"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."
— Desmond Tutu

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Little Sparks

"A great flame follows a little spark." -Dante Alighieri 

For whatever reason, I have had an extremely hard time finding news stories about people who embody ubuntu lately. I thought with the 10th anniversary of September 11th last Sunday that surely there would be a flood of stories about people doing great things in memory of someone, or just because of the talk of "unity" and "solidarity" that abounded. And maybe there were, but if so, their news stories are hidden and buried under a pile of news stories about the 2012 election, trouble in the Middle East, and celebrity gossip. 

So I find myself extremely frustrated and discouraged today. After searching the news for what seemed like hours, and even after going to my standard "good news" sources, I was still coming up empty. Just when I was about to give up and spend the rest of the day, and probably the week, engulfed in the ugliness in the news, I happened upon this story of Heroreports. Under the direction of Yessica Guerra, and started through an initiative by MIT, Heroreports is "a non-profit project dedicated to crowdsourcing and mapping reports of citizen courage and positive social behavior."

The site is full of reports of "small" acts of kindness and courage, which, I'm sure, seem much larger in a city ravaged by violence. There are stories that range from something small, such as witnessing someone give up a seat to an elderly person, to reports of really grandiose acts of kindness. 

So, in a city full of terror and fear, if there are people who can still find heroes in each other, I think I can do a better job of finding the good and the courageous- even in the midst of the news that surrounds us every day. 

Here's the website for the Heroreports based out of Juárez. It's in Spanish, but it's still pretty powerful to see. (Also, Google translate.....)

And here's the project main page with links to other cities and partnership opportunities:

Friday, September 2, 2011

Immeasurable Good

My mom recently told me of a story she heard where a celebrity was describing losing his mother, saying that it is only when one faces a terrible tragedy that one really becomes an adult.

"Becoming an adult" is a phrase that I don't think people think about much. What does it mean? Turning 18? When I was teaching and one of my students turned 18, I would ask him what the first thing he was going to do would be. The inevitable reply: "I am going to buy a lottery ticket and some cigarettes!" Very occasionally, a student would respond, "I will also register to vote." 

I have never really thought about what it means to "become an adult." Our society makes it seem like it's a rite of passage where we can finally do all the things that we were not allowed to do as children. But is giving in to that self-indulgence really "becoming an adult?" Or is becoming an adult more significant than that? Is it taking on more responsibility like living on one's own, paying bills, getting a job, or becoming a parent, or is it even more than that?  

Perhaps it is realizing that the self-indulgence of childhood is over, and it is time to use whatever skills and resources we may possess for the greater good? The veil of "innocent childhood" is removed from our eyes, we see the world as it really is, and we declare, "I will do good here."

I found this story in The Huffington Post initially, and Susanne's story made me think even more about what it means to face loss and terrible tragedy. Instead of allowing her grief to consume her (and who could blame her?), she became more aware of the plights of others. Her own loss was a catalyst for her to do immeasurable good.

I hope, one day, to be an adult like Susanne Janson. 

Watch her CNN Heroes video here:

Learn more and/or donate to her orphanage:

Thursday, September 1, 2011

"What America Is All About"

“Our goal has never been to have things,” Powell said of himself and his wife, Dot. “We want to give back.”

Even if I were not a former educator, I think I would still be invested in education and educational policies of this country. Thomas Jefferson firmly believed that free public education was essential to democracy; a country cannot self-govern without an educated populace. And yet, the way this democracy now treats education seems to completely contradict Jefferson's ideas. Instead of supporting education at all costs, it is often the "cash cow" from which to pull money needed for other governmental functions. Ok, yes, it is important to have a functioning government, but how long will that government function if the people are not being educated?

My sister sent me this story about a true educator. A story about a man who believes in the universal right to free, quality education, and who is so devoted to his job that he is willing to do it for very little money. This certainly will not fix the problems that public education is facing these days, but it is certainly a step in the right direction. We need more people like Mr. Powell in order to ensure that everyone will be able to realize those all-American ideals of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

Read his story here:


Monday, August 15, 2011

Forgiveness by example

Great things happen in life. In the time I was absent from writing this blog, I got married to the most wonderful man, spent an incredible summer with people I love, and moved to a new city to begin another great adventure. Life is good.
And yet, there are times when life seems unbearable, or at least, difficult. Times when the greatness and beauty of this life are overshadowed by some moment of extreme injustice or rage-inducing hypocrisy. It's times like these that we need to be even more vigilant about finding examples of goodness, honesty, and justice.
I am sure we have all had days like that recently- the political climate makes it difficult to think about much else. And my day today was especially difficult. After storming out of an appointment and driving angrily home, I decided that today would be the perfect day to begin this blog again.

So, here goes.

This is a story about forgiveness, which, while it might be an easy subject to bring up, is much harder to actually achieve. A man who was shot in the fear-encompassed post-9-11 world tells a story in which he was not only able to genuinely forgive his attacker, but where he also chose to fight for him in court. Truth be told, it made my "unfair day" look small in the grand scheme of things, and, thankfully, put me back on more solid ground.

Listen to his story here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00hzsq2

Or, read about it here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/18/rais-bhuiyan-pleads-to-spare-mark-stroman_n_902137.html

"I was raised very well by my parents and teachers. They raised me with good morals and strong faith. They taught me to put yourself in others’ shoes. Even if they hurt you, don’t take revenge. Forgive them. Move on. It will bring something good to you and them. My Islamic faith teaches me this too. He said he did this as an act of war and a lot of Americans wanted to do it but he had the courage to do it — to shoot Muslims. After it happened I was just simply struggling to survive in this country. I decided that forgiveness was not enough. That what he did was out of ignorance. I decided I had to do something to save this person’s life. That killing someone in Dallas is not an answer for what happened on Sept. 11." 
-- Rais Bhuiyan

Thursday, April 7, 2011

"I am Afghan woman and I must wail..."

I am extremely impatient with the state of the United States today. I teach high school to "underprivileged" students, and yes, some of them genuinely are in need of real advocacy for the unfairness their lives have dealt them. Most, however, take for granted the free education that is provided to them, the rights they have to go to school in a safe environment, to wear the clothes they want, to listen to the music they want, to have access to anything in the world via the Internet.... and the opportunity to pursue whatever career they choose. Many of them fail to realize that they have many, many advantages over most of the world's population, and even those who struggle in school are still able to have a life that affords them many luxuries.

I've been told to "shut up" from three different students today for asking students to do what they're supposed to to anyway. I was told earlier that I should be more concise with my directions after my French students translated their game into Spanish. "You didn't tell us what language to translate it to..." they said. Really??!!?? The news today abounds with worthless crap that we're supposed to care about. Charlie Sheen, Tiger Woods, Justin whatever-his-name-is... I am so tired of the things this country has placed at the top of its priority list.

I need a good story about good people who are doing good for the world. I head a story on BBC Outlook today about a female prosecutor in Afghanistan, and even though the story itself is heart-wrenching and sad, the light that shines through circumstances such as these is even brighter because of them. If I could only be as brave and courageous as this woman in my little comfortable life, I might be able to overlook all the little things that get to me, and truly make a difference. Maria Bashir is the true embodiment of Ubuntu.

Definitely read about her here:



And listen to the Outlook interview here:

Monday, April 4, 2011

Acts of goodwill propagate through the city....

After a little hiatus, I started listening/searching again for more Ubuntu. Strangely enough, right as I was thinking, "Hey, I should start looking for some more stories..." I heard this story on NPR. The part that got my attention was the beginning anecdote about the man named "Oscar" who lost his wallet in Philadelphia's Reading Market and had it returned to him, intact, several weeks later by an anonymous person. Neal Conan makes a point that the act of goodwill is not so much the act in itself, but the fact that Oscar repeats the story over and over again. The interview is actually with an author about centers where ethnic and socioeconomic barriers are broken down and people see each other as people. It's a good interview, with a lot of good Ubuntu stories that would otherwise probably go unheard. I hope you listen.


Saturday, March 19, 2011

Turning lemons into lemonade...into relief

As a teacher, I have been dismayed by the enormous budget cuts to the education system, and have spent much of the last week wallowing in self pity and anger towards those who think that teachers and those who work in the public sector are so expendable. Also, I had an extremely hard time finding Ubuntu in any news story this week, as so many terrible things have happened around the world. However, if there's one thing that I'm learning through this, it's that people inevitably come out to help those in need during times of tremendous tragedy. I happened to hear this story on NPR about those in Hawaii raising money to help those affected by the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan. My favorite part was hearing about the children who set up a lemonade stand, and sent their resulting $145 to Japan relief efforts. True Ubuntu in the works.

Listen to the story here:

Hawaii Looks To Help Japan With Donations

Friday, March 11, 2011

Countering Thoughtlessness

I should know by now not to read comments people make on controversial news stories. I was reading a story earlier about Rep Gabrielle Giffords' recovery and some of the comments made were unnecessary, and unnecessarily hateful. I guess I'm having a hard time balancing free speech with the things that people choose to say. I suppose one has to be strong enough in his convictions to be able to look past the sometimes horrifying rhetoric people spew onto public forums. I decided that since I'm not quite that strong, I'm going to counter it with an old story from BBC Outlook I heard in January. I think about this woman and her Ubuntu spirit nearly every day, and I think that her selflessness and compassion are great enough to wipe out the rest of what I head today.


To read more about Dorah's story, go here:

And to learn more about children like Dorah, or to make a contribution, go here:

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Patriotic Ubuntu

The decision of the Supreme Court last week that upheld the right to free speech for members of the Westboro Baptist "Church" was upsetting, and unfortunately, I think, the right decision. This is one of the things about free speech that is so upsetting- people can spew their hate and bigotry wherever... even our fallen soldiers' funerals. However, I found this story (thanks Carol and Snowden) posted on Facebook today, and it made me feel a little more...uplifted... about this decision. Yes, these people have the right to say what they want, but no one has to hear it. This is a great example of Archbishop Tutu's description of Ubuntu- people who feel diminished when others are diminished, and therefore must do something about it.
Thank God for those who have the Ubuntu to protect grieving families by drowning out those who, while they have the right to, should not be talking.


Sunday, March 6, 2011

Going out of your way to help....literally

After reading in Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point that people are more likely to help a person in dire need if they are the only one around to hear their calls for help, I was struck with the sinking sensation that people may not be as philanthropic as I had thought. But I heard this story about a captain who went off his course to help stranded Afghani refugees, and I feel a little more uplifted about those willing to help another in his or her time of need.

Listen to the story here:

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

"I shall not hate."

There were a lot of news items about "taking sides" this morning. The 2012 presidential campaign is looming, there are stories of unions vs governors, stories of people versus their government. It is so easy for us to take sides, sometimes. Having never been on either side of a great divide; I can't possibly imagine how it would feel. Also, living in the great comfort and safety of the United States, I can't imagine living a life that was in great danger nearly every day, and yet never giving in to having to "choose" a side. And I have also been fortunate enough to have never had to deal with a great and tragic loss. This is a true example of ubuntu- a man who gives of himself to promote peace and the idea that we all must be cared for, even in the shadow of immense personal loss.

Listen to his story here:

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Music Woman

I am extremely lucky in having grown up in a family where music played (and still plays) a central role. My sister and I played the piano, sang in choir, played the viola and cello, and participated in musicals. I learned to play the French Horn in high school, just because I thought it was beautiful. We were extremely lucky to have the opportunities to pursue music like we did; we had private lessons and we were always able to see a number of touring Broadway productions. I can't imagine a life where music would not be a part of it. While the talk of educational cuts are never-ending, music programs across the nation are always on or very close to the chopping block. Many school districts have already abandoned music programs all together. Stories like this show that music is a necessary element in our lives, and one that we must pursue regardless of funding. Of course, not many of us will go on to become the next Joshua Bell, but being given the opportunity to explore music, the challenge to make it, and the ability to partake in being a part of a greater whole exemplifies the idea of Ubuntu unlike much else.


Friday, February 25, 2011

Something out of nothing

This is one of the first stories I heard on NPR this morning as I was driving to work, and for some reason, I didn't really think that it applied to my "people who embody ubuntu" theme, perhaps because Dr Kenney lived so long ago- it's not really a story about someone today. But the more I read about him, the more I think that stories like his are important to remember. I was particularly struck by the granddaughter's last phrase: ""Our grandfather, who was the son of ex-slaves — if he can do what he did with nothing, what is our excuse?"


And here is more information about him and his hospital:

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Feeding those who are fighting

After reading a thoroughly discouraging piece in the New York Times, I felt the familiar surge of anger boil up inside me. So, I found this. And now I want pizza for dinner.

Here's another story about it, detailing the people from around the world who are calling in orders:

And if you want to order a pizza for the protesters:

Cleaning up the city, one trash can at a time

While perhaps it should just be innate to throw something away in a trash can and not just out of a car window or on the floor, this makes it more likely that the trash will actually find its way into the trash can. I wish we had these at the school where I teach! I'm sure my students would be scrambling to clean up the room after class and throw away their trash! Now we need one for recycling....

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The embodiment of ubuntu

A great starting point. Watching this man always restores my soul.

Why we need more Ubuntu in our country

"So, you find humor in other people's suffering?"
"Yeah, why not? It's not me. Plus, it's funny." -- a 12th grader at Thornton High School

After hearing this sentiment echoed in my class today, I realized that I am not okay with the direction what we perceive as "entertainment" is going. We mock people's deepest beliefs, we laugh at people getting hurt; we somehow think that being an "individual" is best manifested by belittling others, picking on and bullying them for kicks. 

We are a nation of shadenfreude. We like to see people hurt, people lose, people be shamed. I suppose, being a member of the "America's Funniest Home Videos" generation, that I shouldn't be surprised in learning that many people think that other people's suffering is entertainment. Most "reality" shows like American Idol, and America's Next Top Model thrive in the moment where one person is mocked, scorned, and sent home. We mock those on American Idol for months and even years after their public disgrace. We look at websites like Lamebook, RegrEtsy, and People of Walmart and feel superior to those dumb fools we see. "Wow, that's pathetic," is a comment often printed underneath pictures of people donning strange hairdos, wearing revealing clothes, or selling a hand-crafted trinket.

I listen to NPR nearly every morning, and more and more, I find myself reeling in anger at the stories I hear. Leaders of our country are telling us that it is okay to "hate" those who oppose us (or who do not agree with us), that we must be "vigilant" in ensuring that our OWN opinions are the ones that matter... the lack of civility in public discourse (as a friend put it) is astounding. And it should be terrifying. We so much want to be right, we want to "win," and we will do it at any cost- human or otherwise. The idea behind Ubuntu is that we are not threatened by others, and we ourselves are dimished when others are. We, therefore, do not do the diminishing.

Yes, there was definitely a time when I got my kicks at the expense of others. I am a big fan of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. I loved making fun of former president W. Bush and his stupidity. However, as I listened to my class today talk about how they would rather see a fight or a car accident for entertainment than read a book or even watch their favorite TV show, a terrifying thought struck me: this is our next generation of leaders. And this is what they want to see. As I near 30, I am beginning to realize a few things: mindsets like these are unproductive, they distract us from problems that require thought and reason, and this is simply not funny anymore.  

So, this is my quest for enlightenment, of sorts. Not a saccharine, sappy, "after school special" of feel-good stories, but an honest look at what people are doing in the United States and in other parts of the world to be productive, to improve their society, and to embody the idea of "Ubuntu" about which Archbishop Desmond Tutu spoke. Every time I see/hear/read about the dehumanization of another human being, I will counter it with finding a story about someone who embodies Ubuntu. Perhaps through this, I can at least find some balance in my own soul, and look upon our American culture with pride and hope for future generations. 

"Bless the whole world- no exceptions."