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Ubuntu is a term that originates from a Nguni Bantu language spoken in Sub-Saharan Africa. In its most simple form, ubuntu can be translated to the English word “humanity.” This translation, however, doesn’t do the term justice, as it can also be translated to the more complex expressions “I am because we are” and “humanity towards others.”

Ubuntu is more than a simple word or phrase. It also has philosophical associations, as Ubuntuism was accepted in Southern Africa in the 1980s and 1990s as a kind of humanist philosophy. In this context, Ubuntu means “the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity.”

As you may be able to gather from the definitions and translations provided above, Ubuntu is about togetherness and sharing the burden of our actions and their impacts. Despite how it may feel at times, we are not alone in this world. Our existence is shared and our actions, whether they are positive or negative, impact us all.

This concept of humanity as a single entity was aptly described by the former president of the United States, Barack Obama, at the 2018 Nelson Mandela annual lecture: “There is a word in South Africa – Ubuntu – that describes his [Nelson Mandela’s] greatest gift: his recognition that we are all bound together in ways that can be invisible to the eye; that there is a oneness to humanity; that we achieve ourselves by sharing ourselves with others, and caring for those around us.” (quote retrieved from Hlumelo Siphe Williams’ Global Citizen article on Ubuntu).

If some suffer, we all suffer

We can use the concept of Ubuntu to help us practice compassion for others. After all, we are all connected together and united in our humanity. This means that if some people suffer, we all suffer. The injustices, harm, and unfair treatment suffered by some individuals impacts all of humanity. Therefore, the term Ubuntu has the ability to unite humanity towards common good. We should be placing a great deal of importance on behaving well towards others and acting in ways that benefit entire communities.

Ubuntu connects to all living beings

The message of ubuntu can be applied to all living beings, not just humans. Ubuntu describes a collective humanity, but we can take that concept one step further and consider how humans are also tied to all the living beings around us. Think about all the plants and animals that impact our very existence.

For example, think about forests. Forests provide us with a plethora of benefits and necessities such as oxygen, air filtration, lumber, protection from wind, and so much more. If the forests are suffering due to forest fires or clear-cutting, humanity suffers as well. Thus, we can see how there is merit in applying the Ubuntu message to all living beings. Ubuntu becomes especially important as we find ourselves in the midst of a climate disaster that threatens the existence of human beings as well as many other forms of life.

Read more about how Ubuntu connects to climate change in this article by Alex Lenferna.

Ways to implement ubuntu into your life

In order to implement Ubuntu into your life, it is important that in everything you do, you remember that your life is connected to others. Your actions, behaviours, and choices affect not only the people in your life, but the people beyond your immediate circle.

No matter how small you may feel your individual role in the world is, you have the opportunity to make a difference in issues of poverty, environmental concerns, and justice for racial, gender, and sexual equity.

Some examples of small actions you can take in order to implement Ubuntu into your life include:

  • Treating people with kindness. By spreading love and positivity, you will make the world a more welcoming place.
  • Making environmentally friendly choices. Do your part and look out for other living beings that don’t have a voice. Something as simple as a plastic-free living or reducing your carbon footprint can make a big difference.
  • Taking political action on issues in your city/community. Reach out to your local political representatives in order to draw attention to issues or injustices that are prevalent in your area.
  • Help others. Find ways to help the less fortunate, whether that means donating to a food bank, volunteering your time at an animal rescue shelter, or simply helping someone out in your community who is in need.
  • Think before acting. Assess your actions and behaviours in order to determine how they will affect others. Seek to have positive impacts thorough your purchases and actions.

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