Understanding Ubuntu: How to live better through our interconnectedness

Have you ever heard of the concept of Ubuntu? As I was reading Everyday Ubuntu, by Mungi Ngomane, which focuses on lessons from the Rainbow Nation (South Africa) on how to apply the concept of Ubuntu to your everyday life. Ubuntu is a belief and philosophy focused on how we are all connected (the universal human bond).

Photo by Anderson Rian | Accessed on Unsplash.com

Main impacts

These are the main points that stood out to me:

  1. We’re all connected
  2. You don’t have to do it alone
  3. Empathy is the goal

Continue reading for more details on each.

We’re all connected

I found that the biggest message from this book was the concept of connectedness to each other. This comes from the belief of a universal human bond.

We are all connected, and our interconnectedness is both our strength and weakness. If we ignore it, we will all be negatively impacted by others. However we can build each other up and work on improving things together, using our connectedness as a strength and as a way to benefit each other.

What affects one person, affects us all. Whether or not we choose to see the cause and effect. Our connections are not a choice, but simply how our societies function, and with globalization our connections more easily cross borders, oceans, and continents.

In the end, there’s strength in unity and we can use that strength to affect the world in a positive or negative way. We simply need to see each other as fully human and equal, using empathy to improve the world.

You don’t have to do it alone

Building on the connectedness of the first point above, you don’t need to go through any struggle by yourself. You are not alone.

It’s almost guaranteed that others have been in a similar situation before. It may not be exactly the same, but likely there is someone with a similar experience. Nothing is new or completely unique, meaning others have experienced something similar to what you are going through.

Our shared similarities mean you can benefit from their experience. You can learn from each other. There’s no need for you to learn it the hard way when someone has already learned that lesson. We can help each other overcome difficult experiences while minimizing their struggle and pain. I think the internet has been a massive tool for helping people connect and learn from each other.

All you need to do is ask for help. A friendly reminder, it’s okay to ask for help! I know many people struggle to ask for help and feel they should be able to do it on their own. But people who care about you are probably happy to help you. Think about how you feel when someone asks you for help. Then there are people who don’t even know you who are willing to help, look at how the internet has connected individuals who help each other even when they’ve never met.

You don’t have to be alone. There are always others either going through something similar or have already gone through it, who can help you navigate the situations. I find that so hopeful, as some experiences can make you feel so completely isolated, but you’re not alone.

There’s strength in unity, and it’s easier to go through difficult situations together. A community or supporters can provide you with advice, guidance, or just someone to listen and understand. You can find that through people you know or look online for people that understand your experience.

If you need it, don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Empathy is the goal

I found that many aspects of ubuntu that were discussed were related to having empathy for others. Which meant that building up empathy for those around you (and everyone else) is the goal.

A key part of having empathy is being able to listen and really hearing what is being said (not just listening to then be able to talk about yourself). The act of actually being heard and understood is what people crave and how people feel connected to others. Empathy is shown by understanding and really listening to others.

Throughout the book, Mungi gives examples from her own country of South Africa (the Rainbow Nation), especially during and after apartheid.

After apartheid, there was a very extensive truth and reconciliation process to help the country heal. The process carried out by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was not focused on punishing others, but simply making sure everyone understood what had happened during apartheid. It was about making sure everyone was able to tell their stories and be heard by the country. Only by being heard and making sure people could tell their stories truthfully, without retaliation, could everyone acknowledge the extent of what had happened and be able to move forward together.

I found the discussion of the truth and reconciliation process very powerful, especially since most stories being told were horrendous acts of hatred and there was not going to be any punishment given. I understand that it needed to be discussed openly so that everyone understood what the country had been through, but it sounds incredibly difficult.

It also made me wonder what my country, Canada, could’ve done better in our own Truth and Reconciliation Commission for the residential schools forced on the Indigenous Peoples.

Final thoughts

I learned a lot about South Africa in this book. It was fascinating to hear about the way the country started to heal after apartheid and how these Ubuntu lessons translated to practical action in the face of extreme hatred.

Many lessons of Ubuntu seemed straight forward and sometimes simple, but the ramifications for actually living that way is when the concept becomes more radical. The examples of how the lessons play out in a post-apartheid South Africa was incredibly powerful.

Even if you’re already a very empathic and understanding person, I would encourage you to read this book just to learn more about South Africa.