Friday, November 26, 2004


A Paper for Sharing

Frederica Azania Clare

November, 2004

“Ubuntu psychology is human actualization. It is the optimization of our humanity through human interaction and intervention.” - Frederica Azania Clare


Here are some definitions of UBUNTU PSYCHOLOGY found by the author. These definitions, quotes and images were selected by this author as answers to the question posed as the title of this paper: What is Ubuntu Psychology? The excerpts selected were not solicited from the authors/originators of the quotes that follow. Where known, however, the authors are cited, usually with references to more of their work which could be considered pertinent to the topic, and further explain or explore or define the concept of Ubuntu Psychology.

“The best image I have of this is from a film about Helen Keller. There is a scene where after countless frustrating failures, her tutor is once again working with her. She is patiently pressing the letters for the word “water” into the palm of her hand; she is helping her shape her mouth into the vocalization, and she is doing all this while putting Helen’s other hand under a stream of water coming out of a pump. Then there is this moment where Helen suddenly awakens. All the pieces come together. She practically explodes with joy and runs all over the house wanting to know the names of everything she touches. The tears, the laughter, and the joy are overwhelming. Surely, in this moment of awakening, Helen Keller acquired much more than a word. She gained a social world within which she could invite others to drink. The water itself was no less mysterious for having had this name attached to it, but Helen Keller was transformed forever. In the same way, those of us who use religious language are not trying to capture an infinite mystery in a word. We are not looking for definition; we’re looking for transformation. We use this language because we want to invite one another to drink. Once we have come to the fountain, we no longer need the words.” Quote from: Daniel O. Snyder, PhD., Pendle Hill Lecture, 2003 (1.)


This first quote is particularly important because it also defines the ubuntu village; “a social world within which she could invite others to drink.” The ubuntu village here is understood to be, not necessarily a physical place, but indeed a spiritual space (perhaps within us); into which we can invite others, to be themselves, because they are human; and because we recognize that since they are human, something about them is also “divine” and desirable.

I chose Dr. Snyder’s, as the first “found” definition of Ubuntu Psychology, moreover, because, as he gives his “definition,” the idea of human communication which transforms is introduced. His unintentional offering is key to our understanding of the concept of Ubuntu Psychology because the intention of ubuntu psychology is the transformation of people and situations, through the positive synergies of human interaction.

Ubuntu psychology is the essence of human efficacy, derived from, and applied to, the social nature of our humanity. Ubuntu Psychology transforms us, by definition: Ubuntu: An isiZulu word (and proverb) meaning “I am human because you are human.” Ubuntu Psychology says, “Sharing ourselves, our gifts, with others optimizes our collective, and individual, humanity; and, even in the sharing, the giving, the individual, or “other” group, receives the gifts, the glories, of humanity.
Ubuntu psychology is human efficacy, derived from, and applied to, the social nature of our humanity. There is no nature vs. nurture argument in the “Ubuntu School” of psychology. The Ubuntu School and Ubuntu Psychology state: "It is our optimal nature, as human beings (because we are designed to do so) to nurture one another!"

In conclusion to this introduction, the author asserts that ubuntu psychology is an ancient, (though still very efficacious) African ancestoral, and empirically “psychological,” socialization and intervention methodology. Ubuntu psychology is the acknowledgment and optimization of the human “social” condition. It is the acknowledgement of the other, as human -- no different than self; although, perhaps, possessing different innate and socialized gifts!

Further, for the purposes psychological research, the author asserts that the behaviors attendant to, or logically flowing from, a consideration of the concept of ubuntu psychology can be explored as necessary and sufficient conditions for the following:

1. Personality growth;
2. Successful social integration; and,
3. Socially desired change, sometimes called progress.

(1.) Snyder, Daniel, O, “Nonviolence and the Dynamics of Transformation”Pendle Hill – Swarthmore Forum Lecture, Lang Center, Swarthmore CollegeNovember 20, 2003 Daniel O. Snyder, ©Daniel O. Snyder, November 20, 2003

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