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Center for Action and Contemplation
We Are One and Many
We Are One and Many

Members of One Diverse Family

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

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. —Desmond Tutu, No Future without Forgiveness

Author and activist Mungi Ngomane follows the passion of her recently deceased grandfather, the South African bishop and human rights activist Desmond Tutu, believing that ubuntu provides a unifying and hopeful vision for our diverse world:

Ubuntu is a way of life from which we can all learn. . . . Originating from a Southern African philosophy, it encompasses all our aspirations about how to live life well, together. We feel it when we connect with other people and share a sense of humanity; when we listen deeply and experience an emotional bond; when we treat ourselves and other people with the dignity they deserve. . . .

I was raised in a community that taught me ubuntu as one of my earliest lessons. My grandfather, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, explained the essence of ubuntu as, “My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours.”

In my family, we were brought up to understand that a person who has ubuntu is one whose life is worth emulating. The bedrock of the philosophy is respect, for yourself and for others. So if you’re able to see other people, even strangers, as fully human you will never be able to treat them as disposable or without worth. . . .

Ubuntu teaches us to also look outside ourselves to find answers. It’s about seeing the bigger picture; the other side of the story. Ubuntu is about reaching out to our fellow men and women, through whom we might just find the comfort, contentment and sense of belonging we crave. Ubuntu tells us that individuals are nothing without other human beings. It encompasses everyone, regardless of race, creed or color. It embraces our differences and celebrates them. [1]

Desmond Tutu taught that ubuntu celebrates our diverse interdependence and is related to the wholeness or peace that Jesus brings:

We find that we are placed in a delicate network of vital relationship with the Divine, with my fellow human beings and with the rest of creation. . . . We are meant then to live as members of one family, the human family exhibiting a rich diversity of attributes and gifts in our differing cultures as members of different races and coming from different milieus—and precisely because of this diversity, made for interdependence. . . .

The peace we want is something positive and dynamic. In the Hebrew it is called shalom which refers to wholeness, integrity; it means well-being, physical and spiritual. It means the abundance of life which Jesus Christ promised he had brought. It all has to do with a harmonious coexistence with one’s neighbors in a wholesome environment allowing persons to become more fully human. [2]

[1] Mungi Ngomane, Everyday Ubuntu: Living Better Together, the African Way (New York: Harper Design, 2020), 13, 14.

[2] Desmund Tutu, “The Quest for Peace,” address, Johannesburg, August 1986, quoted in Michael Battle, Ubuntu: I in You and You in Me (New York: Seabury Books, 2009), 83.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Barbara Holmes, Untitled 24 (detail), 2021, photograph, United States, used with permission. Warren K. Leffler, View of the huge crowd, 1963 (detail), photograph, public domain. Warren K. Leffler, Demonstrators sit, 1963 (detail), photograph, public domain. Jenna Keiper and Leslye Colvin, 2021, triptych art, United States.

The creative team at CAC sent a single-use camera to core teacher Dr. Barbara Holmes as part of an exploration into contemplative photography. Her photos are featured here together with historical images in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: Humanity is One although we are as diverse as flowers in a field. There is power in many different individuals coming together for one purpose—the March on Washington reminds us that together we have the capacity to be a transformative body and force for change.

Story from Our Community:

As an artist, painter, and maker, meditation helps me realize that my own work seems best when I create with love and awe for Oneness. I feel any talent I have is a gift from God and to create is my own way of praying.
—Suzy K.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.


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