Ubuntu Philosophy * Critical Reflections
You probably already have a concept in your mind about what creativity means and can think of at least two different forms of expressing yourself. There are many different definitions of creativity that tend to go from ‘making new associations’ and ‘recognizing alternatives’ to ‘flexibility in thought’ and ‘inventiveness that captures utility for the greater good’. All-in all, we ideally want to perceive the world in novel ways, maybe even find hidden patterns and be both mindful and sensitive about the impact it will have on the world. In large part, the essence for me lies in what the neuroscientist David Eagleman concretely described as being able to ask “What ifs”. What then is the way to live creatively? How do we balance novelty and familiarity/certainty and uncertainty? Is balance even key or do we need to seek more challenges to trigger the potential to see what was not clear before? But is seeking even the way when it might as well be as simple and peaceful as letting calmness speak like intuition?
With the hope that you see creativity as a way of thinking, feeling and sensing that can be ignited by varying experiences and stimuli, and that it can be applied to any domain in life, I would like to invite you to consider the potential you harbour to (re)boost your own. Accompanying this endeavour, let us also match it up with the awareness that the process of expressing ourselves and reflecting outwards what we have inside is an ongoing experience that, I would argue, sits right next to creativity. If anything, I even see them co-existing at its core and constantly enabling each other remain in movement.
Creativity can be found in music and poetry, relationship dynamics and mathematics and sports. There are no specific boundaries. The same way that it has multiple applications in our lives both internal and in external interaction with it, there are various ways in which we can (re)learn to communicate and express what we have inside.
We have thoughts, feelings and sensations we are consciously aware of at a moment in time; equally, we have those that we are not aware of but do live within and influence us. From conscious and strategic effort to intuitive work, there is a lot to discover about what makes us and the possibilities there are in relation to our environment to respond and create. Finding practices and setting reminders to let go of certain mental barriers can instantly change how we experience life and what we believe to receive from it. Even something like awareness should be questioned since it also has to do with our perceptive lens; meaning, our interpretation and set of beliefs. We hold the potential to create meaning and if you look at the world the diversity in symbolism and signifiers is impressively broad. Just to say, living creatively to me seems foundational and inherently a part of life.
Since creativity can be seen as a set of skills, a lens and even a philosophy in life, let us briefly venture into practices and ideologies found within Ubuntu Philosophy (African philosophy meaning ‘humanity’ & ‘I am because you are’).
To finish off strong, think of what it can do to our self-concept and identity, and how much it can teach us about our emotional world.
Let’s dive right in!
At the root of African philosophy is Ubuntu which means “ humanity”, coming from the Nguni Bantu from Southern African. Mogobe Ramose, author of “ Ubuntu”, describes Ubuntu philosophy as being in harmony; a state where we actively take part in the process of being. The dance of being, to be abstractly more precise. It acknowledges the inner desire to dance with existence and knowledge which comes forth through a continuous movement of being entailing different forms and manifestations. Desmond Tutu, former Archbishop of Cape Town and anti-apartheid activist, describes it as us realizing we are part of a delicate network where we become human through relationships. In other words: we are human because we participate in relationships, not because we think. Reminded of the well-known ‘ I think, therefore I am’ by Descartes? Imagine for yourself what implications this has for how you view yourself and life if it does not start and end with our individual thoughts and reason.
Our state of being is continuously unfolding and I believe the idea of movement and change is implicit here. At the same time, being in harmony is through an ‘active’ decision of wanting to take part in the process of being which in and of itself is interrelated to others. It teaches us that beyond dancing we have intrinsic motivation to explore existence and knowledge itself. How can creativity not be a foundational part of life then?
Competition etymologically originates from the classic term ‘cum petere’ which means working together towards the best solution for the right question, at the right time and place. Over time this term has transformed from togetherness to against each other where there is a single winner and there is a process where the goal is beating someone. If we go back to the origins of competition, we can embrace the ideology of using togetherness, putting time in to ask the right questions and questioning at the right time and place for certain solutions. (“ Ubuntu” by Mogobe Ramose) By re-evaluating domination, changing our goals may change the processes we choose to live and ignite our skills to do so.
‘Rheo-mode’, coined by David Bohm, means wholeness existing in a dynamic essence and Ramose borrows the word and its meaning to further navigate Ubuntu philosophy. ‘Rheo-mode’ is compared to the philosophical stance of the Greek philosopher Heraclitus known for his saying: ‘panta rhei”, meaning, everything flows. There is an underlying understanding that life is continuously in transition and change is a natural path and course of the world. With that being said, Ramose explains it as our being is always ‘becoming’. There is an implicit idea of fluidity and change that I believe we easily forget in a world that is categorized, fragmented and sold within strict narratives. Wonder about the implications of thinking in the present continuous. The boundaries tend to leave us to having static world views and we are not seeing the world from a different perspective. Therefore, we are not using our natural internal resources to build the new. Creativity can also never become scarce unless we decide to shut down to what is there available for us to look at differently.
The following subtitles are also found in ‘Everyday Ubuntu’ by Mungi Ngomane who as the author and human rights activist also happens to be the granddaughter of Desmond Tutu. I have used them in the same phrase since I believe them to be crystal clear messages for which I briefly explain the relevance to developing and boosting creativity and self-expression.
Choose Hope Over Optimism
This is powerful and may be very true. With hope we can earlier think of an underlying feeling of trust whereas with optimism it is a more on-the-surface mindset state that creates a temporary feeling. I believe the deeper sense of trust comes closer to our physiological state where literally our nervous system is in what we would describe a calmer state - at rest - where we will not be mentally overcrowded with worry, black and white thinking or narrow mindedness. There is space for an overview and opportunity to choose to move into specific arenas, zoom-in, and gain more detailed awareness without becoming fully attached.
With hope I see an open space without a priori expectations that allows itself to be manifested in different forms; meaning, with our defenses down and no specific narrative and visuals forced onto our life through our lens, we automatically stand free to be surprised by possibilities and alternatives that can (re)connect in differing forms. We can feel more sustainably stable when focusing on re-stepping into a state of hope in life than with optimism where it seems the thinking can more easily be influenced by an external event and/or opinion that defies it. There is faith, which by being blind, in a sense, is a good thing because that means we are not preplanning how answers should look like.
Find Humour in our Humanity
Laughter and humour, seeing things in a ridiculous nature gives us a major boost and can easily knock down doors. We know it can dissolve our defensive mechanisms and in instances create instant feelings of connectedness. Most importantly for creativity, it can joyfully change narratives and redirect both the pace and direction of our perspectives. It is this touch of lightness that can bring us back to a life orientation of feeling hope and openness once again; making us aware that sometimes we become trapped in mental boundaries and categories that are constructs on their own.
“One study revealed that humans have evolved to laugh as it sends a ‘secure, safe message to others’. After all, it’s possible to fake a smile, while laughter is more involuntary and therefore authentic.” (Everyday Ubuntu)
Once again, we talk about a sense of safety, security and at- rest state that we experience that opens the sight between different nodes; loosens preconceived notions of rules against associations and matches that are indeed in our reach and possible to make. Courage here also exists in its most fun and joyful existence. As Desmond Tutu says, humour can give us back a sense of control. Getting a combination of authenticity and control are precisely elements we tend to seek as a foundation to our life. So, as Ubuntu preaches:
- Turn a situation around by also acknowledging the absurdity of life sometimes
- Learn to laugh at yourself
- Seek out humor (conscious effort to do so)
And if I may add: make sure to have moments and activities that have humour embedded in them. Literally a part of your system. It is a great relaxer to make joy palpable within our regulation throughout life's stresses and disappointments. Not everything can become funny but a lot is 'ridiculous' and that can receive it's own celebration, especially, when shared with others.
Choose to see the Wider Perspective
Ubuntu guides us to view the world from every single different perspective that we can find that goes past the idea of simply opening up to walking in someone else’s shoes; it is about the larger possibilities there are to seeing the shape, structure and dynamic of the world’s circumstances.
Here I find the idea of curiosity also coming through since I believe caring about who we are, where we are and potential allows for the possibility with an automatic connection with different angles. A powerful way to do so is by trying to get to know who we are and looking for a wider perspective within our own identities and relationships. Who we are comes from different factors and stimuli intersecting within us to which we have adapted to attach to certain responses within specific environments. If we give space to think of different narratives that could describe us more angles come loose which we can use to see the larger range of possibilities ahead for us.
What are our roots in the family and larger culture? What social norms influence us and what factors motivated their rise? What do other philosophies and cultures do with the same problem? Can we take the first step in setting a new normal for ourselves by doing it without prior validation? What identities do I carry that are my own understanding of the world and which ones are externally crafted and motivated? Where in the spectrum between individualism and collectivism do I find myself regarding development and purpose?
Boosting Creativity: Emotional Resilience for more Discoveries
We are meaning-makers and storytellers. With every person I have coached so far there has been a moment where they seemed most comfortable and trusting. This was when they felt the space to share part of their story which contained key elements of what they felt and who they were in relation to others. Automatically it becomes a longer thread of a tale; not just recounting incidents or events. It is interesting to note that all of these coachees came to me saying they had concentration problems and would also struggle holding their attention with other topics. Go figure how different it is once inside more can open up and weave the previously more segmented parts of your biography. In every case there came a moment I thought I saw them in a state of flow and I believe that is part of the power of emotional flexibility in regards to creativity. By connecting more internally, our lens reshapes and we get to build new meaning externally whether through direct expression (verbal, written, drawn, danced) or as building blocks to a long-term project (reconfiguring data and restructuring new knowledge to an existing paradigm).
Emotional resilience most definitely encompasses empathy and compassion starting with having these for oneself. With these present there is no judgment, negative belief or deep conditioned fear that will sabotage your ability to feel your emotions and subsequently listen to what message they carry. Or avoid blocking them when they simply need to be felt and released without necessary rationalization. While having that openness to feeling and understanding, it is important to train the skill of trusting your capacity to experience them. After you can consider using them to learn about how to approach life with fresh eyes and raw strength. As we gain more knowledge and self-awareness, the understanding spirit will allow for the space between feelings and critical thoughts so you get more chances to choose who you continue to become.
Having said that, it is clearly not my place to say what the reason to live is for anyone else. What do you think about life: is it about being (more stillness and allowing life live through you), about becoming more passively (letting your being unfold) or more actively becoming (striving to develop beyond barriers)? How much self-expression is a release to allow inner truth to breathe and how much do you recognize to need for recognition to feel emotionally warm?
Whatever it is, it is true that because we form part of a larger system and culture with it’s own intentions and purpose, much of what happens to us and around us is not directly in our control. With that in mind, always, I hope you get to use certain moments with yourself to playfully wonder about. I believe we have an inner philosopher and scientist that for many became demotivated or silenced somewhere in childhood/teenage years. This is your call to allow it to come back and take a seat in the forefront. Be curious about what is happening, what is possible and have a laugh at the fails through what might be constant experimentation.
May creativity remain in your core values, and before I let you go, I want you to skim through some questions.
As always much love!
- In your own words, what are similarities and differences between uncertainty, chaos and possibilities?
- What is the difference, if any, between intuition and implicit skill learning?
- Where in the spectrum from individualism to collectivism do you think you find yourself?
- What are you willing to struggle (even suffer) for long-term while crafting the person/life you want?
- What are the fears associated with changing your environment to suit your needs?
- What happens when you focus on building a system in your life to support your present well-being and curiosity rather than setting a goal for more efficient personal performance?
- One big consequence of our culture is to think different labels we carry cannot co-exist. We then feel no room to be ourselves or we are not acknowledged in our entirety. Ex. being social and experiencing deep existential loneliness or being creative and effective in finding solutions to social problems whilst feeling emotionally numb. Can you think of ways in which you can let inner walls dissolve between different identities you carry that seem to not be able to go together?