Ubuntu. The belief that we are defined by our compassion and kindness for others.

This isn’t the typical Jute Creative blog post. It’s more personal, but what better time than Thanksgiving to give thanks, share, and reflect.

I have been stunned since the election, and in processing my version of grief, I did what I’ve done all my life when I have (what feels like) too much to bear. I got very quiet. I turned down the lights and locked the doors. I put on comfy clothes. I burrowed under the covers. And I slept.

Sleeping has always been my coping mechanism, my safe space. In Miami in 1991, during Hurricane Andrew, as 175-mile-per-hour winds tore the roof off the house I was holed up in, I slept. The screeching, howling wind was my lullaby. In 2003, as my 1-year-old daughter spent two weeks in the ICU battling an autoimmune infection, no one could believe how I was able to nod off and on all day and night in the uncomfortable chair next to her bed. (Today, at 13, she is fine.)

Life presses on, though, and after this most recent hibernation, I am awake once more, and gearing up for Thanksgiving week, my favorite holiday of the year.

Surfing my social media outlets for inspiration, I stumbled upon the word Ubuntu, an African humanist philosophy that focuses on people’s allegiances and relations with each other. I hadn’t thought of the term since studying religion in college.

Ubuntu is commonly associated with the phrase “I am what I am because of who we all are.” South African Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu described it as “the essence of being human.”

Rooted in the tenets of respect, community, caring, trust, helpfulness and unselfishness, the philosophy embraces the idea that people are people “through other people” and that we affirm our humanity only when we acknowledge that of others.

In a 2006 interview, Nelson Mandela summed up what Ubuntu meant to him. “In the old days when we were young, a traveler would stop at a village. He didn’t have to ask for food or water,” Mandela said. “Once he stopped, the people gave him food and attended to him."

“Ubuntu does not mean that people should not enrich themselves,” Mandela continued. “The question therefore is, are you going to do something to enable the community around you to improve? These are the important things in life.”

At least I’m well rested this Thanksgiving, and I am ready to move forward with his words in mind. I intend to lead every engagement with as much compassion for all needs and all points of view as I can muster. I will strive to do my part, acknowledge that humanity is seen and demonstrated not individually, but in how we come together as a community.

We at Jute Creative wish you a safe, warm, abundant and blessed Thanksgiving. Rest up and let’s keep pressing forward, doing good work, being there for one another. For I believe we are who we are because of what we are together, and that we must approach our everyday lives in the spirit of Ubuntu.

Kari Olivier worked in various corporate marketing roles before migrating to the agency side. Kari is a writer, workshop facilitator, marketing strategist, and advisor to leaders at Fortune 500 companies and SMBs. She is co-founder of Jute Creative, a branding, marketing and communications agency in Portland, Oregon.

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