As someone who loves to travel my recent trip to Africa was one that ultimately changed me and opened my eyes on many levels. My journey pushed me to question the deeper fundamental truths of what defines our sense of community and the universal bond that ties each one of us to another. I was amazed by the deep connections of love, respect and openness that were shared between all members of the communities I visited, and that were extended to myself and my family.
During my travels, I was introduced to the notion of Ubuntu – I am because we are, a South African term which beautifully translates into what my family and I experienced first-hand while visiting the continent. Africa is defined by a fierce dichotomy. There is the stoic struggle to survive that exists alongside a fundamental philosophy of sharing and community. It is “the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity”.
This concept is beautifully captured in Amy Rees Anderson’s article which describes what happens when an anthropologist visits an aboriginal tribe in South Africa. He asks a group of children to play a game. A basket filled with fruit is placed by a tree and the children are instructed to partake in a race towards it. Ultimately the first to get to the basket will be entitled to everything in it. As the children line-up and the race begins, the children in unison grab hands and start running all together. No one is left behind and they all arrive at the finish together. Once at the tree, they sit in a large circle with the basket placed in the center, and the fruit is equally distributed amongst them. When the man asks them why no one wanted to win the race and keep the prize for themselves, the answer was simple: “Ubuntu, how can one of us be happy if all the others are sad?” It is a story of communion and kindness, a lesson in humility that leaves one to question what we are all doing as a community to better work together as a unified whole.
This notion of community that Ubuntu relays also translates into social media and direct marketing areas. In today’s world, bleak headlines are laden with debates over gun laws, the continued casualties of war, the slow decay of our oceans and ecosystems and the greater and greater momentum of the #metoo and #timesup movement. People are searching for a sense of purpose and turning to causes which speak to them. Ubuntu becomes a world view underlining the empowering potential of a community led by the force of strong social media campaigns and direct marketing initiatives used to rally people’s values. Communities are finding a voice and coming together to speak out against beliefs and injustices that are harming society as a whole.
I leave you with the words of Nelson Mandela: “Ubuntu does not mean that people should not address themselves. The question therefore is, are you going to do so in order to enable the community around you to be able to improve? These are the important things in life and if one can do that you have done something very important which will be appreciated.”