Ubuntu — Human Kindness and Diverse Friendships
I love the statement “In certain respects, every person behaves like all others: in other respects, like some others . . . and in some cases, like no others.” We are “like all others” speaks to me about our humanity. We can travel throughout the world and find people wrestling with pain and suffering or enjoying the birth of a baby. When I see the tragedy of a plane crash in another part of the world and the images on television of people weeping and grieving over their loss, my heart is moved. And as I have traveled to the slums of Ethiopia, served in AIDS clinics, and witnessed extreme poverty firsthand, my heart has connected with people beyond words. Similarly, I have experienced universal joy and fun dancing to Latin music at a Vietnamese university with people from Singapore, Vietnam, Australia, and other countries. Building relationships is about learning how to do life with people who have similar interests and sharing stories along the way.
We are “like some others” reflects the vital component of our learned culture and why there are some people who we will automatically gravitate to because of shared cultural behaviors. I admittedly find intentional ways to stay connected to my black culture because there are some things that another black person may understand that a nonblack person might not. For example, there are black songs and musical artists I like and that I want someone else to know as well. Or I might want to talk with someone who will understand why the customs of eating banana pudding, black-eyed peas, fried chicken, and cornbread on New Year’s Day is important to me. I’m not saying these things are necessarily healthy by a medical standard; they’re just important to who I am and where I have been in life, and were a real part of shaping me in what I like versus don’t like. Similarly, some friends understand me and I know will not reprimand me when I say honestly that, while I do love organic food and healthy food, being poor is a journey, and when you are limited in finances, you look up to heaven and thank God even for food from a dollar store. I want to sometimes merely rest and not have to explain my hair or my dialect or be the representative for all actions in the black community.
We are “like no others” helps us embrace the important fact that we are wonderfully and fearfully formed by the hands of God. If no snowflake is the same, surely we can celebrate even more our individual uniqueness. This phrase also reflects the fact that there are times when we may feel very different from anyone else present in a particular place or situation we find ourselves. For me, this happens when the integrity of my spiritual culture and what I believe as a Christian are being violated; in those instances I keep my values and beliefs close to my heart. As both Christians who are called to be different from the world — people of love and true disciples of Jesus — and as ones made uniquely and purposefully by God, we have to be comfortable with the spiritual transformation that takes place as Jesus continues to shape and fashion us each as individuals.
Moving Forward in Diverse Friendships
I want to leave you with some next steps as you intentionally pursue diverse cultural relationships.
■ Ask God to give you the wisdom you need to reach diverse people.
■ Study and model the life of Jesus and his relational style with others for the sake of the gospel.
■ Be intentional about connecting with diverse people, and forge beyond discomforts for the benefit and beauty of the friendship.
■ Develop a go-to versus a come-to attitude about diverse experiences. Don’t wait for people to come to you; go to them.
■ Desire to become a cultural champion in your community, place of worship, and everyday living.
■ Remember that our walk as followers of Christ will draw others to us.
■ Be willing to stand courageously against any type of racial injustice directed toward your friends and close acquaintances.
■ Develop listening skills as you connect with different cultures, not just for the sake of listening but in order to demonstrate the value, worth, and dignity of people from different backgrounds.
■ Suspend judgments about people, and don’t allow stereotypes of different people groups to be reinforced. Develop skills to connect in relevant and empathetic ways with people.
■ Walk in humility as a learner, and be willing to also teach others about your culture.
■ Don’t allow yourself to be color blind. Enjoy the beauty that each person brings into a relationship.
■ Remember that people are more alike than they are different.
■ Move out of your comfort zone and stay out of it. Don’t let anxiety, misinformation, or biases prevent you from reaching someone God has been putting on your heart.
■ Take the initiative to love and befriend people. (Yes, you!)
■ Be careful about letting past negative attempts and experiences with someone from another culture mark or affect your present experiences. Don’t feel that you have to walk on eggshells with people from different cultures. Allow mistakes to be a catalyst for learning new things about others.
■ Ask Jesus to show you things you may be unconsciously doing that communicate dishonor to others who are different from you.
■ Think about the times when you have felt unwanted in an environment. Then look at patterns, acts of rejection, or apathy that you have held or practiced toward other cultures.
Embrace an Ubuntu philosophy of compassion, empathy, and dignity, and not just with the people you like.
■ Learn to engage by taking seriously the need to learn. Ubuntu “is the essence of being human. It speaks of the fact that my humanity is caught up and is inextricably bound up in yours.
I am human because I belong. It speaks about wholeness, it speaks about compassion. . . . “[People with Ubuntu] know that they are diminished when others are humiliated, diminished when others are oppressed, diminished when others are treated as if they were less than who they are.” Ubuntu represent the value, worth, and dignity of every human being. May Jesus go with you as you build relationships and continually learn and embrace the beauty of diverse friendships.
MelindaJoy Mingo is an ordained minister, professor, cultural capacity expert, and entrepreneur based in Colorado Springs. She is the founder of Je-Nai International Ministry and Significant Life Change, Inc., and has developed multicultural initiatives both at home and abroad. She holds a PhD in global leadership and an honorary doctorate in urban transformative leadership and has been widely recognized for her teaching and training in crosscultural competency. Follow her on Twitter @MingoMelinda.