In searching for ways to promote wellbeing in my school community, I came across an amazing concept called Ubuntu. Ubuntu is an African philosophy promoting the idea that the very existence of a person, their identity and purpose, is deeply rooted in their connections with others. It originates from a Zulu phrase which translates to “a person is a person through other people”. A huge part of the ideology relates to human interdependence and our willingness to prioritise unity within a group as opposed to its divisions. While I don’t lay claim to a complete understanding of Ubuntu, I have been doing my best to use it to guide my thinking as a wellbeing practitioner in an educational environment.
From a teaching/leadership perspective, Ubuntu can encourage the unity of staff through consensus building and being hospitable to the ideas and needs of others in a collective. This frequently revolves around finding what is most impactful to a school community, which could be anything from small, day to day resolutions right up to massive shifts in local curriculum. By identifying common goals, community wellbeing becomes a more willingly shared responsibility. Identifying community impacts is only the starting point, however, as Ubuntu can only be achieved through individuals trusting and investing in the bonds of comradery and collegiality.
This shift in mindset can be difficult for some, especially when burdensome factors of our occupation such as workload and differing mindsets of colleagues come into play. This is where compromise can be used to form the most meaningful bonds between individuals.
Compromise is a crucial element of Ubuntu. Often when two or more people/groups differ in perspective, there are aspects surrounding the situation that are non-negotiable to each party. These non-negotiables frequently have a direct connection to one’s wellbeing and can pull all involved into a cycle of dissatisfaction and mistrust. Compromise is the area where both parties are willing to change or alter their ideas, find common ground and work towards a mutually beneficial outcome.
Compromise works best when both sides aim to figure out what is really important, which strongly correlates to the Ubuntu philosophy. When we are unwilling to shift our priorities, consider the views of others, or take into consideration what might affect their wellbeing, we impair compromise and require the other individual or group to give up more of what is important to them.
If both parties adopt this self-centric mindset, we are left with even less room for compromise. This is where the sense of community breaks down, the priority becomes that of the individual and not of the collective.
If those involved take a moment to reflect on what really matters, put aside prejudice, show understanding, value each other’s beliefs and work towards a common goal, the sense of community grows. The community starts to achieve as one through the joint responsibility of sharing one’s self (strengths, ideas, views) with others and subsequently being receptive and accepting of what is shared by others.
While there is much more about Ubuntu to understand than just compromise, compromise is a great place to start adopting the mindset. When we show others that we are willing to put aside our ideals, prejudices and preferences, our sense of oneness grows.
“There is a oneness to humanity; that we achieve ourselves by sharing ourselves with others, and caring for those around us” – Barack Obama
Tom Hobbs – Ora Health & Physical Education
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