Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Ubuntu

As the old adage goes, "Today is the first day of the rest of my life"...except it was yesterday. Yesterday was the first day of the rest of my life. Yesterday, I met my Clinton School classmates as we attended the inaugural lecture of the Frank and Kula Kumpuris Distinguished Lecture Series held at the Clinton Presidential Center here in Little Rock. The speaker, President Bill Clinton.

I wore a sticker on my jacket lapel with the word Ubuntu written on it. My classmates questioned me about it and I refused to elaborate only saying that I predicted he would somehow mention the word or it's meaning in his speech. More on this later.

First, we all gathered for dinner and a briefing in the Sturgis Classroom. Funny, I noticed that all of us FaceBook folks were drawn to each other given the comfort we felt from our budding on-line acquaintances. Dean Skip Rutherford briefed us on protocol and demeanor ("Just call me Dean" "Don't drink too many of those chocolate martinis at the reception" "No cameras allowed" "Cell phones off, no text messaging in the classroom or during other activities!") and other such important admonishments. We learned that his favorite book is Taylor Branch's Parting the Waters, the story of America during the MLKing years from the '50s through 1963, and he asked for our own favorite book recommendation. The school will purchase a copy of the recommendation from each of us and place it in the glass cabinet for the public to see. Cool.

The speech was, as are all of his, amazingly and undeniably Worldview Clinton. He stated that the most important issue facing us in the 21st century was that of identity. He asserted that most of the global problems that we need to address related to the way we view ourselves and each other.

He cited three challenges (noting their interdependence):
1. "It's an unequal world" - supported by citations of American and global disparities.
2. "It's a more insecure world." - noted that the volumes of deaths attributable to political violence (including wars and other conflicts) was lower now, but that the perceived threat was much more personal now ("It could happen to me".)
3. "It's not a sustainable world." - asserting that America and the world had to deal immediately with our resource depletion and climate issues.

But ever (Worldview Clinton) hopeful, the President stated that these challenges facing us are "imminently meetable." Noting that we have spent $500 billion on the Iraq conflict - that's $500B on 25 million people - President Clinton asserted that the world's inequality problems are relatively "cheap to fix." We know how to provide healthcare and education, create jobs, and build sustainable communities. Supporting the idea of the interdependence of these challenges and solutions, he noted that the fight to end inequality would work to end terrorist activities. "Because we cannot kill, jail or occupy all our enemies, we must work to build a world in which we have fewer enemies."

Fascinated by the discovery by human genome scientists that our genetic code, person-to-person, was 99.9% the same, President Clinton urged us to answer the question: "Which is more important, our interesting differences or our common humanity?"


Reducing poverty, increasing security, and making the planet sustainable depend on "acting like what we have in common is more important than our endlessly fascinating differences. Our sense of identity - that will determine what will happen for the 21st century," the President concluded.

He threw out more gems than I could collect off of the ground (or write down), but a few include:
"It really does matter that you believe in argument and evidence over assertion and attack."
"In any discussion we should start with our understanding of reality...and respect those and listen to those with a different understanding of reality..."
"I grew up in an alcoholic home and spent years trying to become reality-based"


[Follow-up items: Review the UN Millenium goals and read about the Nobel Peace Prize winner from Bangladesh that the President is a fan of. ]

Back to Ubuntu. President Clinton did not use the precise word in his lecture, but it was certainly the theme. Ubuntu is all about our identity and humanity. The word has its origin in the Bantu language of South Africa and is seen as a traditional African concept. Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote this definition: "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, when others are tortured or oppressed."

The President told the crowd that, in parts of Africa, when members of different tribal groups encounter each other along a footpath, they don't say "how are you?", but greet each other with "I see you." Ubuntu.



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