We need ubuntu for the whole world
In previous columns we discussed human selfishness; how religion has sought to draw the individual away from the self and to be conscious of the importance of two sets of relationships—with God and with fellow human beings.
We also discussed the problem of modern education: on the one hand formal education is essential for human development; on the other it inculcates undesirable human values and attitudes, such as selfish competition, materialism and dictatorship.
The values just cited and other values have contributed to one of the enigmas of human life—the undisputed fact that the worst enemy of humankind is fellow humans, not the beasts of the jungle or natural phenomena such as floods or drought.
It could be argued that the worst enemy of humanity is disease. But there is a counter-argument: In today’s world disease thrives where humans have failed to make provision for fellow humans.
Furthermore, it is often in situations of conflict, war and oppression where hunger, disease, and forced migration (into refugee camps) thrive. Today we live in heavily protected homes, with high walls and barbed wire, not out of fear of wild animals or disease, but because we are afraid of our own kind!
In this column I wish to argue that part of the solution to the problems caused by selfish competition, materialism and dictatorship is to use education and religion to develop a new set of social values.
A starting point in introducing a paradigm shift in human values is for our institutions to educate learners about the value of the traditional African philosophy of ubuntu (Zulu), or botho (Sotho) or unhu (Shona). This philosophy teaches us about the significance of the “other” (as opposed to myself); about the importance of community in human life; and about the benefits of interdependence in all human relationships, be they person to person, race to race, gender to gender or nation to nation relationships.
According to the philosophy of ubuntu, an individual exists in relation to other people.
As the Sotho language puts it: “Motho ke motho ka batho”—”A person is a person because of other people (or through other people)”. In other words: “I am what I am because you are what you are; and you are what you are because we are what we are.”
There is complete interdependence between people, between the genders and between nations. Men may oppress women, but the fact of the matter is that males could not exist without females.
The common saying that no man is an island is not just a euphemism; it says something fundamental about the interdependence of people.
Consider the current Euro zone economic problems, for example. For 500 years European countries regarded themselves as the developed and civilised nations of the world, but they were surviving on the wealth extracted from other continents: the Americas, Asia and Africa.
The decolonisation process eventually led to the contraction of the economies of Europe. What is needed now is a global ubuntu philosophy which results in a fair and equitable distribution of the world’s resources.
A concerted ubuntu approach to education and life will teach young people that the real heroes of the world are not those who amass wealth in a sea of poverty; but those like Mother Teresa who sacrifice their own comfort to serve the less privileged members of society.
It will make future leaders realise that one does not achieve true freedom by oppressing others; but that by giving freedom to others one enhances one’s own freedom.
Many white South Africans will concede that the dismantling of apartheid was a moment of emancipation not only for blacks, but for white people as well. To oppress or hurt another is to hurt oneself; and to free the oppressed is to free oneself.
True success does not consist in the accumulation of wealth, but in helping as many people as possible to live a decent life.
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