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.