As a regular twenty-something year old, I spend a lot of time on social media, which is too much if I’m honest. My go-to application is Twitter. and I spend several hours consuming information not for what it is, but for what people see it as. So I have a fair understanding of how the average Nigerian thinks.
People talk a lot about things they know, and more about things they barely understand. They talk about religion, relationships, racism, corruption, and more. Frequently, you’ll find people defending their opinions passionately, like a final year student defending his thesis.
Some of these degrade the choices, the pain, and even the essence of a person or group of people. But what does my social media consumption have to do with my understanding of Ubuntu?
Ubuntu is a South African philosophy that centers on humanity, particularly our expression of humanity to each other. It translates to, “I am because we are.” It’s about understanding that what affects your neighbor affects your community, and that concerns you. The happiness of one is the happiness of all.
It reminds me a lot of the song “We are one,” from the Disney movie, The Lion King 2. I feel Ubuntu is a beautiful ideology. The world would be a better place for everyone if we prioritized compassion over capitalism and selflessness over self-indulgence. But like the Disney movie, Ubuntu to me, seems like a fairy tale. It’s a beautiful lesson for an ideal world. But in reality, the chances of everyone practicing it are no greater than my chances of having a conversation with a talking lion.
It sounds like an unfair comparison to make. But this is where my excessive amount of scrolling through Twitter comes into play. Humans hate each other. I don’t mean we hate our family or our friends, although some of us do. I mean collectively. We’re wired to observe our differences and breed animosity because of those differences.
I see this every day while going through my feed. The disdain for homosexuals, the hostility to feminists, the mockery of countries experiencing tragic disasters.
I won’t claim to be an innocent bystander. I’ve engaged in my share of reposting savage comments, and cheap shots intended to ridicule people.
Sometimes, there’s no animosity-it’s just plain indifference. I feel it towards donation campaigns for starving children in Yemen, and strangers losing loved ones. I might feel pity, but there’s no sense of loss.
That’s why Ubuntu is a hard concept for me to grasp fully. I am because we are? But I don’t care about @iyiola_brown getting to study law at Harvard. I may like the tweet, but it doesn’t give me real joy. It doesn’t make me a hateful person. I’m just too disconnected from her reality.
So while I was watching Tedtalks, and reading articles regarding this topic, Ubuntu seemed unrealistic to me. My perception of the world through the insensitive, and hateful opinion of others, warp my mind in a certain way. I have very little faith in humans acting with humanity. I couldn’t relate to what the speakers were saying. It all sounded like fairytales. Ubuntu, the way I saw it, wasn’t feasible.
While my cynicism might make the concept ‘I am because we are’ hard to imagine, the alternate but similar saying ‘I am because you,’ is a lot easier to grasp.
Yes, humans rally around great humanitarian causes. While that might not always be our first instinct, it’s not an excuse to live selfishly. It’s a great thing to join protests against gender violence. It’s a beautiful thing to sacrifice your time and effort, to help strangers who can never repay you.
But in between those magnificent feats of compassion and selfless humanity are the small things. It’s hugging my mother in the middle of the day for no reason other than she loves hugs. It’s forwarding an excellent job opening to a friend and checking up on your siblings who now lead separate lives. It’s a shoulder for your neighbor to cry on. And sometimes it 2 minutes out of the four hours you spend on social media to sign a petition.
Humanity may never grasp the feeling of oneness, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need each other. Living with these five words at the back of your head doesn’t have to be a grand humanitarian act. It can be small, but it has to be intentional.
Imagine if we all intentionally tried every day to show the people who matter, in both large and small displays of compassion, “I am because you are.” The butterfly effect of our little bits of happiness could be incredible.
Cover picture source: Storyset Illustrations