Monday, January 16, 2012

Ubuntu: Inspiration to Work with, through, and for Others

Naomi Tutu promoted the principle of “ubuntu”, during her keynote speech at this morning’s Martin Luther King Holiday Breakfast in Minneapolis. She emphasized that we have not yet reached “the Promised Land” and we will not arrive there until we successfully address such issues as poverty, social disparities, poor educational achievement, violence, and environmental pollution in our nation and in the world. Unfortunately, many of us understand the indicators related to those issues. Such understanding could lead to discouragement and feelings of ineffectuality. But then, would such lack of hope follow in the tradition of Dr. King?

To make progress, Tutu exhorts us to recognize that our humanity depends on other people. We become human by virtue of our connections to other human beings.

That constitutes ubuntu. It is a belief, a philosophy, that we all have multiple connections with others. Our individual well-being and the well-being of the entire human race inextricably join together. Ubuntu supplies us both with standards for positive behavior and with the self-assurance to live out those standards. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu described the concept: “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, or treated as if they were less than who they are.”

Similarly, Dr. King inspired us to recognize that “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.”

The poet, John Donne, offered much the same insight 400 years ago: “No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main; … any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.”

As we move forward in 2012, let’s acknowledge that as long as someone suffers in our neighborhood, our city, our world, we all suffer. And, based on the wisdom of Naomi Tutu, let’s address the issues that confront us with the recognition that it’s not “us and them”; it’s all of us on this fragile planet together – collectively creating our society and defining what humanity means in the 21st century.

Quoting again Naomi’s father: “We are made for goodness. We are made for love. We are made for friendliness. We are made for togetherness. We are made for all of the beautiful things that you and I know. We are made to tell the world that there are no outsiders. All are welcome: black, white, red, yellow, rich, poor, educated, not educated, male, female, gay, straight, all, all, all. We all belong to this family, this human family, God's family.”

Happy Martin Luther King Day!

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