Searching for Ubuntu

Month: April, 2013

An Open Letter to Humanity – Five…

by Ryan Dalton

Dearest Humanity,

It’s been a rough week for us; though I assure you it has been no rougher or easier than any other week we find ourselves living within in this world in which we live, and how “rough” or “easy” a week is or was is merely dependent on and determined by the relativity of our perspective and what corner of this earth we find ourselves existing in.

Unimaginable tragedies happen every single day, all over the globe, unfortunately.

Tragedy is always tragedy, and indeed this world is plagued with it; although we often pick-and-choose which tragedies we pay mind to, inherently and semi-understandably biased toward those that befall close to home. We seem to have developed ways of rationalizing and or ignoring tragedies that occur far from us (“far” not only in geography, but also in the level with which we are affected by said tragedies), or even more, tragedies we are responsible for; and for those particular tragedies, ignorance is most definitely bliss, and denial mixed with justification is our celebratory cocktail.

This is not to make light of any tragedy, but rather to raise the bar when it comes to our attitudes, expressions, and grief connected to those tragedies we overlook or ignore.

Being American, I can speak as an American. And as an American, I find that our responses to American tragedies are sometimes more tragic than the tragedy itself; not always, and not by everyone, but yes, by many, and much of the time. American media tragically thrives off of tragedy, with obsessive, non-stop, 24/7 coverage, even before all the facts and details are known, reporting on every angle, even those angles that do not exist, adding more drama to an already-dramatic situation; the unnecessary “we go now to the puppy of a dog of a person who was almost affected by the terrible events” of a tragedy.

All of this, of course, only feeds our emotion and fuels our anger and increases our thirst for vengeance. If the perpetrator is American, the media finds ways of making that person appear less American, less human, a monster. If the perpetrator is not American, God forbid, the media exploits the patriotism and xenophobia that already subsists within us, and we respond with pride steeped in hate. And before we know it, we are chanting, “U.S.A, U.S.A, U.S.A!” over and over again; a blinding nationalism that often reduces and diminishes sympathetic sentiments of our international brothers and sisters.

Before knowing all the details and motives, we jump to conclusions, focusing on the fact that “Dzhokar Tsarnaev is Muslim,” focusing less, or not at all, on the human depravity that goes beyond religion, ethnicity, or citizenship, the depravity that causes a 19-year-old to do such an egregious thing; a 19-year-old.

In our hurt and shock and horror and dismay, we focus on the person or people responsible for a tragedy, with little focus on the society, culture, or conditions that developed, cultured, and created the level of depravity found in that person or those people; the individualistic tragedy we have become. We find all the ways that that person or those people are different, then we label, blame, and make threats, only furthering the polarity that already exists between “us and them”. We allow tragedies to continue to beget tragedies, as that very tragedy was begat.

Being human, I can speak as a human. And as a human, I wish death on no man; nor do I celebrate the death of any one of us, no matter how evil or terrible the dead individual was perceived to be. I mourn the loss of every human, even if, and especially when, that life is lost before the death of that person, for whatever reason that individual felt such a disconnect from us that they chose to respond in such a tragic and terrible way. We are all depraved in one way or another; the level of depravity is merely more obvious in some than it is in others, those who wear it on their sleeves. Human depravity knows no bounds, is not linked to a particular religion or ethnicity, nor is it confined to a specific race or class.

Depravity is a human thing; inescapable for the most part.

So, as a human, of course I mourn the death of an eight-year-old American child, along with the other lives lost, in Boston. But my tears do not begin and end with that child, or those others.

I mourn the death of the eight-year-old, and others, in Iraq.

I mourn the death of the eight-year-old, and others, in Afghanistan.

I mourn the death of the eight-year-old, and others, in Libya.

I mourn the death of the eight-year-old, and others, in Yemen.

I mourn the death of the eight-year-old, and others, in Pakistan.

I mourn the death of the eight-year-old, and others, in Palestine.

I mourn the death of the eight-year-old, and others, in Somalia.

I mourn the futility found in the reasons for these deaths, and the frequency at which they occur.

I mourn our involvement in all of these deaths and others, whether direct or indirect, acknowledged or unacknowledged, intentional or unintentional, hidden or exposed, covered by the media or swept under the rug.

I mourn the daily existence of tragedies in the form of poverty, inequalities, injustices, discrimination, violence, and hate, that build, and bubble, and fester, and eventually turn to “bigger” tragedies we deem worthy of headlines.

But at the same time I mourn these tragedies, I also celebrate the goodness I see around me. And I know that the goodness found in humanity outnumbers the badness by far, though the attention-seeking nature of tragedy often steals the spotlight. We are all depraved in one way or another, but at the very same time, we are all capable of immeasurable goodness. And, good or bad, I love us very much. I hope we can work all of this out.

Love and peace,


Looking Into George Stinney’s Eyes…

by Ryan Dalton

Dear John,

I was delighted to receive your letter. It indeed found me in the most well of well places, thank you; right smack-dab in the middle of Spring Break, well-rested, well-fed, relaxed. Give that sweet little Callie a big squeeze from me. I can’t believe how she is growing! Her birthdays are relentless, with another one coming up this week. Time has surely sped up; when I was in elementary school, an hour seemed to drag on and feel the length of a week, but now a week feels like a minute. Nevertheless…

Though I expected no less, I am thrilled to hear that you are enjoying your work with EJI! I can, however, only imagine how frustrating it must be to daily grapple with, and fight against, the all-too-rife injustices found within our American “justice” system. But as you know, your work is most definitely not in vain.

Speaking of your work, thanks again for the EJI calendar. It hangs on my wall as an, often disturbing yet, important reminder of where we have come from as a nation, alluding to why we find ourselves in many of the circumstances in which we currently live. As hard as some may try, we cannot separate ourselves from that terrible history, though we can battle to ensure that it does not carry on, or repeat itself; it is shocking that some individuals are still so resistant to allow that pertinent battle to ensue. Mama Maya Angelou said it better when she said, “History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again,” though I am not sure we always display the courage and resolve needed to guarantee that it not be lived again.

george stinney cal

This month, for its duration, George Stinney’s unfaltering gaze is watching everything I do. I often make uncomfortable eye contact with him, which, several times, has ended in a blur of tears on my part. Face on, his eyes are brave yet tired, strong yet surrendered, innocent yet tricked, tough yet sad, childlike yet forced to grow too soon…defeated. It is only in the profile shot that his eyes begin to reveal fear, insecurity, anxiety, concern, unease. He was only fourteen-years-old, the youngest person executed in the United States in the 20th century. I read somewhere that his “confession” was coerced with the bribery of ice cream, that he was innocent of the crime he was forced to accept the guilt of, that he was deeply loved by his family who—before his one-day trial—were run out of town with the threat of them all being lynched, that he was so small they had to stack dictionaries on the seat of the electric chair for him to sit on, in order for his head to reach the head-piece, so he, a small child, could be electrocuted to death—barbaric, tragic, inconceivable, unjust, tormenting. And now, we boast in being so far-removed from atrocities like this, yet it happened only 69 years ago; our grandparents were alive at that time, our parents not far from being born. We boast in advancements, yet, as you mentioned in your letter, we continue to be the only “developed country” that sentences children to life with no parole, a mere small step up from execution; not to mention the systemic racism that continues to contribute to which children are sentenced.

Anyway, our youth, such as Trayvon Martin and Kimani Gray, are still being executed; the venue has merely moved to the streets, and the unfair trials are even shorter and more nonexistent than they were in the past.

I know privilege is blinding, but I do not see how so many people fail to see the connection between the injustices of the past and the injustices that plague our communities today—unless, of course, they are conveniently not making any attempts to see the connection. Dr. King understood that connection on the deepest of levels, and, in the end of the Civil Rights Movement, he immediately transformed his work and energy into fighting the history-created ills of the ghettos of Chicago, for he knew the struggle was far from over when segregation was abolished; that the toughest struggle had only begun. I wish he would have been spared to live, and fight, and die of old age. Having seen the 45th anniversary of his assassination pass by last week, it is fitting, for a number of reasons, that you chose to refer to that particular quote of his:

“[A]ll mankind is tied together; all life is interrelated, and we are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be – this is the interrelated structure of reality.”

This inescapable mutuality Dr. King speaks of is the heart and soul of humanity, and the purest definition of Ubuntu. It is astonishing to see how some of us put forth such elaborate efforts in trying to escape that inescapable reality, never actually escaping, but sometimes convincing ourselves we have escaped, if only in the gated communities of our minds. I think you are right that the individualistic nature of our societal constructs poses a threat to mutuality, evolving into other community misfortunes and social ills. Selfishness tears down anything Ubuntu wishes to build up, and as I mentioned in my letter to Chris, we use fear to rationalize and justify our egocentric life choices and stances.

Ubuntu recognizes the I in you, and the you in I—maybe, because we are so focused on our selves, a starting point would be to ask each other to simply look for our individual likenesses in others, hoping our self-awareness is at a level that we would  actually recognize ourself when we see it. I don’t know. I just want the best for us—for us all.

Let me end this letter here. Give all my love to Darcy and Callie. I will certainly pass your greetings to Dayde and Kyle; they are doing well and continue to bring youthfulness, joy, community, and conversation to my life. It seems Spring has finally sprung up here, and I hope it is here to stay. I am enjoying the longer days and the warmth it has already brought. I hope you are too.

Love and warmth from Brooklyn,


An Open Letter to Humanity – Four…

by Ryan Dalton

Dearest Humanity,

It is true that we most often find exactly what we are looking for. Therefore, if we are constantly looking for the bad in us, we will surely, quite regularly, find it. Let us seek out what is good in us, and see where that takes us.