By Jennifer 8. Lee | December 27, 2007
A South African friend made this for me for Christmas to introduce me to the humanist concept of ubuntu — which is one of those concepts that can’t be easily expressed in English (and maybe even in the Western world).
Ubuntu (which, yes, also happens to be the name of a Linux-based operating system) is something I am still trying to get my mind around. It is roughly defined as “I am because you are,” meaning that individuals need others to be fulfilled, or they live through others. Which is sort of a happy way of looking at the world.
Desmond Tutu once tried to explain it as such:
A person with ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.
Basically the idea is that you are happy when other people are happy, and you try to spread happiness, which jives with my way of looking at the world. This is why my friend made the map (and visited three stores in order to find the red stickyÂ “8.”)
It is a pan-Bantu word that has entered the political lexicon, especially in South Africa, where it is one of the founding principles of the republic. Bill Clinton has used it in a political speech a few years back. It is also the name of a free Linux-based operating system because it is trying to bring the ubuntu philosophy to technology, trying to spread and bring the benefits of software to all parts of the world. Mark Shuttleworth, South Africa’s Internet entrepreneur, is spearheading the effort.
Some usage points I honed in on. It’s apparently a noun, not an adjective. So not, “she’s very ubuntu”, but instead: “she has ubuntu.” Also, it’s not a proper noun, so not capitalized, despite my urge to.
Anyway, this is why I love foreign languages/cultures, because they allow you to expand your mind by seeing how other cultures see the world. (In Chinese for example, the word for borrow and lend is the same, (å€Ÿ, jie) let’s call it “lendborrow.” You use the prepositions to follow which direction it goes. I lendborrow to him. He lendborrows from me. It shows how Chinese may see lendborrowing as a reciprocal relationship. You may lend one day, but borrow another.
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