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Ubuntu - Identity within Community

Recently someone told me about the African philosophy of ubuntu, which is often translated as...

"a person is a person through other persons"

It's a beautiful reference to the deep interconnectedness of communities. The United States mostly embodies an individualistic culture, so this concept of being so tied to others may not make sense to you. But if you are fascinated with the bible as I am, you might recognize it in the operation of both the Israelites and the early Christian church.

Another way to describe this idea is "I am what I am because of who we all are." It's not that individuals aren't recognized as being unique and different from one another, but that this complementary nature of our differences makes us all highly valuable to one another. Standing alone would be too much and not enough for any one person. Unless the being is God—complete, whole, perfect—that being would need to stay in community with others.

While we are indeed sufficiently valuable individuals because we are created by a good God, we are not complete, healthy or whole unless we are deeply connected to a loving community. And science supports this! Isolation causes deep and destructive depression and sometimes death! Even if the isolation is merely psychological or emotional, persons experiencing that level of disconnectedness really suffer.

If today you are thinking of yourself as a lone explorer, a separate master of your own destiny, I hope you will pause just for a moment to consider that you are who you are because of your community. Those people matter to you and you matter to them. Don't take another step forward without figuring out how to both deepen and protect the connections you already have.

Unsplash Travis Leery

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