Former Navy SEAL commander Rorke Denver described the best lesson he had learned from a master chief in the Navy – that when you’re a leader, at a minimum everyone is going to mimic you. So simply: “Calm is contagious.”
Staying calm even everyone around you is losing their composure and running around like headless chickens, means that you can stay detached enough from the situation that you can still think clearly and objectively.
But, as a byproduct it keeps everyone else a little calmer too. Nelson Mandela was once on a flight where he noticed that one of the plane’s propellers had stopped working. He notified a friend on the plane, who then relayed the message to the pilot. The pilot already knew about it and had already called the airport to make an emergency landing. And while the friend feared for his life, Mandela was just seen reading his newspaper, just like he had been before he noticed the engine fault. When the plane made the emergency landing and Mandela was on the tarmac, he leaned over to his friend, “Man, I was scared up there.” Mandela was just as frightened as his friend, but he showed the courage to stay calm. If he had displayed his fear and panic, he would have likely made everyone around him panic even more.
In life there will be times when you are a role model to others – whether to a younger sibling, friend, new hires at work, to your child, to your community. And so, it’s not only calm that is contagious. Compassion is contagious. Kindness is contagious. Joy is contagious. On the other hand, anger is contagious. Envy is contagious. Deception is contagious. However you act, there will be someone out there that will use that as a template for their own life. So act accordingly.
Ubuntu is an African philosophy made famous by leaders such as Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The word literally means humanity, and is often translated into “I am because we are”, or “humanity towards others”. There’s also a popular maxim in Ubuntu: “A person is a person through other people”.
The philosophy teaches the interconnectedness of humanity, and that it is for your benefit to help others. It’s a philosophy that fosters community, compassion and kindness.
In the Western world, we are keen to describe ourselves as self-made, or use the term to describe someone positively. But in reality there is no such thing. In the modern world, we can easily lose a sense of the fact that we are being helped all the time. If we go to the store, we are using money that somebody gave us, to buy food someone grew, made and packaged, using a car that somebody manufactured and taught us to drive, on roads somebody else built, stopping at traffic lights that somebody invented.
The growth of the population and the globalization of the culture makes it much more difficult to remember these things that we can be grateful for, based on other people’s actions. As Warren Buffett said, “Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.”
Ubuntu simply describes that we can’t speak without learning it from others, walk without learning it from others, or even think without learning to think from another human being. We learn how to be a human being through other human beings. Archbishop Desmond Tutu said in The Book of Joy: “After all, none of us came into the world on our own. We needed two people to bring us into the world.”
And that’s why there’s no such thing as self-made. I am because we are. Ubuntu.