Vote Ubuntu: The We Way Of Being

“I am because you are.”

…from Africa, a word meaning one-another-ness, interconnectedness, joined-in-the-common-good-ness, and profound commitment to the well-being of all.

“Ubuntu ngumtu ngabanye abantu” (“A person is a person through other people”)

“I want you to be all you can be so that I can be all that I can be. I need you to be you so that I can be me.”

Does the party for which you will vote tomorrow exhibit Ubuntu? Does either of them? Will your slate of candidates look out for the common good or be focused on wielding power to insure the opposite: the preservation of individual power, rights, property, and entitlement?

After the election, exactly half of the US population is going to be grievously dissatisfied with the outcome. Will we continue to self-destruct or can we negotiate across the aisle with an genuine attitude of Ubuntu? Don’t we owe this to our children’s children? Should they forgive us if we fail?

The South African Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu describes Ubuntu this way:

“It is the essence of being human. It speaks of the fact that my humanity is caught up and is inextricably bound up in yours. I am human because I belong. It speaks about wholeness, it speaks about compassion. A person with Ubuntu is welcoming, hospitable, warm and generous, willing to share.

Such people are open and available to others, willing to be vulnerable, affirming of others, do not feel threatened that others are able and good, for they have a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that they belong in a greater whole.

They know that they are diminished when others are humiliated, diminished when others are oppressed, diminished when others are treated as if they were less than who they are. The quality of Ubuntu gives people resilience, enabling them to survive and emerge still human despite all efforts to dehumanize them.”


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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. COD… I assure you I understand and agree. Isn’t that sad? This time four years ago I felt confident that for the first time perhaps in my life, I was not throwing my vote away, not voting against but voting emphatically for something and someone. This year, I will have to be consoled by the fact that Anthony Flaccavento is a man of character running for office (9th Congressional) that I can stand totally behind. This will be one vote I will cast tomorrow and feel good about, although Anthony has an uphill battle against Big Money/Coal/Oil.

  2. Boy, I would say our American culture is at the opposite end of the spectrum from this description of the ideal in African culture.

  3. I’m glad the football game is over. The wolves have once again shepherded the sheep to the corral they want them in. Read FDR’s famous first inaugural speech. “…[T]he only thing we have to fear is fear itself–nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance..

    Thanks for the history of “ubuntu” – I had no idea what it meant. You must know that it is the name of a Linux distribution, right?