that’s serving us and we learn that they're living in a Township, unable to return to their home country because it's too dangerous and there's no work there. Beautifully though, they consider themselves to be living a better life in the Township than where they ran away from. The Townships are better than something, much better than many things, actually - things that I honestly cannot comprehend...
Meeting these folks has really put the phrase;
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about”
into perspective for us. I’ve carried that quote with me for years, but chatting with folks here, learning about their stories and where they came from, even just 6 months ago has blown my mind. Now, I’m not trying to run you through a sob story to make you feel bad about your more fortunate station in life - if you're reading this, you already know that you're better off than most in this world. Yes, they struggle immensely, but this piece isn’t about you and them, it’s about Adrienne and me and them, and separately, it's about you and the people that are around you right now, tomorrow, and the days ahead in your life. Our recent experiences have been a catalyst for us to realize something that we want to carry around in the front of our minds; compassion. Compassion for the people that we interact with day to day, and for those afar. Greater than sarcasm, greater than talking down to someone, greater than resentment, greater than jealousy, greater than anger, and greater than patronizing someone; is practicing compassion for someone. It's better for you and everyone around you. Compassion is always the best action when you slow down and think about what you know nothing about (referencing the quote above).
A few weeks ago I posted on Instagram about noticing people who go unnoticed. Asking your waiter how his day was, making a joke with the lady at the DMV, adding that extra smile, or personal question in a business meeting, or hey, giving a homeless person $15 instead of $0.15. I think we too often treat each other like machines. Walk up, stick in a quarter, retrieve Skittles, carry on. This just kills us when we consider the battles they could be fighting, or the battles that we actually know they’re fighting. We’re all people, we’re all the same, but we ignore the unknown battles...do we really just not give a shit? Is it just not our businesses? When and why did ignoring become the norm?
I think noticing should be the norm. Ignoring is the opposite of Ubuntu. The antithesis of community and the nemesis of compassion. Don’t get me wrong, I struggle with this every day - I think we’ve been rewired to only focus on ourselves; on our own shortcomings and therefore our own needs. Adrienne and I are trying to change this in ourselves - we don’t want ‘ignore’ to be our default mode. We want to be more aware of and compassionate towards others every day.
I'm not saying that we all need to drop everything we're doing, and give away all we've got to help someone else (though that would be an interesting experiment). All I'm talking about is making compassion your default feeling. Adrienne and I are working on letting compassion play a larger role in guiding our interactions with others and we can't wait to see where it leads us.
There’s a township in Cape Town called Imizamo Yethu that we've passed a handful of times in our commuting. Imizamo Yethu actually means “In collective struggle, we thrive” which is heart-wrenchingly beautiful considering their circumstances in the Township. I actually feel like it’s humanity’s story too, not just theirs. No one can thrive in this world alone, forget thrive, no one can survive in this world alone. Imizamo Yethu isn’t for the impoverished, it’s for us all. We all have problems, in fact; “mo money, mo problems” and we’re all in this together.