Affirming the dignity and personhood of each child who has been placed in the public foster care system is the next step in our country’s evolution. Finding new ways to embrace and care for our children and move forward with honesty and compassion is our tomorrow. Erasing the debilitating legacies of poverty, incarceration, joblessness, dismal educational outcomes, and homelessness is the first step.
We are a nation of communicators. But it seems that what we communicate about most often does not always lead to connection. Disconnection is the outcome. It has allowed us to step into our class, race, gender, and age roles and lead compartmentalized lives. The result: we have become a nation separated from each other and from the essence of our humanity. We have lost our individual and collective ubuntu.
I was first introduced to the concept of ubuntu in Desmond Tutu’s book, No Future Without Forgiveness. Ubuntu is a South African word from the Bantu language family. According to Tutu:
“Ubuntu is very difficult to render into a Western language. It speaks of the very essence of being human. When we want to give high praise to someone we say, “Yu, u nobuntu”; “Hey, so-and-so has ubuntu.” Then you are generous, you are hospitable, you are friendly and caring and compassionate. You share what you have. It is to say, “My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up in yours.” We belong in a bundle of life. We say, “A person is a person through other persons.” It is not, “I think therefore I am.” It says rather, “I am human because I belong. I participate, I share.” A person with ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed, or treated as if they were less than who they are.
Harmony, friendliness, community are great goods. Social harmony is for us the summum bonum – the greatest good. Anything that subverts, that undermines this sought-after good, is to be avoided like the plague. Anger, resentment, lust for revenge, even success though aggressive competitiveness, are corrosive of this good. To forgive is not just to be altruistic. It is the best form of self-interest. What dehumanizes you inexorably dehumanizes me. It gives people resilience, enabling them to survive and emerge still human despite all efforts to dehumanize them.”
”My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up in yours.”
“A person is a person through other persons.”
“I am human because I belong.”
These three sentences show us how to honor one another in the best ways possible. They encourage us to replace the huge gap between children who experience foster care and their peers who have not with equal opportunity. They urge us to dedicate ourselves to erasing the enormous disparities between the rich and the poor and to dismantle all of the ways that we keep poverty and racism alive. They show us that when we eradicate the root causes of foster care and strengthen the lives of our most vulnerable children, families, and communities, we will be a people with ubuntu – a people living with the greatest good for all in our hearts and our minds.