Ubuntu: rethinking our relationship to the living world

Niels de Fraguier
4 min readAug 31, 2022

Ubuntu is a term originating from southern Africa and the Nguni peoples meaning “humanity”. It is commonly translated as “I am because we are”.

This ancient term resonates more than ever as we are on the verge of a societal shift driven by climate disruption. Our relationship with the world is central to the challenges our species has created for itself. We are because nature holds the conditions of life for us.

Let’s explore how we became disconnected and look at the deeper meaning of resonance with ourselves, others, and the living world.

© Lucas Wakamatsu

Exploring the story of disconnection

When looking at the course of the world today, we can clearly understand that most of us, humans, have become disconnected from the living world.

Life on Earth has existed for more than 3.8 billion years. We, humans, have been on this planet for nearly 300 000 years. We are new bees on here. Nevertheless, the cultural hegemony of capitalism has led us to quickly trivialize separation from the natural world.

We lost our minds. The frantic quest for growth and acceleration from the 1950s completely shifted our relationship with the living world. Nature has become a cheap and disconnected element of our lives allowing us to “create value”. From being in symbiosis with the natural world, our species has evolved to dominate resources standing above all living things — including other human beings.

© Lucas Wakamatsu

Capitalism has driven nature to become cheap to exploit while making it acceptable to degrade it without accountability. It has embodied its identity into the workforce by making the human body becoming a raw material for wealth production. This era has been coined as the Capitalocene by Jason Moore — capitalism as a way of organizing nature — as a multispecies, situated, capitalist world-ecology.

Think for a minute about the number of brands you know and compare it with the species you could name… The result is astonishing. It wasn’t that way centuries ago.

For 99 percent of the time we’ve been on Earth, we were hunters and gatherers, our lives dependent on knowing the fine, small details of our world. Deep inside, we still have a longing to be reconnected with the nature that shaped our imagination, our language, our song and dance, our sense of the divine.
Janine Benyus

Being in resonance with the living world

The divides of today are the causes of years of societal influence shaping our conception of what is right. As explored in the previous part of this article, our economic system has highly influenced our preconception of the world as well as the ultimate desire we have been influenced to have.

Moved away from our true essence, we have been led to get rid of our roots linking us to the planet we live on. Generations after generations, we have been giving up on the true value of nature and ourselves to put our attention on possession, accumulation, extraction, commodification and productivity.

A people without knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.
Marcus Garvey

This mainstream approach merely focused on consuming resources, is all about personal gain over the living world. It is driven by the idea that we owe to receive without holding space for reciprocity.

There comes “Ubuntu” and the opportunity to honour the idea that “we are because the living world is”. The Earth is the ground to our feet. It is the ultimate structure holding us into this world. It is the precondition for us to be able to live, breathe, eat, stand and so much more. Without Earth, there is no us.

© Lucas Wakamatsu

We need a consciousness shift to refocus our attention on what truly matters. To vibrate once again with the elements around us and within ourselves. These are the conditions of our mere existence alongside millions of species, plants, and living systems. We need to resonate* with the living world by acknowledging, honouring, and regenerating it. From a story of domination, we need to transition to a story of reconnection where we honour our relationship to the wide web of life.

We are living through a transition in planetary life with the “potential to transform Earth rapidly and irreversibly into a state unknown in human experience”.
Anthony D. Barnosky

The reciprocity of our world is here, in front of our eyes. Our lives depend on it. We must resonate again with the world where we, the subject, and the world — other human beings, species, nature in all its forms, and life on Earth as a whole- can influence and transform one another. We must end the domination era to give space for reciprocity.

We need to ask ourselves what we want this relationship with the living world to be like. What importance do we want to give to care and reciprocity?

As Jason Hickels puts it: “We have everything to lose, and a world to gain”.

*The concept of resonance has been coined by Hartmut Rosa, professor of sociology. It describes a subject-object relationship as a vibrating system in which both sides mutually stimulate each other. It aims to lead to successful relations between subject and world in the sense of a “good life” as free as possible from cultural evaluations and assumptions.



Niels de Fraguier

Author of The Regenerative Enterprise. Disrupting the status quo by challenging assumptions, practices, and conventional thinking. Top Writer on Sustainability