Philosophy of Ubuntu

Ubuntu: “I am because we are.”

This image of children often appears in internet postings associated with ubuntu, but captures the essence of what ubuntu is. (source: uncredited/unknown.)

This image of children often appears in internet postings associated with ubuntu, but captures what ubuntu is. (source: uncredited/unknown.)

Ubuntu described beautifully in several blogs by the following story:

A researcher placed a basket of fruit by a tree, then challenged a bunch of children to race to the tree, the winner would win the basket of fruit.  The children responded by holding hands then running to the tree together where they sat down and shared out the fruit.  The researcher asked the children why they had done this as the winner could have taken the fruit for themselves as the winner of the race, the children responded, “UBUNTU, how can one of us be happy if all the others are sad?”

Ubuntu means in the Xhosa tribal culture “I am because we are.”  The Xhosa are a tribal culture in the south-east of South Africa who include famous members such as Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu.  Ubuntu places otherness above the individual, thus they say:

“I am happy, because you are happy. “

Contrast this statement with the outlook of cultures such as the UK and the USA:

“X is happy even if Y is unhappy.”


“X is happy after exploiting Y, leaving Y unhappy.”

Ubuntu is a philosophy worth knowing about as it is an ideal of community.  I support the belief that community is the basic building block of civilisation, if the global system collapses, as longs as the community is strong, the members of the community stand a higher chance of surviving any crisis.  Ubuntu is the foundation stone of a strong community.  There is also an argument that ubuntu transcends all human boundaries, though I am unsure if this is merely wishful thinking on the part of those outside of the Xhosa culture.

Although the ubuntu philosophy is beautiful I am a realist, since I live in a Western-modern paradigm that places value on individuality that exploits fellow human beings and nature for its own gain.  If I was to practice ubuntu, every parasite in my community would exploit, abuse and misuse me.

I aspire to ubuntu, but I have strict boundaries, and a gateway policy as to who I work with, which prevents parasites exploiting me.  One boundary is the trade contract, each side brings something of benefit to the table, and everyone leaves the table a winner.

In an ideal ubuntu culture everyone trusts each other.  The modern culture of the UK and USA encourages exploitation for personal gain, mistrust, spying on each other and every type of parasitic behavior imaginable, which requires a certain misanthropic reality check to survive being destroyed by it.  For humanity to survive they must adopt ubuntu otherwise humanity must go extinct.


42 responses to “Philosophy of Ubuntu

  1. I have posted this story before, it’s a great example of how the entire human race should be.


  2. Absolutely loved this post.

  3. Reblogged this on Dreamer9177's Blog and commented:
    Awesome post!

  4. You are right in what you say Alex. Thinking of it, I guess you are extending the philosophy to this “I am because we are. And you are because I am.”

  5. Reblogged this on ELANA – The Voice of the Future and commented:
    BEAUTIFUL! Thanks! (。◕‿◕。)

  6. Someday…what a beautiful thing to aspire to.

  7. Reblogged this on Spirit In Action and commented:
    I think it is possible to practice ubuntu while maintaining self protection in parasitic colonized culture. We can do our best to be mutual, supportive and caring while recognizing that some are not yet decolonized enough to be reciprocal with us. The upside being that many others are and with them we are building that ubuntu based world around and in between the monetized, atomized cultures. Love always wins in the end;-)

  8. I once worked in a fairtrade place which sold a cola called Ubuntu 🙂

  9. The community IS the building blocks Alex, and we need to nurture our families who make up our communities…. Community spirit is so lacking and if we all took up these wonderful principles of the Ubuntu then what a transformation of a world we would see…

    All we can do is keep chipping away… one pebble at a time, One thought passed on… Lets hope Alex that there are many like minded people who can help change our world… It all starts with Self!…

    Great post and loved that photo

  10. If only the western societies could embrace this. I see this all the time in my grandchildren. They share and want everyone to be happy. In running the one in the lead will stop to let the other catch up, if they have something to eat they will share it with the others, even adults. I am constantly amazed to see the empathy they have for others, but find I am saddened by the thought that they will grow up and forget these simple pleasures.

  11. Pingback: Friday Faves, August 23rd | Living Simply Free

  12. This is fantastic, no competitions and all are happy. If we could only teahc that in our Nurseries… to the children and the parents.

  13. Reblogged this on Archaic Sugar and commented:
    I wish I HAD WRITTEN THIS. A wonderful post that expresses a strong belief of mine, while sharing the best lesson ever from a native culture.
    (Thank-you Alex.)

  14. I’d never heard of Ubuntu before. It’s a lovely philosophy and although extremely difficult to practice in western society, if we did, we’d all be better off. Reminds me of ML King’s philosophy, peaceful resistance to the worse in human nature–none of us are free until we are all free, etc.

  15. I had a strange experience on Sunday where I was out picking blackberries with my son.
    I was about to pick a nice group of berries from behind a spider web, when I remembered Ubuntu, and simultaneously had the thought of ‘why should the spider’s work be undone when I can simply pick from another area?’
    After that I realised that Ubuntu goes further than your immediate community; or one could say that your immediate community goes further human community…
    Stealing from above… ” Ubuntu, how can one be happy if another within the extended ecological community is not?”
    We would do well to think beyond our own species.

  16. It’s a wonderful story, kids can be very trusting of one another. It is their utopian world. Unfortunately as much as we all would like to see this happen there is a reality, and reality paints a very different picture.If I was a painter, I’d only paint beautiful pictures and spread this message. But alas I’m just a blogger looking through my rose colored glasses into a world filled with hate, greed, and sorrow. I know only one who can change this and he no longer resides here on earth.

    • Humanity inhabits its own sickness, ideas like Ubuntu offers a reminder, an opportunity to rise above this sickness. In nature there is a beautiful picture to paint, only amongst humanity do pictures become ugly.

  17. Pingback: Ubuntu and animals | The Liberated Way

  18. Yes we can.And thanks for reminding me to do more good,especially when it costs so little or nothing.

  19. “If I was to practice ubuntu, every parasite in my community would exploit, abuse and misuse me.”

    I have been directly confronted with this reality myself. so I will not be playing with words here, for the sake of indulging in inane sophistry.

    The question is this:

    Who wants really to abuse and misuse you?

    Let´s take a look:

    Who is the parasite?…
    WHAT turns him into a parasite? Why is he obsessively reinforcing this behaviour?
    Is he the torturer or the victim? Or both…?

    You say: “I aspire to ubuntu, but I have strict boundaries.”

    Isnt it so? Everyone who aspires has strict boundaries.

    If you aspire to ubuntu, – in fact, to anything – you create a distance between you and that very “ideal”. You aspire, it means you are not there; as long as you act according to an agenda, you have to defend this “aspiring” CREATING STRICT BOUNDARIES.

    Can you see the inherent conflict? Defending yourself from whoever, creates abd enhances conflict, as you defend your ideal, your right to become something.
    You are defending an imaginary virtue – YOUR IDEA. In this case, your idea of Ubuntu.

    Conflict is created by the Ideal itself. Our so-called virtue, our very aspiring is the Parasite we are not willing to acknowledge.
    Where there is conflict, becoming and aspiring, inherently we will find this awful Parasite…It is within you, within us all…

    Where there is Ideal, there is aspiration, separation, there is struggling, there is parasitism.

    We just don´t know this, but Love happens now, it goes nowhere, it does never need to become anything, it deson´t aspire…Love does not need an agenda as where there is Love, everything is enacted naturally.

    Where there is Love, there is Ubuntu.

    • @ julienmatei:
      Thanks for your comment and questions. An internet malfunction caused me to lose my longer reply, so I will be briefer this time.

      Ubuntu belongs to animistic cultures, specifically to certain tribes of peoples in South Africa. The Western Culture has all but killed off animism, and thus we are trying to fit in an ideal in a totally alien paradigm.

      Western Culture encourages, even forces everybody to be parasitic, thus the individual for their own prosperity needs to take precautions against this sickness. Ubuntu is an ideal which works well in South Africa, which is built around it, but in the West we must adapt the idea to the circumstances we work with.

      Love is a topic in its own right, which means different things to different people.

      • Very well put:
        Western Culture encourages, even forces everybody to be parasitic.
        So it is:
        Everybody – you and me – has contributed to this general state of things. We are all part of this sickness, and once we are aware of it, we can heal.

        Once you heal, there is no need to defend yourself against anything.

        Now, this Wersten Culture has got totally stuck in concepts and ideas about anything, especially about Love…

        Love is beyond all systems, and our ideas about it are simply relativistic whimsical affectations, as long as we don´t have an un-mediated contact with It.

        So the Love which means different things to different people is not love…Love is beyond subjectiveness, it cannot be a topic as it is behind all topics.

        Indeed, who is ready to get stripped ov all thoughts, ideas and paradigms in order to find out what Love is about…?

      • Thanks for your insights, julienmatei.

      • Most welcome. I thank you too.

        We are here to back up each other.

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