There are temples in Kerala where you can spot a banyan tree (“aal”) intertwined with a mango tree (“maav”). This beautiful symbiosis gives a subtle meaning to the word “aatmaav” or soul. The reason I found this relevant today was something that I read on how parts of Africa have a concept called “ubuntu”. Frankly, if it weren’t for Clinton there’s only a slight chance I would have heard of it.
The varied set of responses to a BBC article reflect how powerful and yet, complex a word unbuntu is:
Ubuntu is at the heart of the South African truth and reconciliation process. The term Ubuntu, according to Tutu, has perhaps its equivalent in Western world: “I think therefore I am.” The Ubuntu version of this same concept would be translated as “I am human because I belong. I participate, I share.” Ubuntu embraces the worst in the other with the awareness that I would have done the same evil if I were in their shoes. It comes from the grim realisation that in as much as people are capable of doing good, there is always a danger of an evil force that works at various levels possessing people and making them do things that they would not normally do.
Dawit Yehualashet, Ethiopian in Goshen, IN, USA
The essence and depth of ‘ubuntu’ as a concept lies in the age-long African philosophy and practice of communalism and shared objectives. You are your neighbours’ keeper…We are all extricably linked and if you buy into the philosophy of ubuntu then I have your back and you have mine. I am because you are – togetherness is it.
Lawrence Mba, Toronto, Canada
It is refreshing to see a Western leader talk about this concept because many people perceive there to be a clash between Western and non-Western cultures on the question of how to build a society. Do you base it on the concept of the individual where you encourage competition to elicit the best qualities in us? Or do you base it on the concept of the community where you encourage cooperation which may at times, require personal sacrifice for the good of all?