What happens when an African philosophy meets a Greek philosophy? Introducing Ubuntu Stoicism

What is ubuntu stoicism?

I will explain.

Image courtesy of Allen Casey

These are two separate philosophies, and of course from two different continents and eras. They overlap by over 2500 years before the era of Jesus Christ’s birth (BC).

Most people know me for entrepreneurship and my writings and books about it.

It comes as a surprise to many that I’ve put together a book about stoicism.

It is even stranger that it’s titled ‘Introducing Ubuntu Stoicism.’

The question for many then becomes how the hack does an African philosophy such as ubuntu play in the same space as the Greek philosophy of stoicism.

By the way, the book is subtitled ‘Gain Joy, Resilience, Productivity, and Defuse Anxiety.’

Then, further questions would be:

– How do the two philosophies meet?

– What does each mean?

– How did you discover stoicism, and since you are South African?

My entrepreneurship struggles, anxieties, and perhaps depression, got me to search for philosophies on how to cope and thrive.

I think I discovered stoicism through the author Tim Ferris’s podcast. Ryan Holiday’s stoicism books provided an in-depth direction. Shout out to ‘The Obstacle Is the Way.’ It’s a fantastic book.

Since then, I’ve been meditating on the philosophy as an approach to my life.

Stoicism was the first philosophy that made sense to me after a long time of deliberating other philosophies and religions.

It gave me a healthy perspective on joy, anxiety, resilience and productivity. Hence the subtitle of this book.

My first stoic writings were for my mental health book — and my fourth book — ‘The Anxious Entrepreneur’ in 2016.

In 2019, I wrote an article which mediated on African Proverbs from a stoic perspective. It is where I coined the phrase ‘ubuntu stoicism.’

What is stoicism? (You can skip if you know)

Stoicism is an ancient Greek philosophy founded in the 3rd century BC. It was practised by slaves, emperors, artists, politicians, businessmen and warriors.

Stoicism’s intended benefit, among others, is to practice virtue — as it can’t be lived just in words — and to mitigate adverse events in life as they occur always. It is a simple and telling philosophy.

It is as Emperor Marcus Aurelius put in his notes that, “If it is not right do not do it; if it is not true do not say it.”

He was noting how he should conduct himself and not let his position poison his ego or fragility.

Marcus Aurelius was one of the prominent stoic philosophers during the Roman Empire era.

What is ubuntu philosophy?

In Africa, on the other hand, they use the ancient philosophy of ubuntu and its proverbs to reinforce virtues, humility, inspiration, and cautionary discipline.

Ubuntu is a derived meaning of humanity’s humility among the Nguni and Bantu tribes and their languages.

It is an evolved philosophy from the Bantu-languages-speaking tribes in Sub-Saharan Africa. It is languages such as Zulu and Sepedi in South Africa, Kirundi in Rwanda, Shona in Zimbabwe, and Kimutu in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The spread and similarity in Bantu tribe languages is hypothesized as the Bantu Expansion.

They evolved and spread when a Proto-Bantu-speaking group started migration from West-Central Africa towards Southern Africa about 5000 years ago (c. 3000 BC.).

Ubuntu in a relational sense means I am because we are. If I want you to be better, I should be better. Ubuntu signals a sense of personal responsibility in this regard.

The community benefits from the virtues of responsible individuals. They also serve as inspiration to others, particularly the younger generation.

How do ubuntu and stoicism meet?

Like Marcus Aurelius said, “If it is not right do not do it; if it is not true do not say it.” It is therefore humility (ubuntu) to the self to not let external provocations steal focus from your days.

By taking personal responsibility to be better, you are showing virtue and this virtue is good also for your community. This virtue is ubuntu.

I infer that you are showing ubuntu in a stoic sense. You are living a virtuous life.

Showing humility to the self is key to preserving one’s energy. You live with peace. Productivity on focus areas is not disturbed.

A meditation on a few African proverbs

“No matter how hot your anger is, it cannot cook yams”

Yam is an edible tuberous root. Sweet potato is also a tuberous root for example — yams and sweet potato both need hot cooking to soften up.

So, anger however called for, can never cook yam. You cannot eat the fruits of your anger.

But maybe the people you are angry with will know how you feel. Maybe. Maybe not. Nonetheless do not be angry for long. Find peace for you to live with. Maybe even without those people. A life lived with anger is a waste.

“Teeth do not see poverty”

Think about it. A smile is a smile is a smile and it is a good thing. So smile. Be to yourself a force of meditating smile. Smile by yourself brother, and sister.

Show humility to yourself.

Philosophy in practice

These philosophies set me up with — and remind me of — better perspectives for a good life.

Stoic philosophy is perspective. Perspective is either healthy or unhealthy. A healthy perspective does not mean the situation is good necessarily. If you are in a bad situation, the healthy perspective is to act upon the probability that if you let yourself disintegrate, you will entropy into chaos.

Good perspective carries you even in bad times.

Philosophy is about capturing the past into the present for our benefit. We should write it down.

The subtitle of my book The Anxious Entrepreneur is ‘Anxiety Defeats Creativity — Creativity Defeats Anxiety.’

So, stressing some more does not help. It reduces productivity in all areas. Knowing this is a gateway to doing something about it. That is the healthy perspective, the consciousness of it all.

So what should we do? Personally, I dezone. Although it is hard, I try to rest. Maybe watch movies, read a book, go out, etc.

I watch the movie 300 to fall asleep.

Or I do things that I love, like writing.

I remember in 2019 I was stressed by a conflict with a work colleague. It felt like I was going to faint or have a heart attack.

I decided to read my stoic writings and checked others in my notes.

For some reason, I was also checking ubuntu quotes.

The idea to fuse stoicism with ubuntu came at that moment. I pursued that creative endeavour. It soothed me. It fulfilled me innately.

Now we are here, with a book.

Normality of stacking philosophies

All the time philosophies are paired or compared. It happens even in academia.

There is a course called ‘From the Stoics to Ubuntu: Philosophies of the Good Life’ at Bennington College in the United States.

It is dated 2022. So I am not sure if it is older. It does not matter to me. All in all, it is a great thing.

Introducing Ubuntu Stoicism, the book

Introducing Ubuntu Stoicism comes out on the 30th of September 2022. It can be pre-ordered on Amazon. Of course, people in South Africa can order it on my website.

So are my other books.

In August we will release an NFT sculpture which will feature on the cover. For now, it is concealed.