It’s hard to think or talk about something until you have a word for it. Hence the power of the word as a primary vehicle for human consciousness. Indeed, with regard to the emergence of human consciousness, many evolutionary anthropologists and biblical scholars can agree that “in the beginning was the word.”
The Bantu languages of southern Africa use the word “ubuntu” to convey that our humanity is realized only in relation to others, and that this common humanity is diminished when any one of us is neglected or harmed or oppressed. This word simultaneously conveys our mutual interconnectedness along with the mutual obligations that flow from that interconnectedness. It is a rich word, with spiritual connotations, that exerts a deep cultural influence.
We need an English word that conveys this sense of interconnectedness and mutual obligation. We need a word that denotes our unity and interdependence, along with our corresponding obligations to strive for altruism over egoism, compassion over aggression, cooperation over competition, selflessness over selfishness.
I was beginning to think that someone needs to coin a new word in English to convey all of this. But then I realized that the word already exists:
Of course, naming something is only the first step. Now we need to learn how to translate the word into a new social reality. Which reminds me…
in the beginning was the word.