Diversity and Ubuntu

Unity in Diversity: Harnessing the Strength of Our Differences

Lift your gaze, look around you, observe keenly and sense deeply. You’ll be mesmerised at the diversity of the world. It teems with life, colour and difference – flora, fauna, nations and microscopic organisms, all living in perfect symbiosis, sharing this planet we call home.

Diversity is one of the major characteristics of life on Earth. The world is wondrous in its multifarious character and this was elegantly captured by physicist Fritjof Capra (1994) in the following: “When you look at an ecosystem – say at a meadow or a forest – and you try to understand what it is, the first thing you recognize is that there are many species there. There are many plants, many animals, and many microorganisms. And they’re not just an assemblage or collection of species. They are a community, which means that they are interdependent; they depend on one another.”

Like in the natural world humans too depend on each other. Our diversity as a human species is our greatest strength, yet paradoxically also our greatest weakness. Like in the natural ecosystem described by Capra, the human species are also varied – creeds; races; nationalities; ideologues, all living interconnected, symbiotically and synergistically with each other.

And it is this diversity as researched by Frans Johansson in his book The Medici Effect  that shows how the clash of ideas contributed to innovation that pulled Italy out of the Dark Ages. But, even though we constitute one humanity and benefit from diversity, we also had perpetual struggles with it. Therefore, after thousands of years we still witness the never-ending conflicts raging around the world.

Think of the perpetual war in the Middle East, or the factional battles in parts of South Africa. Othering people whether based on sexual orientation, race, language or any defining characteristics remains one of the biggest challenges we still face in our modern times. It seems that as a species we are hellbent on finding reason(s) to maintain exclusivity.

Despite access to the media, globalisation or education, discrimination is still rampant at all levels of society. It’s often based on flawed perceptions, stereotypes or fear. And unfortunately these stereotypes are inflamed during times of economic adversity. We need look no further than the xenophobic attacks in recent years or the racialised fear mongering that still plays out in the body politic.

So how do we reimagine an inclusive yet diverse world? We have to become conscious human beings, see the world for what it is, and then critically reflect on how we behave and live on this planet.

After the onset of democracy in 1994, South Africa did not implode into a racialised Armageddon. Life carried on as normal with most South Africans embracing the social changes. Undoubtedly there were pockets of resistance, but in the main the social integration was regarded as a miracle by the international community. This all happened in one generation. So, there is hope.  The vast majority of people have learnt to co-exist, albeit that they had to unlearn and relearn social skills.

Inclusive diversity will come when we’re willing to learn from the timeless wisdom of nature. The biosphere of nature and the melting pot of a multicultural society vibrates with potential. Differences strengthen the ecosystem whilst contributing to natural and social development. Embracing diversity is the purest form of the African humanist philosophy of Ubuntu – I exist because of you.

Therefore, co-existence in diversity is simply, pure life. Our future sustainability depends on it.

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Rudi Kimmie (PhD) is a human and organisational development specialist. He writes in his personal capacity.

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