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Searching for the Meaning of Ubuntu

From the Living in Brotherhood series. With this post, I continue to explore living in brotherhood. This topic is one of several in which I seek to uncover biblical unity of the Church, purposed in provoking thought on oneness in the Body of Christ (John 17:20-23). The new installment offers a glimpse into the South African philosophy of Ubuntu–its meaning, worldview and relationship to the scriptural intent of living in brotherhood.

Today’s writing begins with my search for the meaning of ubuntu. Follow along with me as I journey through the nuances of ubuntu and brotherhood.

Carolyn Carney writes, “In South Africa there is a word used to describe the very essence of what it means to be human. It describes someone who is generous, hospitable and compassionate. You share what you have. The word is “ubuntu” (2002). Not long ago, I read Carney’s article about ubuntu and White responsibility in reconciliation. Wanting to know more about ubuntu, I started gathering information about the term.  I began with a general Internet search. To my surprise, I met a plethora of information on a computer operating system with that name. The fact that so many entries appeared in the search list roused my curiosity even though I’m not a tech guru. Upon closer reading I learned the program, Ubuntu, is free open-source software from Canonical Ltd. Yet, I still wondered why the high interest in it? Wikipedia answered my query. It states that Ubuntu “is named after the Southern African philosophy of ubuntu (“humanity towards others”). The Ubuntu project is committed to the principles of free software development; people are encouraged to use free software, improve it, and distribute it” (2012).

Since I already had a cursory understanding of ubuntu thinking and surmised it related to the concept of community, some insight surfaced as to its many listings. Namely, that the Ubuntu operating system somehow associates with “humanity towards others,” I expected a sizable community membership. I learned exactly how extensive when I read “20 million people worldwide every day” use the operating system (2012). Sizable, indeed. What stood out to me, though, was Canonical Ltd.’s intentional naming and connecting of its product to the philosophy of ubuntu.  Think on the fact that Ubuntu distributors availed the operating system free to the public as open-source software to encourage program development. This suggests something about their organizational culture: People associated with Ubuntu software share commonality in community; in turn, many work individually or communally to improve and redistribute the system within community and, finally, the kinship of a cooperative spirit more than likely exists among community.

It appears that Ubuntu distributors designed a culture that supports commonality, mutuality and kinship to perfect, evangelize and disperse its product through members and, then, redistribute it within and outside the community.

Of course, the effect expands community membership. Since it reaches an international customer base, its members come from diverse backgrounds. They form a broad cultural constituency rallied around the benefits of the product. So to speak, they come together in the Ubuntu software community as global neighbors. Very interesting!

I couldn’t help but wonder if the software’s namesake previews the concepts of ubuntu and brotherhood.

Jan Paron/June 14, 2012

To ponder…

What could a Christ community of 20 million people do if they showed a strong culture of commonality, mutuality and kinship in Christ for the purpose of evangelizing and dispersing the Gospel message?