I am a major trendsetter! If I buy a red car, everyone will buy a red car! If I wear decorative sneakers, everyone will wear decorative sneakers!
Of course, this isn't really true - I am many things but trendsetter isn't really one of them. It is a psychological thing that once we are interested in something, we tend to notice it everywhere because our brains are wired that way. Sort of like the weekend after we discovered alpacas and we noticed the alpaca farm sign that we had surely driven by many, many times - but because our brains were now ignited about alpacas we spotted it immediately!
Another thing is that a very wise friend once told me that if you hear a word repeated a lot (specifically in the Bible, but I think it applies outside the Bible, too), you should pay attention. So it is with the word Ubuntu.
I first read about Ubuntu several months ago, and for the life of me I can't remember where. But it is a lovely philosophy. I read it again recently, and the other night I read about it in The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by Desmond Tutu, Dalai Lama XIV, and Douglas Carlton Abrams (Avery, 2016). In this time of unrest, grief, and greed, I think Ubuntu is a beautiful topic for exploration.
I've seen Ubuntu described as humanity, humanness, interconnectedness. Also an operating system on Linux, but that is something entirely different.
Ubuntu is a word from Africa. It describes our dependence on each other. As I've been thinking about this blog post, I've been thinking of Ubuntu as, "I am, because you are."
If you are suffering, I suffer too. If I thrive, you should thrive, too. We are all dependent on each other, and the wellbeing of one should signify the wellbeing of others.
This, I find, is a beautiful sentiment, and very true. We are wired to be in community, which is why solitary confinement is so cruel. We are created to have families, and neighborhoods. If my neighbor is in want, how can I say that I am thriving? Surely I notice and somewhere inside, however deep, I feel unhappy. Perhaps that is why "NIMBY" is a thing. Not in my backyard - I don't want to see it, smell it, feel it, think about it, know about it. Forget property values for a moment - does ANYONE want to live near a factory or a garbage dump?
When our children were tiny, we bought a house in Virginia. As we exited our new neighborhood we could see the District of Columbia Dept. of Corrections prison. When we bought the house, we thought that the prison might close and our property value would go way up. That is, in fact, what happened. But also the cows from the prison dairy farm went away. Townhouses and mcmansions were built on the prison site. Traffic became immeasurably worse. Property values skyrocketed, and then it was hard to sell our house because we were competing with all the brand new houses.
In short, we found that we actually missed the prison - having it in our back yard wasn't a bad thing at all. But I digress.
A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. So if we don't keep everyone in the chain healthy, productive, and thriving, our chain isn't very strong, is it?
We have become a selfish people. Our society centers around climbing the corporate ladder. Doing unto others as they might do unto us, before they do it. It's a dog-eat-dog world. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.
What would my world look like if I practiced Ubuntu?
If my well-being depends on the well-being of those around me, I might be more generous with my time, my money, my compassion, my expertise. Whatever I have that you need, I should be willing to share.
I also need to be more willing to ask when I need help. This is harder for me, and, I think, for many. I used to get so frustrated with my father when he would try to plow ahead, even when he was clearly floundering. He always said, "I don't want to be a burden to you." Who said he was a burden? He did. I confess there were times when my responsibilities to him, my mother, my husband and children, my job, my volunteer responsibilities, and to myself became heavy. My shoulders are just not that broad. But I never thought they were a burden.
Do I ask for help? From my husband, yes. From Jeff and Julia - sometimes, and I'm sure that will become more frequent as we grow older. But from others around me? I would say that I'd rather put bamboo under my fingernails, but then I remember that our next door neighbors are taking care of the farm while we are on vacation. I remember the time that we stayed at another neighbor's house while our floors were refinished. I remember the times I went to friends and talked through something that was bothering me. So I guess I do ask for help sometimes.
The thing is, I get great joy from helping someone. Even if it seems inconvenient, or a lot to ask, I am ALWAYS glad that I helped. So I should be willing to ask for help when I need it, too - otherwise I am depriving the potential helpers of the opportunity to experience that joy.
That is Ubuntu. Be willing to give and receive help, in whatever form I am able to give it, and in whatever form I need it.
I also need to consider how my actions will affect another. Our next-door neighbor used to love to party, and would play his music loud at night. My rule of thumb was that if I could recognize the song with my windows closed, it was too loud. So I'd go over and ask him to turn it down, which he always did. Then on Saturday morning I'd turn my boombox toward his house and blast classical music. I'm not sure he ever noticed.
The neighbor on the other side loved his leaf blower. Every time we sat down to dinner on our back porch, the leaf blower went on. It got to the point that I alerted him whenever we were having guests so that he would avoid mowing his lawn or blowing his leaves that evening. I guess that is Ubuntu - we worked out a compromise. The leaf-blower is still a joke at our house, even 4 years after we moved away, but at least we were able to entertain again.
I need to be more aware of how my actions affect others. For example, I avoid using loud equipment or playing loud music early in the morning and late at night. I keep the muffler on my car in good repair. I try not to let my yard become overgrown and an eyesore to the neighbors. That is Ubuntu.
But what about the neighbors I'll never meet? The ones who live in other neighborhoods, towns, cities, states, and across the oceans? When I minimize my use of plastic and styrofoam, I am considering the impact of plastics on those who depend on the sea for their livelihoods. When I purchase a hybrid car, I am considering the air pollution that flows to Maine (we went on a Windjammer cruise out of Camden, ME once - it was a wonderful trip. I remember the captain of the schooner describing Maine as the "armpit of America" because the prevailing winds brought all the air pollution right there). The solar panels on our roof reduce carbon emissions as well, and if there is enough demand for solar panels in the US the cost will come down and manufacturing (jobs) will go up. Climate change just might be reversed, so that those in coastal cities and towns aren't flooded out. That is Ubuntu.
I vote. My conscience tells me to vote for the candidates that will support environmental legislation, healthcare for all, and provide a safety net that is not 1 inch off the ground. That is my conscience and I recognize that yours may be different. The discussion between empowerment and handouts is a valid one and not one I am prepared to have here. But Ubuntu says that the powerful few must do what is best for those who are powerless, even and often the opposite of their own best interests.
I vote because it breaks my heart to see the anguish of immigrants - "illegal" or not - who must make the wrenching decision to leave home and families to make a perilous journey to a place that will treat them abysmally. I am a mother and grandmother, and I cannot imagine the horror one must face to make such a journey.
I vote for those who believe that voting is an American right for all - not just those who vote a certain way.
I vote for those who work for criminal justice reform because it is unconscionable that African Americans are incarcerated at more than 5 times the rate of whites (Sentencing Project, online 9/11/2020), that prison populations have increased overall by 500% in the last 45 years (Sentencing Project, online 9/11/2020), and that slightly less than 9% of American inmates are house in for-profit prisons, ,which rely on a steady stream of new inmates to stay in business (Bryant, 2020).
Anti-racism is Ubuntu, and I am working on that.
If I practice Ubuntu, I work to see the humanity in everyone We are all created in the image of God. Even those I find detestable are beloved children of God. This calls for me to be compassionate to everyone - even those who fire up the leaf blower at 6 AM on a Saturday morning. Those who dress differently, speak differently, worship differently, work differently, raise their kids differently are all humans, trying to do and be the best they can be. Those who have made tragic mistakes are still human. Those who do evil - still human, and they still deserve compassion.
So if I am practicing Ubuntu, I am caring for the least and the lost. I am loving my neighbor. I am treating others as I would like to be treated. Sound familiar?
The faith of our fathers has been co-opted by those who seek to retain power, money, authority, and prestige. Rather than seeing the humanity in all of us, the church has used it's authority to control thought, colonize and murder indigenous peoples in the name of spreading "faith," demean women, exclude the LGBTQ+ community, marginalize those who are different, and insist that those of other faiths are somehow less-than. Certainly many in the church have worked to do good - feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, clothing the naked. But the chickens of arrogance and greed have come home to roost.
This badass woman is calling it out. Jesus practiced Ubuntu. Too many in the church do not, and the saddest thing is that we don't even realize it.
Bryant, Sean. The Business Model of Private Prisons. Investopedia. https://www.investopedia.com/articles/investing/062215/business-model-private-prisons.asp, Updated February, 2020. Online, available 9/11/2020.
Sentencing Project. https://www.sentencingproject.org/publications/color-of-justice-racial-and-ethnic-disparity-in-state-prisons/. Online, available 9/11/2020.