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UBUNTU: Building Social Fabric


pronounced: oo – boon’ – too

Is it an operating system?  YES!

It is a new operating system for computers (see below); but humans have been using this operating system for thousands of years.


UBUNTU is a sub-Saharan philosophy that recognizes the interdependence of life.

Desmond Tutu tells us: “There is no such thing as a solitary individual. A person is a person through other persons.”

Nelson Mandela said: “Ubuntu acknowledges both the right and the responsibilities of every citizen in promoting individual and societal well-being.”

Here are a few videos from Archbishop Desmond Tutu to orient our understanding:

A Brief Description  *   Intro from Semester at Sea   * The Essence of Being Human

Rev. Mpho Tutu



<-And from his daughter, the Reverend Mpho Tutu



Desmond Tutu has also said: “Africans have a thing called ubuntu. We believe that my humanity is caught up, bound up, inextricably, with yours. When I dehumanize you, I dehumanize myself. The solitary human being is a contradiction in terms. Therefore, you seek to work for the common good because your humanity comes into its own in community, in belonging.”

An Ubuntu Lesson:

There was an anthropologist who had been studying the culture of a remote African tribe.

He had been working in a village for quite some time.  The day before he was to return home, he put together a gift basket filled with delicious fruits from around the region and wrapped it with a ribbon. He placed the basket under a tree and then he gathered up the children in the village.

The man drew a line in the dirt, looked at the children, and said, “When I tell you to start, run to the tree and whoever gets there first will win the basket of the fruit.”

When he told them to run, they all took each other’s hands and ran together to the tree. Then they sat together around the basket and enjoyed their treat as a group.

The anthropologist was shocked. He asked why they would all go together when one of them could have won all the fruits for themselves?

A young girl looked up at him and said, “How can one of us be happy if the others are sad?”


ubuntuFor ubuntu™, the computer operating system (an alternative to Microsoft and Macintosh) click on the logo or the link: www.ubuntu.com/about.   From the website: We bring the spirit of Ubuntu to the world of computers and software by delivering free software, freely, to everybody on the same terms. Whether you are a student in India or a global bank, you can download and use Ubuntu free of charge.


What Is Ubuntu?

We found this definition of Ubuntu at https://thehurt.wordpress.com/2010/06/30/ubuntu/

“Ubuntu” is what it means to be human. A Zulu maxim provides perhaps the simplest definition of Ubuntu: “umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu,” which means “a person is a person through other persons.” It is a philosophical belief that being human means recognizing and respecting the humanity of others. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, “It 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.” Tutu goes on to say, “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.” It is, he says, the relationships between us that make us truly human.

It is not an uncommon philosophy. English poet John Donne, in “Meditation XVII,” opined that “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main,” noting, as Tutu does, that being human means you are part of a greater whole. Immanuel Kant, in Groundwork on the Metaphysic of Morals, writes that all persons should “Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end.” By treating others not as objects, but as people, we not only respect them, but respect and affirm our own humanity and the ways in which we are bound to one another.

As many people know Fair Shake stands firmly on the philosophy of Ubuntu. We Sign off on our correspondence with it and we end our phone calls with each other by saying Ubuntu.

Many people have written in asking what does Ubuntu actually mean? so we decided to dedicate this page to sharing what Ubuntu means.

This African proverb reveals the true meaning of community.

It reminds us of our humanity and encourages the extension of that humanity to others.


UBUNTU: Building Social Fabric

When I present Fair Shake in both state and federal institutions around the country I hear a lot of incarcerated people hoping to connect and consult with those who have gone through the transition back into society successfully.

I also hear many incarcerated people expressing an interest in giving back to the community, frequently with the hope to guide youth away from the path that leads to prison.

Fair Shake believes these desires, and many more, (including supporting children of incarcerated parents, creating safer communities, and building relationships between seemingly disparate communities) are best addressed by working together, intentionally and carefully building a strong social fabric.

This is difficult today because, as Americans, we are encouraged to believe that we are in the land of opportunity and that to be successful we need to ‘pull ourselves up by our bootstraps’ and ‘do it yourself’.  Our culture is suffering from a staggering number of social challenges that are very difficult to recognize or address on an individual basis.  We are daunted by the magnitude of effort required to improve how we live together in society and feel we need experts or elected representatives to improve our quality of life.  While we wait for them to ‘fix’ the ‘broken system’ we sheepishly accept a steady increase levels of anti-social ailments: depression, social anxiety, mental illness, physical illnesses created by stress, fear, addictions, loneliness, and many more.

Unfortunately, we will never find the solutions by addressing the symptoms alone; what we need is to realize that we need each other and must build a better future together.

We need not look backward, however, beyond recognizing and owning how we got to where we are to avoid going there again.  What we need to do right now – wherever we are – is to reflect, study, converse, and collaborate TOGETHER to conjure and create solutions to our challenges.

Once we realize that we need to build ourselves (rather than waiting for some governmental repair person to fix our problem), we can begin the powerful and enriching hard work of improving our listening skills, our communication skills, and our compassion while developing a deeper understanding of what a healthy society within a democracy looks like. Soon, we will begin to problem solve and create more of what we want to improve everyone’s quality of life!  (Okay, ‘soon’ is a relative term, but we can’t let that hinder us. ~ : )

To encourage people to see a more empowering picture, I consulted with the author of The Business of Belief, Tom Asacker.  He reminded me that we are not motivated by logic; that we shift our beliefs based on our experiences and feelings and, most importantly, that we need a clear picture of where we can go to move to another path.  When we change our belief of what is possible, we can change our attitude and approach to solving our problems, which will change our behaviors and, eventually, our lives.

After consulting with family members, colleagues, and anyone who will listen, Fair Shake is presenting this series of images for your consideration.

We hope you will share your thoughts on what you see below.  We are currently developing, with incarcerated, formerly incarcerated, and never incarcerated people, ways to build out this vision. Your opinion is important!

 Your creative skills are important, too!  We need to make this a story that we can share and use to stimulate others.  We also need to create a flowing image from the individual to the social fabric.  

If you see where you would like to contribute – even if your contribution is to critique our present work or to look ahead to where it might not work down the road – please contact us!

We’re looking forward to building the future with you!  Ubuntu!!


Fair Shake view of building social fabric:  (view from overhead)


UImgOne person, arms outstretched, ready to connect with others to build community strength and to demonstrates prosocial understanding and interest through engagement.


UImg2Two people, strongly connected to each other,


UImg3The clasp builders use: a ‘rescue’ hold, for optimal strength.



UImg4People supporting each other inside begin to build the reentry safety net.  Some builders may not go home for a long time, some may not be coming back to society at all, but we must acknowledge and honor our connection.  We can be aware of our strength as an individual as well as the strength of the group: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  As people go home from prison, the net flows from the inside to the outside…   


UImg5For those who do come home, once they are safe, or feel they are in a position to give, make themselves available for those who are coming home now… (over 1700 people come home every day). What starts as a safety net for the reentering community then weaves naturally into building and repairing the social fabric










ubuntu: a society that recognizes and embraces interdependence, cooperation, and compassion.

A society that seeks safe communities and ‘United We Stand’ strength, must vigilantly review how it cares for all members.


The Pillars of Ubuntu Living

The following is an excerpt from an article “UBUNTU (African Wisdom on How to Be a Human Being) PART2” by John Kehoe.   https://www.learnmindpower.com/ubuntu-african-wisdom-how-be-human-being-part2/ 

Let’s examine some of the pillars of Ubuntu living:

  1. Caring: Caring is embracing others. Their needs become your needs. Their joys and sorrows become your joys and sorrows. It is the practice of concern and oneness, which Jesus expressed as “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” It is putting the problems, interests and circumstances of others at a higher level of attention. For as Ubuntu teaches, “we are human through our interaction with others. Without others we are not human.” From this perspective we should welcome our interaction with others regardless of whether they are pleasant or not, for all interactions allow us to express our humanness.
  2. Empathy: Empathy is the ability to successfully enter into the emotional situation of another, to listen and feel genuine sympathy because you hear and feel what others share with you. You listen with your mind but you also feel with your body, and this feeling allows you to “see” the situation from a deeper perspective. When we cultivate the practice of empathy it deepens us and gives us access to more humanness with which we can help others.
  3. Sharing: In the Ubuntu culture it is normal to share generously with others. “Mahala” is the traditional African practice that teaches that it is proper to give to others without expecting anything in return. Not everything needs to be done for money or gain. You work to support your family and if you prosper you share with others. Even if you don’t prosper you must share because there is always someone else worse off than you. By sharing you express your humanness and find joy within because you awaken your heart. Heartless people have no joy, though they might have riches. People with heart have joy because they have discovered their humanness. To discover your humanness is to discover something great, a treasure unlike any other. Each day of our life gives us opportunity to discover and practice our humanness.
  4. Respect: Respect covers many things. Respect for elders, children and all members of your community, respect for your ancestors, traditions, the ancient teachings and practices. Respect for oneself, for if one does not respect oneself how can one respect another? Respect for your environment and all living creatures. Respect for the Ubuntu way of life as a way to happiness and self-awareness.

A human being from an Ubuntu perspective should be kind, generous, friendly, living in harmony with himself, the environment and others, and at one with the creator. “This is what Africa can teach the world,” said Credo Mutwa, the respected Zulu Sangoma, “We have forgotten how to be human beings, and we must remember quickly if we are to save the world. Life is an instrument and we have lost the ability to play it. People live but they are not alive. We must use life and play it like an instrument and make beautiful music.”