Ubuntu is the South African word meaning: “A person is a person through other persons.” Meaning, ubuntu is the idea that our humanity is affirmed through that of other persons. In South Africa, if you ask someone how they are doing, they will answer: “We are doing…” based on whether someone close to them is hurting or how everyone around them is doing.
Ubuntu is a wonderfully biblical idea. It’s the idea that their humanity is inextricably bound up in the humanity of others. It speaks of wholeness and compassion. It’s generous, willing to share, and concerned with the greater good. People with ubuntu are diminished when others are dehumanized. They are hurt when others are hurt. Furthermore, it extends way beyond whether a person is a friend or an enemy. Ubuntu is simply concerned with the humanity of OTHERS (not blacks, whites, Arabs, enemies, cokeheads — EVERYONE).
I know this picture might be offensive to some, but ubuntu looks a lot like this:
Jesus died for not just our sins, but the sins of the WHOLE world (I John 2:2). Jesus died for Osama.
In his book, “God Has a Dream,” Desmond Tutu outlines the horrors and joy of recovery of the apartheid in South Africa. Tutu was one of the leaders of the anti-apartheid (apartheid meaning separateness — basic, horribly racist laws in South Africa — thus, Tutu opposed the apartheid). In the book, he discusses the love God has for ALL people – even those who brutalized, killed, and tortured blacks. In a beautiful story of ubuntu and love, part of the reconciliation after apartheid was defeated was by loving their enemies and not repaying them with evil. Nelson Mandela offered and extended freedom to many of the brutal enemies and began the process of restorative love and not individualistic evil.
In our Western society, the American Dream is emblazoned into us from an early age. True life and joy is the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” It’s this concept that is totally and universally individualistic. It is all about ME being able to pursue my education, my dreams, my own happiness. The problem with this individualistic mindset is that we are taught happiness equals what we get in life. Ubuntu is the idea that happiness is bound in the other, not in yourself.
I’m guilty. Trust me, I’m guilty. Emily and I don’t even know our neighbors. We are individualistic. I just pray that God continues to give me an ubuntu spirit and heart, one that feels, empathizes and concerns itself with the joy, life, and happiness of others, and not just myself. It is a basic concept that life improves dramatically for those who give their lives to something greater than themselves.
May God give us a little more ubuntu and a little less American Dream!