Losing sight of our interconnectedness

Flicking again through the pages of the April edition of Christian Politics which arrived in my mail, I notice some interesting pieces on communtiy in an article by Lord David Alton.

He speaks firstly of how 'Nelson Mandela promotes the old African belief in Ubuntu: “a person is a person because of other people.” Mandela says: “Ubuntu does not mean that people should not enrich themselves. The question therefore is: 'Are you going to do so in order to enable the community around you to improve?' ” Archbishop Desmond Tutu explained Ubuntu by saying: “Ubuntu is 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.” ' Perhaps to include European references also, Lord Alton later quotes Jonn Donne: “No man is an island entire of itself.”

This challenges excessively individualistic or self-centred ideologies of personal development, but makes me wonder whether it means that a hermit or a lone survivor of a disaster ceases to be human!

His other fascinating quote is from (American Indian) Chief Seattle, which says some interesting things about both community and environment. Surely he is right to say that to harm the earth is to “heap contempt on its creator.”

“This we know; the earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth. This we know. All things are connected like the blood which unites one family. All things are connected. Even the white man, whose God walks and talks with him as friend to friend, cannot be exempt from the common destiny. We may be brothers after all. We shall see. One thing we know which the white man may one day discover: our God is the same God. You may think now that you own Him as you wish to own our land; but you cannot. He is the God of man, and His compassion is equal for the red man and the white. The earth is precious to Him, and to harm the earth is to heap contempt on its creator. The whites too shall pass; perhaps sooner than all other tribes. Contaminate your bed and you will one night suffocate in your own waste.”

(The Chief Seattle quote comes from Lord Alton's book What Kind of Country. It is a fragment of a speech, probably delivered in 1854 in the context of the sale or surrender of their land. I notice from the internet that there is some controversy over what the Chief actually said, and which translations are best. Various translations seem to locate the words above in quite different places in the speech!)

 

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