Building Community — Ubuntu


How do I build community? How do I help make my community stronger, more resilient, more viable? How do we improve our ability to take care of each other, and become healthier, a better whole?

 

In South Africa, there is a concept of Ubuntu.

 

“I am what I am because of who we all are”

 

“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.”

Desmond Tutu

 

 

“Ubuntu is a philosophy that considers the success of the group above that of the individual.” Stephen Lundin- Ubuntu!

 

The word ‘ubuntu’ originates from one of the Bantu dialects of Africa, and is pronounced as uu-Boon-too. It is a traditional African philosophy that offers us an understanding of ourselves in relation with the world. According to Ubuntu, there exists a common bond between us all and it is through this bond, through our interaction with our fellow human beings, that we discover our own human qualities.

 

“Or as the Zulus would say, “Umuntu Ngumuntu Ngabantu”, which means that a person is a person through other persons. We affirm our humanity when we acknowledge that of others.

 

“The South African Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu describes Ubuntu as:

‘It is the essence of being human. It speaks of the fact that my humanity is caught up and is inextricably bound up in yours. I am human because I belong. It speaks about wholeness, it speaks about compassion. A person with Ubuntu is welcoming, hospitable, warm and generous, willing to share. Such people are open and available to others, willing to be vulnerable, affirming of others, do not feel threatened that others are able and good, for they have a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that they belong in a greater whole.

 

They know that they are diminished when others are humiliated, diminished when others are oppressed, diminished when others are treated as if they were less than who they are. The quality of Ubuntu gives people resilience, enabling them to survive and emerge still human despite all efforts to dehumanize them.”

 

(https://motivationinspirationandlife.wordpress.com/2012/06/02/ubuntu-i-am-what-i-am-because-of-who-we-all-are/)

 

Who am I? A citizen, yes. Yet, I am a part of my community. In defining that, I am who I am because I am a part of the community.

 

My community defines me.

 

If I want to advance myself, and advance my community, I must, as a part of the community, also advance the community.

 

Ubuntu is unity, being a part of something bigger than myself. And, that “whole” also defines me.

 

In my work in the community, when I strengthen others, I strengthen the community and also myself.

 

When I mentor someone, help them with a school subject, take time to listen to them, work in a community garden with them, talk with them in the line at the grocery store or the post office, or just smile at someone on the street, I am building my community, and I am engaging in and being an aspect of Ubuntu.

 

And, when I am tearing down my community, not taking care of myself and others, when I am exploiting weakness and divisiveness, then I am working against Ubuntu. My negativity is destructive, of myself, of others, and of my community.

 

Racism, sexism, bigotry, ignorance, indifference — all work against the spirit of Ubuntu.

 

Today, I resolve to be a builder and a force for strength, wholeness and health. I strive to live within the spirit of Ubuntu.

 

–Neal Lemery, November 16, 2016

Under Construction


My town is going through some big changes. The state highway department is starting a major project, re-routing the intersection of the two major highways that funnel all the tourists, and most of the locals through downtown. A familiar motel and two restaurants have been reduced to rubble and hauled away in huge trucks.

And the city has decided to join in the chaos, by renovating and replacing most of the water mains in the downtown area. Ditches are dug, covered with temporary steel plates, and new water main pipes are finding their way beneath the torn up streets.

Yet, there is more afoot here than meets the eye. Other renovations are underway, more fundamental, and more in the realm of revitalizing our spirit.

A major shelter and service center for homeless people and folks fresh out of the local jail and prisons has opened, offering on site services and a healthy path to personal dignity and reformation.

The community college is building a brand new building, and offering new programs, bringing together other agencies to collaborate on problem solving and innovation.

Even our estuaries are getting a fresh start. Large scale work is underway to open up sloughs, take out dikes, and renovate tide gates, revitalizing our estuaries, restoring salmon habitat, improving movement of flood waters, and re-creating a healthy environment for fish, birds, trees, and reviving an essential part of our web of life. We even decided not to squabble about the project, working together in a collaborative fashion to reduce winter flooding, improve salmon habitat, and literally finding and improving our common ground.

In that work, our young people have led the way, taking their education on improving the world out into the waterways, teaching us biology, flood dynamics, and cooperative learning and problem solving.

Other youth are growing native plants for streambank restoration, raising salmon, and developing community gardens. Learning at school now includes getting out and making our world a classroom, giving us all a new paradigm of what education means.

Farmers are studying improved agricultural techniques, working with others to be better stewards of the earth, implementing new methods, and testing out new crops.

Volunteerism is rampant and a wide range of non-profit activities fill the community calendar.

The coffee shop where I hang out is abuzz with meetings and gatherings. Familiar faces, but folks who are busy developing new programs and taking on long standing problems.

“We can do it,” is the attitude now around here, and changes are coming, driven by a common desire to do something meaningful and make this corner of the world a better place.

It is fundamental change, not from the top down, not from the politicians in Washington, but instead, its coming from my neighbors, and my community, and those quiet conversations next to me in the coffee shop.

–Neal Lemery 5/3/16

Peace Making


Peace Making

It is a lofty goal. Religions preach it. Politicians speechify it. Song writers laud it. We all like to say we are peaceful, loving people.

And, it’s really the other guy who can’t get along, who pushes us into the argument, the fight, the war.

“They started it,” we say, justifying our own escalation of the argument, as we stiffen our backs, and pick up the nastier word, the bigger stick.

Our wars are longer now. This country’s ten year war in Afghanistan barely makes the main section of the daily newspaper, and rarely hits the front page. Our “victory” in Iraq really isn’t seen as a victory of democracy over tyranny, but rather a bad nightmare we should really rather forget.

The latest Israeli-Palestinian rocket war is seen as inevitable and unsolvable. And, folks quickly blame one side or the other for the terror and destruction, the deaths of families, and the unbending, inflexible positions of the major players.

Not many people see the irony in both sides justifying their geographical arguments on scriptures and theologies that also preach unconditional love and peacefulness being the true direction to humanity from an all loving God.

And, at home, war is being waged. We have the highest rate of jailing our fellow citizens of any country in the world. And, we criminalize and jail drug addicts. Our economy continues to impoverish millions of families. Our politics of late turn into high paid deceptive and vicious advertising and name calling, rather than looking towards solutions to difficult problems, and an expression of compassion and helping others achieve the American Dream.

Aside from all the noise, a quiet revolution is going on. Without fanfare, without a lot of chest thumping and back slapping, change is afoot.

Volunteers, neighbors, students, good people from all walks of life are making a difference. Soup kitchens and warming centers are springing up in the basements of churches. Food banks, community gardens, and community centers enjoy quiet and energetic support. Twelve step programs are strong and are attracting healthy members. Prison outreach programs, local music jams, potlucks, and community thrift stores are thriving.

We baby boomers are retiring now, in record numbers, and we are volunteering, helping out, talking with people. We are engaged in our communities, our neighborhoods, and in our homes. People are tending their gardens, taking up crafts, and working with others. We teach each other new skills, and we are reaching out to others, on every level.
The grass roots in this country are healthy and strong. Social media has expanded the front porch and the neighborhood coffee shop into a bigger, national neighborhood of old friends, old classmates, and long lost relatives. New connections are made, and our common humanity, our common passion for connecting with others, for caring for each other, are re-weaving the social fabric.

As a country, and as a community, we are re-creating our social conversations, and deciding what topics we will take on. Newspapers and the major television networks, and other corporate media are finding their audiences shrinking. New books are now self-published, and marketed by word of mouth and on Facebook and blogs. We are taking charge of what we talk about and what we learn.

The richness of our own wisdom, our heritage, our values, and our work is now easily shared, and easily explored. What I think and what I want to say to others now can be quickly “aired” to not just my household, not just to my buddies at the coffee shop, but to the world. With a few keystrokes, my morning rant about one thing or another can be put out to all my friends, and, literally, to the world.

Someone thousands of miles away can read what I think, and can find my thoughts, on their computer and their cell phone. “Google it” is the motto of this decade, and the back fence conversations start up with a smart phone text or a reply to a Facebook posting. We’ve become master weavers of the social fabric.

We’ve rediscovered the value of those rich one on one conversations, the power of reaching out and simply saying, “I care about you.” Yes, we do that electronically, but we also do that face to face, neighbor to neighbor. This is our reality; we are rejecting the mass media view of the world, and being told what to think and what is truly important.

This morning, the cashier at Denny’s and I had a rich conversation about the real meaning of Thanksgiving and thankfulness, and the crass commercialization of Christmas. She’s rejecting that commercial hoopla and instead, she’s gathering and distributing underwear and toys for foster kids. Her mom is mentoring those kids, filling a need in her community, changing lives.

I’m spending time with young men at the youth prison in my town, playing guitar, being friends, hopefully showing them a more fulfilling way to live. Me buying them coffee at the canteen, just being there, and listening, is opening hearts, and changing all of us.

Yes, small steps, but in the right direction. Together, we are an army, working for change.

Perhaps this country’s “Arab Spring” starts with those conversations at Denny’s, or engaging your neighbor in an idea to revitalize your town. It starts with each one of us, one step, and then another.

We’ve rediscovered the power of taking the initiative, of finding our voice in our community. When I post something on Facebook, or write a rant about something on my blog, or “share” a particular article I’ve found on line, I’m really joining my neighbors on the front porch, or at the coffee shop.

I don’t have to depend on the corporate media to set the agenda, or tell me what the real “news” is, or what to believe. I’m my own news editor now, and I produce my own news show. My friends and neighbors do that, too. Our conversations, in person and on line, are abuzz with new ideas, rich discussions, and the rebuilding of our collective social consciousness.

In all that buzz, we are rediscovering the power of that one on one conversation, about caring for each other, and getting involved with each other. That is the practice of love, love of self, love of family, love of our fellow humankind. Isn’t that the true meaning of the holidays, our true spiritual calling?

We are getting off the couch and thinking for ourselves again, and rebuilding our community, making peace.

–Neal Lemery 11/22/2012