BOOKMARKS January 2021: “ Everyday Ubuntu: Living Better Together, the African Way” by Mungi Ngomane

bookmarks darla deardorff jan 2021 southern african philosphy story circles ubuntu Jan 15, 2021

Given all that divides us today, my burning question is how we can learn to live together. Mungi Ngomane, granddaughter of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, provides a response to this question through her recent book entitled Everyday Ubuntu: Living Better Together, the African Way (Bantam Press, 2020). 

 In 2020, I had the opportunity to join a book discussion on this book as we explored the different chapters together.  As the author explains from the outset, “Ubuntu is a way of life from which we can all learn” and it’s one of her favorite words (p. 13).  She goes on to explain that ubuntu originates from a Southern African philosophy and “encompasses all our aspirations about how to live life” together as people unite for a common good.  Her grandfather, Desmond Tutu, explains in the foreword, that “the lesson of ubuntu is best described in a proverb that is found in almost every African language, whose translation is “A person is a person through other persons.”  He continues by saying “Everyday Ubuntu offers the reader a chance to reflect on the ways in which the practice of ubuntu can help us to be someone in the world who builds bridges, someone who sees each interaction as a chance to foster a more positive environment.” 

Indeed, I found Everyday Ubuntu an easy and enjoyable read which outlines 14 lessons of ubuntu in short chapters, which lends itself well to book club discussions.   Lesson 1 begins with “See Yourself in Others” followed by Lesson 2 as ”Strength Lies in Unity.” Some of the more challenging lessons include “Believe in the Good of Everyone” (Lesson 6) and embrace the “Power of the F-Word – Forgiveness” (Lesson 9).  These lessons provide much food for thought given the current realities facing us, with the pandemic, political turmoil and societal injustices.

One of my favorite lessons is to “Learn to Listen so that You Can Hear” (Lesson 14), in part because it really resonates with the work I’ve been doing with UNESCO on an intercultural methodology called Story Circles, where we emphasize listening for understanding (see open access Manual for Developing Intercultural Competencies for more on this).  The author quotes Nelson Mandela in saying “I learned to have the patience to listen when people put forward their views, even if I think those views are wrong.”  Ngomane challenges readers to make “a pact to listen more, even when we think it doesn’t affect us in the here and now” and highlighted an acronym, SHUSH – Show you care, Have patience, Use open questions, Say it back, and Have courage to help people understand the art of listening

The clearly-written lessons are illustrated with stories provided by Ngomane and summarized in an epilogue about how to apply these 14 lessons of ubuntu into one’s own life.  I found the epilogue particularly helpful In distilling the key points and reflecting on how these can be applied in daily life.  As Desmond Tutu concludes, “On any given day, we are each offered many chances to be the person who- whether it be through words, actions, or even silence and inaction -offers space to those we encounter to experience care and relationship.” This book challenges each of us to remember the common good, to seek out ways to connect, and to build deeper relationships with those who are different from us.  This work is needed now more than ever.  May we take up this challenge of ubuntu as relearn what it means to live together in this day and time and within all the challenges that confront us.  As Martin Luther King Jr said, “we must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”  

Darla K. Deardorff, [email protected]