What is ubuntu?



What is ubuntu?

The word, ubuntu, refers to our innate humanity with others. It has been roughly translated as "interconnectedness" and has been used for centuries in the countries of Africa and is even written into South African case law. Speaking of ubuntu, President Barak Obama said South African President Nelson Mandela's greatest gift was his recognition that "we are all bound together in ways that are invisible to the eye; that there is a oneness to humanity; that we achieve ourselves by sharing ourselves with others, and caring for those around us."


I am because we are.

Ubuntu is part of the African worldview of our nature, arising out of the Nguni group of languages. In Sotho languages in Africa it is called botho. In fact it exists in many non-dominant cultures around the world. This interconnectedness comes into play when we are resolving conflicts, choosing sides, and being a part of our community.


Meeting Archbishop Desmond Tutu

In 1996, civil rights attorney Eric Sirotkin, sat across from Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the chairman of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Eric was ready to turn on his tape recorder to get a message from this important bishop, but Tutu quietly put his hand over Eric's and spoke. "First . . . let’s say, hi." This was the beginning of understanding the essence of ubuntu for Eric, the founder of the Ubuntuworks Project and instructor at the Ubuntuworks School.


Board Member Fernanda Guerra Machado

"I find a lot of similarities between ubuntu—such as nonviolent communication—and the work I've been doing as a lawyer with conscious contracts," says Ubuntuworks Project board member Fernanda Guerra Machado. "Ubuntu teaches that 'I am because you are,' and so I can do things in my law practice that take care of my clients, the environment, and our society."

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