Project Ubuntu Blog Preface

“Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic.”

-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The journey of Project Ubuntu will visit people who embody ubuntu in an effort to pursue the question of how to build positive community. I am inspired by people who act on their appreciation of both “difference” and “commonalities” and embody the idea of ubuntu, that our humanity is tied to one another. They seek to help others not merely through money or votes, but through giving their time, energy and love to other people.

Along the way, I will explore how this occurs in diverse communities and in diverse contexts. What is mobilizing the kindness in these heroic individuals? How does that manifest through action? And how can we get more people to choose to be compassionate and live for others?

As human societies continue to grow and become increasingly interconnected, we must choose either to embrace our neighbors selflessly, or to preserve difference and (dis)advantage. Globalization creates intimate shared spaces between all the people of the world, and these encounters can be seen as opportunities or as threats.

Uncertainty can have multiple consequences. When curiosity emerges, people are motivated to learn and likely to appreciate both new knowledge and that which remains unknown. The easier position to take is fear, and thus evasion. Additional to the uncertainty people have about other people themselves (their beliefs, their histories, their physicality) is the uncertainty that results from humans’ limitations. People have conquered much physical and intellectual terrain, but there are spaces we will never reach.

In response to the unknown, the best blend is curiosity, appreciation and humility. Socially, that means building communities — paradoxically, it means building “us” without building an othered “them”. It’s easy to bond with others through a mutual opponent, which allows us to value ourselves and keep our resources. But what if, as Martin Luther King dreamed, we lived in a place “where all our gifts and resources are held not for ourselves alone, but as instruments of service for the rest of humanity?”

Society is a prisoner’s dilemma. We will all be better off if we appreciate our difference and treat one another with compassion. But anyone can try to get ahead by foregoing cooperation (e.g. gaining power through force), which makes everyone else much worse off. As individuals we run the risk of losing so much that we hold dear that we struggle to choose cooperation, even though we know to do so is in pursuit of a greater reward for all. Yet every independent conception of happiness relies on the interdependence of humanity.

Ultimately, I want to pursue the question of “how” positive community is built by experiencing the work of those who choose compassion, cooperation, and the selfless spirit of ubuntu. The answer to this all-important question of “how” can’t be answered in one sentence, but must be contemplated and “lived”. This excerpt from Rainer Maria Rilke’s ‘Letters to a Young Poet’ guides the goal of Project Ubuntu’s written component:

…I would like to beg you dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.

The 51 weekly reports from Project Ubuntu will be posted on this site, and they will also be submitted as an independent study through the Worcester State University Center for Service Learning and Civic Engagement.

Key authors who have influenced my approach include Joseph Campbell, Jonathan Haidt, a number of gender and race theorists as studied at the Gender Institute at LSE, and teachers of Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist and Hindu traditions.

Special thanks to Dr. Max Klau, Eric Mtungwazi, James Probert, Simon Turner and Sebastian Chapleau for their influence on this written project.

 

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