Everyday Ubuntu | Nompumelelo Mungi Ngomane

Summary of: Everyday Ubuntu: The African art of living better, together
By: Nompumelelo Mungi Ngomane


In an age of digital supremacy, where the quest for self-worth leaves many untouched by the intrinsic value of human connections, ‘Everyday Ubuntu: The African art of living better, together’ by Nompumelelo Mungi Ngomane reintroduces the age-old South African philosophy of Ubuntu. This primer focuses on enlightening readers about the importance of humanity’s interconnectedness and advocates a profound shift in mindset from a self-centered, competition-driven outlook to one that cherishes positive human contributions. By embracing each other’s perspectives, nurturing hope, practicing deep listening, and valuing diversity, Ubuntu serves as an antidote to the detachment fostered by modern life, fostering meaningful connections and nurturing our inherent wisdom.

Embracing Ubuntu for Belonging

Modern technology, while granting us incredible connectivity, has made us lonelier than ever. By adopting the South African philosophy of Ubuntu, which emphasizes interconnectedness and respect for others, we can create a sense of belonging and shift our focus from competition to valuing the contributions of others in our lives.

In today’s digital age, we have access to endless information and can connect with individuals worldwide. However, this same technology often leads us to focus on ourselves and seek validation through likes and retweets, leaving us feeling more isolated than ever before. To find true belonging, we must acknowledge our interconnectedness with others.

Ubuntu is a philosophy hailing from South Africa that teaches the profound interconnectedness of all human beings. Built on respect, it encourages us to direct our attention outward, recognizing the humanity in others. By doing so, our behavior changes, making it difficult to mistreat others when we truly acknowledge their intrinsic worth. This perspective guides us to respect everyone we encounter, from close partners to the mail carriers we interact with briefly.

In contrast, Western thinking often encourages competition, with social media feeds showcasing what we supposedly lack to be happy. This mindset leads us to constantly compare our lives to others, cultivating discontent. Ubuntu prompts us to instead appreciate the contributions others make to our lives, whether minor or significant. By focusing on what someone else adds to our life, we abandon competitive thinking and foster gratitude for our connections to those around us, ultimately offering us comfort through a sense of belonging.

Building connections with others is easier than it may seem. A simple starting point is looking people in the eyes when interacting with them, such as during grocery store visits or picking up dry cleaning. This brief, genuine connection allows us to engage meaningfully with others, acknowledging their role in our lives.

Embracing Opposing Perspectives

Ubuntu philosophy invites us to understand and empathize with people even if their actions are rooted in beliefs or systems that we strongly disagree with. By exploring their perspectives, we discover shared humanity, and this understanding can lead to resolutions and peaceful coexistence. As we comprehend the circumstances influencing others’ behavior, we can find tranquility and better engage with those who hold opposing views.

Imagine being a black woman in Johannesburg during apartheid, witnessing poverty and violence in black townships while white communities enjoy prosperity. It would be easy to harbor hatred towards white people, but the Ubuntu philosophy challenges us to put ourselves in their shoes and consider their perspective.

This approach was embraced by Mungi Ngomane’s mother, who pondered how she might act if raised with a belief in white supremacy. She realized that many people simply accept the circumstances that benefit them, and so white South Africans could be seen as individuals capitalizing on their situation, rather than inherently evil people. This allowed her to be less judgmental and better comprehend why someone might behave in a harmful manner.

When faced with a suspicion that her housemate had stolen valuable jewelry, Ngomane applied her mother’s wisdom. Instead of angrily accusing the suspected thief, she called for a house meeting. The housemate confessed and revealed her struggles with mental health disorders. By understanding the housemate’s circumstances, the group became supportive and compassionate, helping her through difficult times.

Embracing someone else’s perspective allows us to recognize how they arrived at their beliefs or actions, even if we disagree with them. This restores their humanity in our eyes, moving beyond simplistic labels like “cruel, white people” or “the thief.” Such an approach fosters greater tranquility, as we perceive that others’ actions are often driven by their unique set of circumstances, rather than being solely about us. The practice of Ubuntu philosophy calls for empathy and understanding, bridging divides, and encouraging peaceful coexistence.

Unleash Power of Respectful Connections

Archbishop Desmond Tutu experienced the life-changing power of a simple respectful gesture from a white priest in apartheid-era South Africa. This story underlines the transformative potential of respect and the principles of ubuntu. Practicing respect starts with self-care and extends to treating everyone with dignity, regardless of their background, beliefs, or position. Nelson Mandela’s respectful behavior and connection with his prison guard, Christo Brand, exemplifies this practice.

Growing up in a poor black township in Johannesburg, South Africa during apartheid, Desmond Tutu experienced racial discrimination firsthand. Yet, a brief encounter with a white priest, Trevor Huddleston, taught him the transformative power of respect. While walking with his mother, Tutu was astonished when Huddleston raised his hat to her – an act that revealed not all white people treated black individuals poorly. This moment of reverence spurred Tutu’s understanding that respecting others reconnects us with our humanity, illustrating the core essence of ubuntu.

Ubuntu is a philosophy centered around respect and interconnectedness. By respecting ourselves, we are more likely to respect others, and vice versa. This principle was exquisitely exemplified by Nelson Mandela during his time at Robben Island prison. Despite facing horrendous conditions and an opposing young pro-apartheid prison guard named Christo Brand, Mandela actively engaged with Brand and sought common ground, ultimately forming a friendship that helped change Brand’s views on apartheid. This connection proved so strong that Mandela even invited Brand to dinner celebrating his inauguration as president of South Africa, demonstrating the power of viewing others as intrinsically valuable and treating them with respect.

To begin practicing ubuntu, one must first prioritize self-care. Taking care of ourselves allows us to be in a better position to support others. This entails mindful habits, such as eating well, exercising, staying connected with loved ones, and addressing our mental health needs. Sometimes, asserting respectful boundaries may be necessary, such as taking proper lunch breaks at work.

The next step is to show respect to everyone, no matter who they are. Be mindful of how you perceive and communicate about others, avoiding the temptation to reduce people to stereotypes. Respectful language should be dignified and open-minded, acknowledging each person’s worth and humanity. By doing so, we foster not only our own well-being but also contribute to building a more inclusive society.

As witnessed in the lives of Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela, even the smallest acts of respect can have far-reaching consequences. Begin your journey of practicing ubuntu with self-care and extending respect to others, and watch the ripple effect unfold as connections and hopes for a better future flourish.

Power of Hope in Life

Embracing hope as a state of being allows us to withstand life’s challenges and bounce back. Unlike optimism, hope is a mindset we can actively choose, even during tough times. By practicing gratitude and self-care while shifting negative thoughts to positive ones, we can adopt a hopeful attitude that not only fosters resilience but also helps us build a brighter future.

Hope is more than just a casually used term; it has a profound impact on how we navigate our lives. While hope and optimism might seem interchangeable, there is a significant distinction: optimistically expecting favorable outcomes can easily turn into pessimism if things go awry, whereas hope is a more robust, unwavering mindset.

By consciously choosing hope, we place our faith in not only our abilities but also the world and people around us. This unwavering attitude ensures that even when life throws us curveballs, we refuse to give up. Hope is, without a doubt, more influential and steadfast than optimism.

Life’s journey is not always a smooth sail, as even the most privileged individuals face obstacles. However, adopting a hopeful attitude cultivates resilience, enabling us to work through these challenges. Dr. Valerie Maholmes’ study demonstrates how children living in poverty can flourish in adulthood by maintaining a hopeful outlook. These youngsters overcame poor health, limited resources, and the risk of joining gangs, ultimately securing a decent education and stable employment. Hope allowed them to withstand their trying circumstances, leading to a better future.

To integrate hope into your life, start by acknowledging and countering negative thoughts with positive affirmations, such as replacing “It’s pointless” with “It’s possible.” Writing a gratitude list daily and prioritizing self-care can also foster a hopeful mindset. Prioritizing your well-being will naturally make you feel more positive and adopt a hope-driven attitude—an attitude that can be the key to weathering life’s storms and achieving success.

Embracing Forgiveness Through Ubuntu

Pain and hurt are unavoidable aspects of life, and sometimes forgiving those who’ve wronged us seems impossible. But through acknowledging the humanity of our perpetrators, we not only come closer to forgiving them but also gain emotional healing. Becoming aware that everyone has their unique circumstances and background allows us to consider their motives and foster empathy. Realize that forgiveness is an ongoing process, requiring persistence and patience, but ultimately leading to a lighter and connected existence.

As we navigate our lives, we will inevitably encounter instances where others cause us physical, mental, or emotional harm. In such situations, forgiveness may be difficult to embrace, and holding onto the hurt can continually inflict pain. The key to moving forward lies in acknowledging the humanity of the person who wronged us – a concept known as ubuntu.

Ubuntu encourages us to realize that every individual contains complexities and flaws, just like ourselves. By considering how the person who has hurt us might think and feel, we can gradually understand how their actions were shaped by their unique circumstances.

Ingrid von Stein’s story serves as a powerful example of ubuntu in action. Despite being brutally attacked by four men in the mid-1980s, Ingrid found no peace after their imprisonment. Only after meeting with one of the men a decade later, encouraged by Archbishop Tutu, did Ingrid uncover his troubled background of poverty and abuse – a life that reflected her own. Recognizing their shared humanity, she felt compassion for the man and began her journey of forgiveness.

Forgiving others is not a one-time action, but rather an ongoing process of self-love that enables emotional healing. For deep-seated wounds, you may need to recommit to forgiveness multiple times, requiring both perseverance and patience. Ultimately, engaging in this journey will lead to a lighter, less burdened existence, fostering a sense of connectedness with others. By embracing ubuntu and understanding the human complexity behind each person’s actions, we can overcome pain and foster a deeper sense of empathy and forgiveness.

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