Today I woke up to the smell of smoke, not unusual for this time of year, but today it was close enough to see the flumes lapping over the ridge line 5 kms away. Our valley usually floods at this time of year and the local saying is that someone only has to pee upstream and we’re under. In this age of climate change, it seems not even Bellingen is drought proof. Earlier this week we moved to level 3 water restrictions and at this rate, with no rain forecast, we’ll be at level 4 very soon, the first time in nearly 30 years. Despite her resilience, it’s clear nature does not have an endless supply of resources and when the balance is out, she’s vulnerable just like us.
This got me thinking about us humans, our vulnerabilities and how unlike nature, we spend so much time and energy trying to hide them. But why? Because rather than being a sign of weakness, a crack in the human facade can be where the greatest truths are hidden. The times when I’ve stepped into that messy uncomfortable place of my own truth and lead with it, I’ve made more meaningful connections. After all it’s when we recognise the uniqueness and imperfection in each other, that’s when we find our humanity. However; many of us believe that the world is made up of two types of people – those who help and those who are helped. The inconvenient truth is we are both. As someone who has always considered herself capable and self contained, this has been a particularly difficult lesson for me to learn. Alone for long periods of time, on an isolated hilltop, surrounded by forest, with a farm, animals and a child to look after and then a chronic illness thrown in for good measure, I was forced to finally admit that I needed help. The alternative was physical and mental breakdown and disconnection as I became more and more secure in my alienation. I am so very grateful for that isolation in nature though, because it was in these moments of overwhelming chaos that I was able to find stillness and see beauty in the most unlikely and hidden places. Her imperfections and impermanence gave me renewed perspective and an opportunity to remember the universal truth that we are all connected. I finally realised that I couldn’t do it alone and nature and my community were there to support me when I needed it.
Some cultures recognise this interconnectedness intrinsically. I’ve been reading a lot about Ubuntu, a philosophy originating in southern Africa meaning ‘human-ness’ and the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity. This philosophy permeates all aspects of society from the warmth with which people treat strangers and members of the community alike, redistribution of wealth and the way community deals with it’s errant members.
A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, based from 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.
One of the sayings in our country is Ubuntu – the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality – Ubuntu – you are known for your generosity.
We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole World. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.
I’ve come to the conclusion that even if we’re curious and great at listening to understand, that’s only part of the communication equation. What we do with that information and how we respond are just as important. Listening to understand and leading with vulnerability does not mean we have to agree. However; it is in the flaws, the cracks and the imperfections that we find the poetry, our human-ness and the answers. It’s in that mess that we connect human being to human being and recognise we have the same basic desires and fears. The world needs us to speak fearlessly from our heart but to also be open to persuasion. We must to be willing to have the difficult conversations and recognise that humanity is a quality we owe each other. To say “there’s a field beyond ideas of right and wrong. I’ll meet you there.” (Rumi)