13 November is World Kindness Day. World Kindness Day has been celebrated since 1998, and this year I daresay we need it now more than ever. 2018 has shown that intolerance knows no borders. It’s easy to forget that kindness is ALSO universal. Every culture has its own customs and traditions of kindness, compassion and hospitality. Here are just five of the endless ways people show kindness around the world.
Southern Africa: Ubuntu
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: An anthropologist tries to get a group of African children to run a “winner take all” race with a basket of fruit as a prize. It doesn’t go as planned. Instead of racing each other, the children all hold hands. They cross the finish line together and share the fruit. When the anthropologist asked them why they cooperated instead of competing, they said “Ubuntu, how can one of us be happy if all the other ones are sad?”
I hate to be a spoilsport, but I can’t find any confirmation that story actually happened as described.
However, ubuntu as a cultural concept is real. As a philosophy, it was made famous by South African leaders like Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. But it’s much older than they are. Ubuntu is an idea that’s common to many of the cultures of Southern Africa. In Zimbabwe, the Shona call it unhu. In Malawi, it’s called uMunthu. In all of these languages, the meaning is constant: “I am because we are.”
This philosophy encourages kindness in a variety of ways, including:
- Sharing resources.
- Taking care of each other.
- Caring for children as a community.
- Taking care of travellers. For example, according to Nelson Mandela, “A traveller through a country would stop at a village and he didn’t have to ask for food or for water. Once he stops, the people give him food and attend him. That is one aspect of Ubuntu …”