Ubuntu Revisited

Ubuntu Revisited

Cambodia was our first stop in our Ubuntu journey. Our experiences here have thrown us with full force into this project. The last two weeks have had us questioning what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, whether we have the ability to pull off even a fraction of what we’ve set out to achieve, and whether we even still feel connected and inspired by the philosophy. I guess that’s a pretty good outcome for our first country. 

In the process of questioning EVERYTHING to do with this project, I thankfully was sent this Ted Talk http://www.ted.com/talks/boyd_varty_what_i_learned_from_nelson_mandela.html, from a couple of beautiful women . Thankfully, this has allowed me to become re-connected with Ubuntu and why we’re doing what we’re doing. 

So… a reminder (to myself more than anything) of the meaning of this philosophy; Ubuntu. Ubuntu is about the fact that we, as human beings, are all connected, we all impact each other. We may think we’re not important enough for that to happen, but we are. And we’re part of this massive global web of influences. If you think about what you’re doing right now at this moment, as you read this blog…, there have been thousands if not millions of people who’s actions have contributed to you being where you are. When we realize this, we are more likely to respect that connection and the influence we have on each other. 

How? Through a sense of personal responsibility- if we are all so connected, then our action influence the people and the world around us. Therefore, who we are and what we do, matters. What happens when we smile at a stranger? We receive a smile back and we feel good. What happens when we choose fair trade coffee over regular coffee? We’re supporting a market that values and supports its workers. The Dalai Lama extends this connection to all living things. He states, “without other sentient beings, one cannot have woolen clothes, since one cannot have wool without sheep.” 

What else happens when we respect our interconnectedness? We have greater appreciation for the influence others have had on our existence. Again, the Dalai Lama encourages us to realize that human beings are “precious and useful. As soon as we realize the beauty and complexity of our interconnectedness our negative attitude towards others fades and we feel a closer bond with humanity. 

This is what I’ve noticed is lacking. I feel we’ve lost our connection and appreciation of others. The world has become too fragmented. We may be more connected than we’ve ever been through online mediums, but not personally. And when we lose that personal connection, it’s easier to be close-minded, to turn our back on those who may need our support, who may be directly affected by our ignorance, our apathy our lack of commitment to a fair and humane world. It is easier for us to de-humanise each other. 

I realize I may be sounding quite cynical and not my usual optimistic self. I am extremely aware and appreciative of the goodness that exists in the world. The moments of kindness and forgiveness, the inner beauty and strength that exists within all human beings. What I’m focusing on here is the fact that there is still so much anger, hatred, greed, corruption that is tainting so many people’s lives and making it difficult for goodness and kindness to be the norm.

This has surprisingly been highlighted to me in numerous ways on this Ubuntu journey.  My blind optimism led me to believe that I was going to be constantly inspired by the beauty of the human spirit. It’s actually been the darker side of human beings, which has inspired me to do this project even more.

A Question on Humanity

Firstly, I’ll start with my own personal experiences. Three days ago, my backpack was snatched from a moving Tuk Tuk by a passing motorbike driver. As soon as it happened, I knew there was no way I was getting it back. What upset Tom and I most was the ease with which someone could come and just take our personal belongings away; belongings which meant so much to us and so little to him- what use did he have for my photos, music, thoughts, deodorant? It really felt like a personal attack. 

The experience occurred right in the middle of us having a discussion about the bad vibe we were getting from Phnom Penh. We’d gradually been feeling more and more de-humanised by the constant onslaught of people wanting to use us or take advantage of us in some way; “You want a Tuk Tuk, lady?” not stated as a question, more as an aggressive demand, “Massage, sir?”, subtly alluding to the believe that all western men come to Asia for one thing.  Even after I had my bag snatched, in tears and feeling quite saddened and in need of some human compassion, a Tuk Tuk driver stated that, yes, he did know the way to the police station and would take us. When I stated, quite helplessly, that I had no money because everything had been stolen, he just gave me a smile and a look that said, “Silly, naïve woman” and drove off.

A day later, I was faced with the reality of the Khmer Rouge regime and was struck with utter disbelief and sadness. Tom and I visited two places where millions of Khmer people were tortured and killed during the ugly rule ofPol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. This really got me questioning the human psyche and the psyche behind people who would treat members of their own country, their own human race in such barbaric, inhumane and sickening ways. This is something that I still want to understand further, because, I just can’t understand how this can happen, but how we let it happen. Does it come back to connection? There’s obviously got to be something that influences and allows people to act in this way?

So, how do we deal with this reality? Something I read, when I was doing some research for this project, was that when we can relate to or feel a common connection to another human being, we are less likely to cause harm to them and are more likely to go to their aid. Why? Because we understand their position? We can empathise with them, we can see ourselves in that same position and think about how we would feel, what we would need. Therefore we are more likely to respond to that person with more compassion and care. 

I guess this is what we are trying to do with The Ubuntu Project; share stories from people from different cultures, backgrounds and life experiences. The purpose is for you, the audience to feel more personally connected to people you may not typically come into contact with. 

The bigger impact?  Greater empathy, care and compassion. Maybe less people will turn a blind eye to the violence, corruption, greed, hatred and the injustice that is still rife in our world today. Maybe we will have greater appreciation for the influence other humans have had on our lives and the greater responsibility for the influence we can have on theirs.