While visiting South Africa a few years ago, I learned about the ethical concept Ubuntu: “a person is a person through other persons”. I reflect on this idea when listening to modern-day feelings of loneliness and isolation. Social media and excessive screen time keep us involved in solo activities. Creating a loss of true communal connection. A group chat or having Facebook friends is not quite the same experience as having a real sense of belonging. Retaining a curated-self has left many feeling emotionally distant while in constant connection.
How to find our We?
His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu share candid conversations, exchanges of ideas, experiences and perspectives in The Book of Joy. Lasting Happiness in a Changing World. The concept of Ubuntu is a recurring touch point throughout their conversations on the obstacles and pillars of cultivating joy. In discussing modern-day loneliness and alienation, the Dali Lama and the Archbishop’s commentary weave the common thread that human connection is the foundational source of joy. They both affirm the importance of connectedness and interdependence.
You are community.
You are not an island.
The idea of Ubuntu was further explained to me through the thoughts of philosopher Augustine Shutte: “The truth of Ubuntu is that we become ourselves by belonging to community”. The Archbishop Tutu underscores this understanding as he shares a familiar African village greeting: “How are We?”. In this way, it is seen that someone else’s achievements or happiness are also our own. As the Ubuntu followers say: “We are who we are through another”, making the belief in Ubuntu even more fundamental for people who want to live in joy.