By Maj. Mike Smith
SOCAFRICA Command Chaplain


We’ve started a new year. A resounding virus exudes. We need a new vaccine. But it’s not for COVID-19. We need medicine for a worse pain: dis-unity. And the virus? Tribalism. That drive to always be “right.” Tribes will always be a part of being human. Community binds us together. But tribalism always results in the destruction of relationships. How “right” is that, then?

The best vaccine for 2021 is what the South Africans call, ubuntu. Originally defined by the Archbishop Desmond Tutu, ubuntu is difficult to translate into English: “my humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in theirs. We belong to a bundle of life.” Summed up another way, I am because you are. And you are because I am.

Tutu was a friend of the late South African President, Nelson Mandela. Tutu described Mandela’s decades-long imprisonment as a crucible. Struggling with life inside Apartheid, he responded with acts considered treasonous. Prison molded Mandela’s view of ubuntu: “in the old days when we were young, a traveler through a country would stop at a village, and he didn’t have to ask for food or water; once he stops, the people give him food, entertain him.” Mandela believed ubuntu asks this question: what will you do “to enable the community around you to improve?”

Sound familiar? Remember the Golden Rule? Jesus taught in Matthew 7:12 that we should do for others what we want them to do for us. Ubuntu flourishes in the soil of the Golden Rule. We are truly inseparable from each other in this world. What you do affects others. What they do affects you. When we believe and live this way, rising water lifts all boats.

We hear many stories in our office. Most reveal a struggle with something. Throw in 2020, COVID-19, and political tribalism. The struggle deepens. Often, the story communicates self-centeredness. Folks behave like it’s all about them. Workmates and dependents are affected. Overall, we feel under-manned, underfunded, and overtasked. We don’t mean to, but we can become a tribe of one. So, our office listens carefully to these struggles. Then, when it’s time to offer wisdom, we attempt to do so reflecting on personal responsibility. “Yes, others may be treating you like that and how are you treating others?” Each affects the other.

Unbuntu is the antidote to tribalism and its unintended consequences. When you believe that you are because others are, and that others are because you are, a vac-cine begins to work. Quality of life, mission success and a deep sense of well-being for team and soul alike are felt. Ubuntu is about finding ways to remind ourselves each day of one another, and to show it in even the smallest of ways. This practice will transform our souls, which will transform our families, thereby transforming our team climate, ultimately transforming the culture. Happy New Year! Now, go and live the Golden Rule in ubuntu.