Ubuntu – I am what I am because of who we all are


When I first see them, they are just two men walking down the street in opposite directions on the same sidewalk.

The moment transcends ‘normal’ in one instant. As the two men pass eachother, one of the men strikes out and shoves the other man off the sidewalk onto the roadway. He falls to the ground and the other man continues to walk away.

The man on the ground jumps up. His hands are balled into fists. For one moment, he takes a belligerent stance, and then it’s gone. He’s standing facing the retreating back of the other man, his shoulders slumped forward, his arms hang loosely by his side.

I am sitting in my car, about to drive down the lane, away from the shelter where I used to work when this scene unfolded in front of me.

I am stunned. Bewildered.

I stop my car. Get out and approach the man who is still standing in the laneway. “Are you okay?” I ask.

He turns towards me. He is in his 50s, maybe 40s but it can be hard to tell sometimes how old someone who has lived the ‘streetlife’ really is, ‘the street’ can make you appear ten to fifteen years older.

“Yeah. I’m fine.” And he shrugs his shoulders and starts to walk towards the shelter.

“Is there anything I can do?” I ask.

He sighs. “No. I just got off work. I don’t wanna make no trouble. I just wanna lay down.”

I leave him, get back in my car and turn around back to the shelter. I follow him into the building. I want to make sure he’s okay.

At the security desk I wait until he’s checked in. “I’m sorry that happened to you,” I say. And I touch his shoulder with one hand.

“Yeah. Thanks.”

Tears form in his eyes. I wonder when someone last spoke to him kindly when he’s been hurt. Offered comfort. A gentle voice.

“Can I give you a hug?” I ask.

He looks at me surprised. “Sure. That would be nice.”

Later, at my meditation class I am deeply relaxed when our guide instructs us to ‘walk into the desert.’

“Walk with no intention,” says our guide. “There’s a figure walking towards you. Welcome them. See who it is.”

It is the man. Not the one who was thrown to the ground. It is the perpetrator.

He is a dark shadow. Dark clothes. Dark hair. Shrouded.

As he walks towards me I want to shake him. Rattle him. Ask him why he did it. Do something to ‘make him see’.

And I realize, he cannot see me. His world is too dark. Too shadowed to see there is light all around. He is beaten down in the darkness.

I stand and hold the light around him. It is all that I can do.

It was a powerful realization. To know that there was nothing I could do to ‘make him see’, or hear or be anyone or anywhere other than that moment right there.

In that realization I knew – he didn’t see the man he shoved. He saw — his past, the pain and anger of the moment, his powerlessness to change the past, his anger at the moment.

It doesn’t make what he did right. It does make my witnessing of what he did more understandable to me.

Sometimes people do things that hurt others. They strike out — with hands and fists and words and weapons of destruction. They strike out and we rail against the injustice, the inhumanity, the cruelty of what they did believing we would never do the same.

Standing in the desert in front of that man, I knew — I was capable of those same actions. His darkness exists in me because I can see it.

The only difference is — he can not yet see there is light within that darkness.

In Africa there is a word — Ubuntu. It means — ‘human-ness’, Humanity to others — “I am what I am because of who we all are”.

I cannot be me unless you are you and you cannot be you if I am not me.

That man’s darkness cannot exist without my darkness. And my light cannot exist without his light.

For him to see his light, I must be my darkness and light. Hold true to my being, without being pulled into darkness.

May we all be inspired by the power of our ability to inspire others, to be our most incredible selves, even in the face of darkness.

May we all live the truth of Ubuntu so that each of us can live peacefully in the light of knowing, we are all connected in our human-ness.


12 thoughts on “Ubuntu – I am what I am because of who we all are

  1. Seeing the good in people has always been easy for me….but I’ll admit I used to have limits. Murderers? Child molesters? Violent offenders? How can I see good in them? Then I switched my focus. It sounds a lot like your story. I see their darkness and understand that they would like nothing more than to be in the light….but they don’t know how.

    Thank you for once again reminding me that WE are all ubuntu…collectively….and separately. To take this thought into each and every day would change the world.


  2. It truly would Willow. To carry that thought, to not judge but to see into each other’s hearts and know, it is Love not hatred that connects us. Compassion not fear. Hugs to you my friend. May your day be filled with moments of grace that connect you to the world around you in love and peace.


  3. Awesome Louise. I love this story!
    I think its so wonderful that the Bantu people have a word for human kindness, humanity and the connection of all of us. When a child grows up there, they learn this word. It is shared an understood by everyone. It is known. It is a word to live by.
    We have a lot to learn in these here parts!
    Val x


  4. This is an amazing post Louise, and I love the concept of “Ubuntu”. It isn’t our first thought that the right response to darkness in others is our own light. It is in our mammalian DNA to activate our threat response systems when we see such darkness. Yet it is what makes us human to be able to override that reaction and replace it with the ability to respond with light. I wish only that I could make this my autonomic response instead of having to stop and push it to the surface.


    • My belief Ian is that the more we practice pushing it to the surface, the more it becomes our inherent drive, need, impulse response. And yes, so true — it is what makes us human. Hugs.thanks for your insightful response.


Real conversations begin with your comments. Please share your thoughts.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.