Ubuntu – I am because you are

This was originally shared in my newsletter that I send out bi-weekly on what I’m learning and writing about in the topics of mindfulness, relationships, and technology.
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Over this past year, I’ve been on an advisory board for the Namchak Foundation. They are a Buddhist organization focused on sharing the oldest forms of Tibetan Buddhist practice. Their goal is to make their teachings accessible to Westerners. 

I joined this board by accident. I had a meaningful experience at one of their weekend retreats in Oakland last year. I enjoyed it so much, I started to pester the event organizers to find out how I can get involved. A few months later, through a series of conversations which I later realized were interviews, I’m in a board meeting with people that have spoken to and trained in Buddhist practice with the Dalai Lama. 

These quarterly meetings have been a refreshing change of pace from work meetings that take up much of my time. I think that’s why they like me to join. I bring a bit of rigour, process, and prioritization that is sometimes hard to find with such peaceful human beings. It’s been a powerful experience to have a direct connection with these folks. 

This past weekend we had a weekend retreat. I was a bit hesitant about it. I mean, how impactful could a retreat through Zoom really be? I was pleasantly surprised. 

In the backdrop of a prolonged election, the foundation somehow brought in folks from all of the country. Like Jules who recently moved to Jackson City, Kansas to be closer to her boyfriend who is in a nearby military base. Or Wayne who moved from the Bay Area to Florida to live in her childhood home; a place she had yet to be since her mother passed away a year ago. Or Yvonne from New York whose passion about social work and racial equality left you in tears. In a time where we are politically divided, it was great to find connection with people all over the country.

The theme of the weekend was interconnectedness. It’s an important concept for us to grasp today. How can we rebuild in a country that is so divided? Where each side barely knows one another? Throughout the retreat, there were a few concepts that stood out to me. One of those was the concept of Ubuntu. 

Ubuntu: “I am because you are”

This is an African saying. Specifically from the  Zulu tribe in South Africa. Nelson Mandela put the concept of Ubuntu into the constitution after apartheid as a framework to create policies for the new liberated South African country. 

“A traveller through a country would stop at a village and she didn’t have to ask for food or for water. Once she stops, the people give her food and attend her. Ubuntu does not mean that people should not address yourself. Ubuntu means that you should help others in order to help yourself” – Nelson Mandela 

Ubuntu has started to make it’s ripples in the west. Elizabeth Bagley, who worked in Obama’s administration in the State Department outlined “Ubuntu Diplomacy” as the future of foreign relations. 

We are truly all in this together, and we will only succeed by building mutually beneficial partnerships among civil society, the private sector, and the public sector, in order to empower the men and women executing our foreign policy to advance their work through partnerships. The truth and reconciliation council believed in the philosophy of Ubuntu because they believed that Ubuntu was going to help to reform and reconnect the already broken country of South Africa. This is Ubuntu Diplomacy: where all sectors belong as partners, where we all participate as stakeholders, and where we all succeed together, not incrementally but exponentially- Elizabeth Bagley

The focus here is to remember we are all one. We are all interconnected. Because we are interconnected, we should be altruistic to help one another. If we’re helping others, we’re helping ourselves. From my own experience, altruism has been a tool to increase the probability of my own happiness. We are social creatures and are wired to help each other. Our neurological response gives us a positive jolt if we do good things for others. Why not lean into that? So remember, if you want happiness for yourself, for people close to you, and in society – think of Ubuntu. I am because you are.

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