In order to make nonviolent institutions possible, they have to be built on a solid cultural foundation that embodies respect and even reverence for the human experience. Not a reverence with our mouths only, but a deep awareness of our true dignity and relationship to all of life. We need to lift up the best parts of ourselves and let them guide us. So, being human: Does that mean being a consumer, destined to war at all levels, an automaton in front of a screen, “entertaining ourselves to death”? Or can we find and agree on a more inspiring, more realistic conception?
The Nguni Bantu linguistic family, in the region of South Africa, has a very workable term for this concept: ubuntu (sounds like “oo-boon-too”). It’s literal translation is most closely related to terms such as “human-ness” and “human-kindness,” though as it has become popularized, mainly by South African peacemaker Desmond Tutu, it has come to mean that we only express our humanness through other human beings, or in short, “I am because you are.” My dignity comes from the dignity of others, and my recognition of their dignity. My well-being is caught up in the web of life all around me. Conversely, when I dehumanize another, I dehumanize myself. By my very nature of being human, I cannot escape this interconnection. I can only learn how to recognize it faster, at ever-deepening levels, and harness it to guide me into “right action” to use a Buddhist term. But is that recognition, whether on an individual or massive scale, not one of the greatest victories possible for us?
Reflect on the concept of ubuntu and find one way to express it consciously in your actions today.
The Metta Center for Nonviolence, PO Box 98, Petaluma, California 94953 707-774-6299 firstname.lastname@example.org