I have no idea if the story below is true, but I want to use it as an example of interdependence. I think it demonstrates beautifully how interdependence shapes our relationships with each other if we truly believe in our connectedness. Here you go:
An anthropologist showed a game to the children of an African tribe….
He placed a basket of delicious fruits near a tree trunk and told them: The first child to reach the tree will get the basket.
When he gave them the start signal, he was surprised that they were walking together, holding hands until they reached the tree and shared the fruit!
He asked them “why did you do that when every one of you could get the basket only for yourself?”
They answered with astonishment: Ubuntu.
Meaning, how can one of us be happy while the rest are miserable?
Ubuntu in their civilization means I am because we are.
This group of African children and their tribe know the secret of happiness that has been lost in [many] societies….
How living in a place over time shapes communities
Indigenous place-based tribes develop deep knowledge about their interdependence with nature and with each other. Over time it’s easy to see how this shapes the culture of their tribe and community, and how tribe members see their relationships through a lens of connection. Self-interested behavior puts the needs of the individual first, and goes unquestioned in most Western societies seems unnatural to them. In the US, the rights of self-interest are encoded not only in our behavior, but into our laws.
This story helps us see that there is another way we could organize and behave in our communities. What if our communities operated around cooperation? Would our political dialogue and behavior be different? Would we have a stronger sense of connection and shared purpose with each other? Would we see each other in all of our multiple dimensions?
I’ve been reflecting lately on the power of place-based leadership. It is the kind of leadership formed when the people are anchored to the land and each other. I think we could learn a lot from the people who lead from this contextual experience. Growing up in a place, leading people who have also grown up in the same place creates pretty strong feedback on the quality and impact of our leadership.
For example, if we decide something that doesn’t serve the whole community, there are always people who will give direct and immediate feedback that the decision you made had negative consequences to the resilience of the place. If the decision doesn’t serve the community even in the short-term, people in the community have long memories and will provide feedback to help the community to learn and do things differently over time. If our decisions create a cesspool in our community, being place-based means that we will have to live with the choices we have made that impact the natural environment around our community.
The feedback from the place and the people in the community curb the excess of self-interest and focuses us on the need to collaborate, see decisions over time, value our relationships with each other and our connection to the land. I’m hoping we can all think about the answers to this question: How can place-based leadership help us see organizational leadership in a different way?