While visiting an Xhosa tribe in south-eastern Africa and studying its children, an American anthropologist placed a basket full of local fruits near the bottom of a tree. He explained to the children, as he walked away from the tree, that whichever child was able to reach the basket first would win the entire lot of fruit.
The anthropologist then instructed the children to line up, in preparation for their race. The words “Ready, set, GO!” barely crossed his lips before the children took off toward the tree. To his surprise, however, the children were not running separately. Instead, they had grabbed one another’s hands and ran in unison toward their goal. Upon reaching the fruits, the children each helped themselves, and sat together in a circle enjoying their treats.
The anthropologist asked the children why they had run as they did, when one child could have had all the fruits to himself. The children simply replied, “Ubuntu.” “How can one of us be happy if the others are sad?” they asked the anthropologist.
Ubunto in the Xhosa culture, the anthropologist learned, means “I am because we are”.
…I have come across this message a handful of times recently, and each time, its beauty brings a smile to my heart. I love the idea of a such a cohesive group of children. I love their sense of unity and together. And I love that they were able to teach the anthropologist something about “Ubunto” that day.
I also love this message because I think it serves as a beautiful reminder to everyone that we really are all in this thing called life together. It reminds us that no man is an island. That both our differences and our similarities are to be celebrated and embraced, and that we can be for one another and for ourselves at the very same time.
Today, I would like to encourage you to incorporate the Xhosa word “Ubunto” into your lives. As you make your way through the world today, notice the people that you are surrounded by. As you become aware of the similarities and the differences among us, embrace and celebrate them, rather than making a judgment or an appraisal. Ask yourself, “How can one of us be happy if the others are sad?” and then consider what small acts you can do for strangers and loved ones alike in the name of “Ubunto”. And, finally, as you consider how you fit into this world with the people around you, reflect on the lesson you personally have to learn from the Xhosa children, their approach to togetherness, and their belief that “I am because we are”.