Legend has it that an anthropologist visiting a village in Africa, proposed a game to a group of small children. He placed a basket of sweets under a tree and asked the children to stand a few hundred feet away. “Whoever reaches the basket first gets all the sweets,” he shouted “Ready, set, go!”
Do you know what these children did? They held each other’s hands, ran towards the basket together and then divided the sweets between them. When the anthropologist asked why. They said “Ubuntu. How can one be happy when all the others are sad?” Ubuntu. It means ‘I am, because you are’. It’s a reminder that we’re all in this together.
The anthropologist in this story may have believed in individualism and competition and that one child had to win at the expense of his friends. Perhaps he had a winner-takes-all mind-set?
It’s a mind-set we saw two months ago when COVID first hit. In our case the sweets were, yep, you guessed it – toilet paper. Two words to make you wince or laugh. From empty shelves, to stockpiling at home, to armed robberies of dunny rolls in Hong Kong. The world went mad for it, without any sensible reason whatsoever! Toilet Paper Gate 2020, will go down as one of the maddest periods in human history. It was the opposite of Ubuntu.
Fun side note: For a little light relief, watch Sammy J’s rendition of SJ Patterson’s “The Ballad of Dunny Roll”
Perhaps we needed Toilet Paper Gate to shock us out of our ‘me first’ mind-set. Thankfully since then, we’ve seen a return to neighbourliness and communitarianism. We’ve witnessed kind deeds being done for strangers everywhere and especially those on the frontline. There’s been a flowering of a deeper kind of love and compassion for our fellow humans. Like those beautiful African children, we’ve learned how to share our sweets.
As we emerge out of lock-down and venture back into our brave new world, let’s remember Ubuntu. ‘I am because you are.’
If I can be of service, please reach out. I’m here. I care.
PS If you missed last week’s podcast Conversations on The Coronation. Listen here
About me: I’m a Purpose Educator and author of The Purpose Project. I help leaders attract and retain the best people by harnessing the power of deep purpose and storytelling. I do this through The Purpose Project for Companies, a customised consultative process for co-creating a new purpose statement and The Purpose Project Course, a 7-step online course to help employees bring their own why to work.