The word is “Ubuntu” and it is from the Bhantu language group of southern Africa. It is an important word and one that now literally “means the world to me” for it embodies in its three syllables: my personal worldview; my passion for organizing the ‘Big I’ movement of Interfaith-Interspirituality-Integral spirituality-Spiritually Independent as a living demonstration of inclusivity; and the economic changes that are embodied by the Occupy movement that I support.
“Ubuntu” talks about how life is lived “connected.” Desmond Tutu explained Ubuntu in 2008 when he said: “One of the sayings in our country is Ubuntu –the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality — Ubuntu — you are known for your generosity. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole World. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.” In Ubuntu, the “individualism” of Western thought is diminished for it is subordinated to the needs of the greater human community. In the words of integral thinking, Ubuntu is the essence of the whole Lower Left quadrant of the Four Quadrant Model (Ken Wilber’s AQAL integral theory). It is that place that defines the part of ourselves that is known as “WE.” Ubuntu is living the life of personal sacrifice for the greater good of the community—my reason for being a military officer. Ubuntu moves me to donate a greater-than-average share of my resources to causes that improve the world than most others. Ubuntu makes my life worth living.
I believe that the spiritual community of the Big I needs to pay attention and learn from the philosophy of Ubuntu. The goals of the movement are to serve people of all faiths and those with no faith as bridge builders, facilitators, spiritual guides and community leaders. If ever there was a population that could live the philosophy of connectedness, of Ubuntu, it should be the ordained interfaith and interspiritual ministers. But will they demonstrate this? The Individualism of Western thought is rampant here in this population, too. The future will hold the key.
Ubuntu is the single word, I believe, that defines the economic goals of the Occupy Movement around the world. It is the opposite of Social Darwinism. To live life connected is to share resources for everyone’s benefit. I was surprised to find that a U.S. Republican President best described the need for an Ubuntu philosophy when it comes to the economic and political principles that best serve the country. In a speech in 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt said, “It is all-essential to the continuance of our healthy national life that we should recognize this community of interest among our people. The welfare of each of us is dependent fundamentally upon the welfare of all of us, and therefore in public life that man is the best representative of each of us who seeks to do good to each by doing good to all; in other words, whose endeavor it is not to represent any special class and promote merely that class’s selfish interests, but to represent all true and honest men of all sections and all classes and to work for their interests by working for our common country.” With Ubuntu there is no class warfare. With Ubuntu there is no poverty that isn’t dealt with by the whole community at large. Ubuntu would seek to erase the disparity in third-world countries for it extends beyond the borders of political entities to include all of humanity. Ubuntu could be a key to a sustained peace in the world.
Ubuntu is an African philosophy with global implications. It ties each of us to the common good for all others in the world. We are connected and must make decisions that impact us all. With its potential for a lasting and just peace in the world it is a philosophy we cannot ignore. The Big I of inclusive theology, spirituality and consciousness should teach this philosophy as part of its mission to build a better future for us all.