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the Ubuntu Spirit

“I am because we are.” This ancient concept, expressed in the Zulu word ubuntu, is at the root of many of the world’s wisdom traditions. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said so well: “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. This is the interrelated structure of all reality. You can never be what you ought to be until I become what I ought to be.” The spirit of ubuntu reminds us of the power of joining soulfully with others.

The spirit of ubuntu has valuable lessons for us all. It’s about empathy and compassion for others, building community, appreciating diversity and knowing that our highest potential is ripened through our relationships.

New kinds of choirs are springing up in many corners of the world, embodying the principles of ubuntu. And so we call this emerging network of singing communities the Ubuntu Choirs Network.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu observes about the spirit of ubuntu:

Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Archbishop Desmond Tutu photographed by Mark Tompkins
(co-editor of Illuminations)

“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.

“A too highly developed individualism can lead to a debilitating sense of isolation so that you can be lonely and lost in a crowd… Ubuntu is not easy to describe because it has no equivalent in any of the Western languages… Ubuntu speaks to the essence of being human and our understanding that the human person is corporate. The solitary individual is in our understanding a contradiction in terms. You are a person through other persons. Ubuntu speaks about the importance of communal harmony… speaks about warmth, compassion, generosity, hospitality, and seeking to embrace others.”