Searching for Ubuntu

Tag: ubuntu

Founded in Hate and Fear

by jwdalton

Dear Ryan,

It was wonderful to receive your letter back to me a little over a month ago.  I am afraid I am horribly delinquent in my response to you and I apologize.  Things have been quite busy at work, as I have been trying to wrap up a few assignments before our new little one arrives, and at home for the same reason.  I have finally reached a point of calm though at work, as now only the excitement and anticipation of a new child remain.

Despite my delinquency, I have thought a great deal about your last letter, as George Stinney’s gaze bore a hole in the back of my head while I sat in the office.  One night when I was at home, Callie looked up at the calendar on the wall in our home and looked at those same eyes and said, “That’s sad.”  This wasn’t something we had talked with her about, but she could see it in his expression  — a palpable somber gaze.  It’s truly heartbreaking.

You noted in your letter to me that this execution of a 14 year old occurred only 69 years ago, which is certainly in our collective recent memory, but our practice of allowing juveniles to be sentenced to death extended far beyond that.  Amazingly, it was not until 1988 that the Supreme Court ruled that executing a juvenile 15 and under would be cruel and unusual punishment.  The following year, the Supreme Court upheld the death penalty being imposed on a 16 year old and maintained that position until 2005, when the Court finally held (in a 5-4 decision) that executing anyone under the age of 18 would be cruel and unusual punishment.

Many people were furious with this decision at the time.  Indeed, Justice Parker of the Alabama Supreme Court wrote an op-ed shortly after this decision, criticizing the other members of his court for following this precedent (that they were bound to follow), and arguing that they should have refused to overturn a juvenile’s death sentence in Alabama.  He said if they would have refused to follow this precedent, then maybe the U.S. Supreme Court wouldn’t have overturned them since they have limited cases that they review, and the juvenile “would have been executed as he deserves.”  Needless to say, Justice Parker’s views must not have been too unpopular here in Alabama, as he continues to be elected as a judge on the Alabama Supreme Court.

All of this is to say that, at least in certain parts of the country, we have truly not come very far — and certainly not far enough — in the last 69 years.   Indeed, living here in Montgomery has shown me just how much further we still need to go.  One area that is especially amazing and troubling to me is the school system here in Montgomery.  As I often drive down the road and pass one of the largest private schools in Montgomery, it makes me ill to read their large brick sign out front: Montgomery Academy — Founded 1959.  That may seem harmless to some who pass it.  Some may not realize the story that sign tells.  But that sign speaks volumes about the history of schools in Montgomery.   It might as well read: Montgomery Academy — Founded in Hate and Fear.  A private school was founded in Montgomery in 1959 because in 1954 the United States Supreme Court said what we all know is true: separate is never, ever equal.  A private school was founded in Montgomery in 1959, because the white citizens of Montgomery knew that desegregation was going to be forced on them, so they wanted no part of the public schools anymore.  They wanted to create their own private school that they could keep all-white, that they didn’t have to integrate, that they could send their children to.

Sadly, not much has changed in Montgomery schools in the last fifty years.  While Montgomery Academy now has an official non-discrimination policy, according to Great Schools, the school is still 89% white and only 7% African American.  Meanwhile, the vast majority of the public schools have been all but abandoned by the white population.  Darcy and I live in a predominately white neighborhood, but the school that our children would be zoned to go to is 98% African American and 1% White.  There are four major public (non-magnet) high schools in Montgomery.  Two of them are 99% African American and 0% White (as a note, my children, and the other children in my predominately white neighborhood are zoned to one of these schools).  The third (Jefferson Davis High School, no less) is 94% African American and only 3% White.  Only the fourth (Robert E. Lee High School!) has any semblance of diversity: 75% African American and 21% White.  All of this in a city that is 57% African American and 37% White.  And this is not a problem unique to Montgomery.  It exists throughout this region of Alabama and in Mississippi as well (and likely in other Southern states, though I hesitate to overstate, since I do not know).  In these regions, de facto segregation continues along — like Brown v. Board of Education never happened.  And as you would expect, most of those schools I linked to above (and countless others in this area) are failing schools.  Unsurprisingly, separate is still not equal.

Living in the South, I am often struck by the so-called “Southern hospitality” that is truly present here.  When we had Callie in California, I remember one of my co-workers getting us a gift and I was struck by it because she was the only person who got us one.  It wasn’t that I was surprised no one else did — in fact, it was the opposite, her gift was unexpected and touching.  By contrast, here in Montgomery, my co-workers threw us a lovely “diaper shower,” loading us up with supplies.  In another example of this “Southern hospitality,” one of Darcy’s mom friends set us up a “Meal Train” so that when Tessa comes we will have food prepared for us for days.  It’s an amazingly kind act that will ease so much stress off of us.  As I was thinking of this act the other day, it occurred to me that it is a perfect example of the spirit of Ubuntu living and breathing here in the South.  It is as if people are saying to us, we know it is stressful to raise two children on your own, let us help you — let us ease the load — we are in this together.

In many ways, even with all the problems that exist in this society I now live in, I see so much more Ubuntu here than I saw in California, where people often chose to keep to themselves.  In addition to the examples listed above, there are countless other simple, daily examples.  For instance, we own a ladder and leaf-blower jointly with our neighbors across the street, and we are constantly meeting and talking to complete strangers who want nothing other than to say hello and hear just a piece of your story.  My hope is that we can find a way to tap that spirit of Ubuntu, that under-current that exists in some facets of this society, and get it to apply in more areas.  My hope is that the care that most of the people of the South do actually show for their true neighbor or friend, can be expanded out to the metaphysical neighbor, the unknown friend, the greater society that they are a part of whether or not they realize it or want to be.  Until that happens, people will continue to suffer in this society.

And as I type these last words, I realize my letter has nearly become a prolonged sermon.  My delay in writing you has led me to ramble for some time in my overdue reply.  I hope that all continues to be well for you in Brooklyn.  I would love to hear about your experience in your school or anything else that is on your heart.

Love from Montgomery,


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,


Use the Sticks to Build a Home…

by Ryan Dalton

Dear Cirvant,

It was so wonderful to receive your letter! It does me well to hear that you have understood the necessity of this season, no matter how difficult or trying it may be, even if the fullness of the necessity has yet to reveal itself. What resonates in both of our experiences is how hard it is to live somewhere when you have left your heart elsewhere. Unquestionably difficult! I also, very frequently at that, think of the time spent with you and your family (our family) in Nashville during my time in Tennessee. Those weekends I spent in Nashville were bursts of light in a fairly dark time for me; but let me not be too dramatic, for it was most certainly not all doom and gloom.

The stick analogy in your letter really spoke to me and provoked some interesting thought:

“I aimed at being intentional in building thriving friendships; trying to gather sticks from under the tree, intent on building a raft that could carry me through this season. I found those sticks only useful for fire to keep me warm in those moments. I learned quickly the differences between hanging out and spending time with brothers.”

I too can relate to wanting more out of relationships than the intermittent “coffee shop buddy” you spoke of, providing warmth for only the moment, and if that. In retrospect to when I first moved back to the States, at the time, I really felt like the average conversation I had with the average person did not scratch the surface — the surface of what I was feeling, or anything genuine, or what I perceived as “real life” in general. The typical conversation would jump from the latest celebrity scandal, to a game of a particular team of whatever sport was in season, to whatever was happening on the popular sitcom of the day, to the most recent Youtube video that went viral, to the autotuned version of the most recent Youtube video that went viral; most of which was like a foreign language to me.

On a side note, I think another form of pseudo-sharing that occurs in our celebrity-obsessed, entertainment-addicted culture is the overwhelming level of investment so many people have in the lives of famous people. What if, as a culture, we spent that level of time and energy and investment in our actual relationships with actual people around us? But that is possibly another subject for another day.

Back to the conversations…

I was uninterested in, or could not relate to, most of the above mentioned topics, though the Youtube videos were usually entertaining. And it sometimes felt like I was having carbon copies of the same conversation, over and over and over again; smalltalk is great as an appetizer to the conversation, but it cannot give subsistence and sustain as the main course, meal after meal after meal. Simultaneously, during those conversations, I recurrently felt like people were looking at me, but not really seeing me. I know that sounds odd. But all I truly wanted, from the bottom of my heart, was to cut past the superficial surface and bleed out conversationally.

I occasionally experienced that too, and those conversations were cathartic.

However, revisiting your stick analogy, I have, as it seems you also have, realized the importance of seeking far more than to merely be kept warm, or even to be carried by a raft built from other metaphorical sticks; lest we forget that we are also sticks, with the ability to serve a purpose in the lives of others. The spirit of Ubuntu is not satisfied with solely feeding into our individual needs, with no personal responsibility to give back. Rather, true community is when we gather the sticks around us, our stick-selves included, and build a home of mutualism and sodality, a place where we can all hold up one another and be held up, support each other and be supported; and I know you know this type of communion, as you speak of it so fondly in reference to your time in Johannesburg.

Every stick might not be able to hold the same weight or provide the same level of stability, but linked together as one, they collectively provide shelter, a home, community, Ubuntu.

You ask how’s Brooklyn? Extraordinary! As a matter of fact, I have managed to build a beautifully diverse “stick-home,” with “sticks” being added by the day. Let me count a few…

My apartment door is a revolving door, with daily visitors of all ages.

Friends and neighbors stop by unannounced, more often than “expected” visitors, at that.

My across-the-hall neighbors’ microwave broke, so they come over to use mine.

My neighbors often share their food with me, and I share mine with them.

I help the neighbor kids with their homework.

My way-across-the-hall neighbors look out for the UPS man and hold my packages when he comes when I am at work.

I bake cupcakes with my twelve-year-old neighbor.

My young neighbors sometimes bring me presents, and very often bring youthful conversation.

My colleague-turned-friend, who also happens to be a neighbor, comes over and we sit like two grannies, sipping hot tea, speaking about the problems with the American education system, the need for community, these “kids of today”, or other dilemmas of the world that seem to be so fixable in those moments.

I read books with my four-year-old neighbor.

We all joke and laugh and live together.

I assure you, those are simply a few glimpses into my life here, and I could tell you story after story, for days and days, but the summary of all of those stories is: I am happy, loved, loving, and content. I would love for you to visit Brooklyn someday, to see this “stick-home” for yourself. Again, please send my love to Woodie and the nephews; I really miss watching all of their sports games! As usual, let me know about any signs of Ubuntu you encounter in your day-to-day. Stay well!

Love from my Brooklyn stick-home,


Fear and Loathing in Las Comunidades…

by Ryan Dalton

Dear Chris,

I hope this letter finds you in a moment of rest amidst your busy schedule. I think it is hilarious, wonderful, and bizarre how well I feel I know you, even though we have only physically been in the same room a handful of times. I guess that boasts in the positive inverse of the pseudo-sharing I spoke about in my letter to James, since most of our many interactions have been of the cyber nature.

However, I will never forget the fun and hospitality of the first time Cirvant and I were invited over to your house for a lovely grilled cheese dinner; instantaneous offerings of drinks, hand-made-and-facilitated games with the kids, good food, great conversation, tears (mostly yours) over the Wikipedia page of a story of an Amish community’s forgiveness, and much laughter, amusement, and deep sharing; Ubuntu in its purest form.

And after hours and hours of terrific communion, and several mentions by all parties how it was, “probably time for us to go,” around 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning, Cirvant and I were on the edge of our seats about to stand to leave, and right there, from your sprawled-out-flat-on-your-back-on-the-carpet position, with your eyes closed, you sighed a weighty sigh and said, “Alright. But one more thing before you go…What is your take on the war in Iraq?” The laughter in the room was probably amplified more by the fact that we could all tell that you were absolutely sincere in your query. That memory will surely stay with me forever.

Anyhow. I’ve been thinking about one of our recent (cyber) conversations where I asked you, “Why are [certain people] so nasty, self righteous, and mean?” Your response was simple: it’s fear. Though my question was more rhetorical than not, and there are probably plenty of other factors that also come into play in some situations, I think you really hit the nail on the head. So many people are so driven by fear in most everything they do. We live in such a fear mongering culture; and if Yoda is correct in his famous quote, then it is obvious that this fear mongering eventually leads to hate mongering, and all of that to our greater suffering. According to the philosophy of Ubuntu, even if only one of us is suffering, then we are all actually suffering.

In this case, I’m not sure who suffers more, the one fearing or the one being feared.

Fear is undoubtedly one of Ubuntu’s most destructive adversaries, for it not only convinces us that we do not need each other, but it further enables and empowers us to be cynical, distrustful, and suspicious of one another. All too often, instead of using our likenesses and similarities to bring us closer together, we use our differences to push each other farther apart; race, religion, class, nationality, sexuality, age, gender, and the list goes on. We set each other up as “the other”, and whisper twisted lies into our comrades ears about how “they”, “the other”, will taint, ruin, or take away what we have.

Fear tells us diversity is to be avoided at all cost, treated discriminatorily, kept at arms length. Fear makes up lies to rationalize the avoidance of “the other”. And we hold those lies as “truths” in our tightly clinched fists, until they fester and turn into hate. Then, we feel completely justified in our hatred for “the other”, because we have convinced ourselves that what they “stand for”, or who they are, or how they live threatens our tiny, little world, our bubble, our warped reality.

I guess it could make us more compassionate with regards to the haters when we realize what a tiring and terrible life-of-fear they must lead; when we realize that behind all of that hate and intolerance, they are just really sad and scared people.

The racist, shooting racial slurs like lasers out of his eyes at “the other”; behind his hate, you’ll find fear.

The religious zealot, shouting fire-breathing messages of condemnation at “the other”; behind his hate, you’ll find fear.

The homophobe, waving a hate-filled sign, foaming at the mouth, chanting meanness about “the other”; behind his hate, you’ll find fear.

The member of a higher class, snootily making rude and incredulous remarks about “the other”; behind his hate, you’ll find fear.

The member of a lower class, snootily making rude and incredulous remarks about “the other”; behind his hate, you’ll find fear.

All of them, just fearful for no good reason, using that fear to widen the gap between them and “the other”. Meanwhile, no matter how convinced they are that they are right and “the other” is wrong, individuals from “the other” are just as convinced to the contrary, only making the gap even more overwhelmingly unbridgeable. How do you think we can combat such fear? Do people even realize how driven and controlled we are by fear? I’m interested to know your thoughts.

As usual, I have prattled on and on. Please send all my love and greetings to the wife and kids. I thoroughly enjoyed your letter to whom it may concern, and look forward to future letters of yours. I always enjoy your words and heart behind them.

Peace and no fear,


An Inescapable Network of Mutuality

by jwdalton

Dear Ryan,

I hope this letter finds you well and that you are enjoying a peaceful and relaxing spring break in Brooklyn.  You certainly deserve one.  Things are good here in Montgomery.  It’s unseasonably cold down here, but the flowers are beginning to bloom and small green buds are beginning to appear on trees.  Darcy is doing great and Callie is growing every day.  You wouldn’t believe all the new words and phrases that she says daily.  She is very excited about becoming a big sister.  I look forward to Callie and Tessa getting to spend some quality time with their Uncle Brown sometime in the near future.

Work is going good as well.  I still love my job with the Equal Justice Initiative.  I couldn’t imagine doing a job that brings me greater satisfaction than my current one.  Though I have to say, as I deal with the criminal justice system more and more, I try to determine what the root of the problem is.  Why does this country have such a love affair with mass incarceration?  Why are we among the world’s leaders in putting people to death? Why are we the only country that throws our children who commit crimes into prison for the rest of their lives with no chance of life outside of prison?  As I have thought about these issues, I often come back to the lack of community in our society.

I have found that it is much easier to treat strangers a way that you would never treat a loved one. If you have a loved one who is struggling with drug addiction, you try to help them through the problem and, in some instances, even stage an intervention to help get them into rehab and on the road to recovery.  Or when you are raising your children, you teach them that everyone makes mistakes – in fact, I remember Big Bird driving home this point on Sesame Street when I was younger.  I even remember Grandmom telling me (over and over) “no matter who you are when you grow up, or what you do with your life, even if you were to do something like commit a murder, I will always love you.”  That love is such a powerful thing.  Typing that memory brings tears to my eyes; just knowing that someone loved me through and through.

But we don’t treat strangers with nearly the same compassion as we treat our loved ones. In this country, if you have a drug addition, we don’t provide treatment for you.  Instead, we throw you in prison – the “War on Drugs” has vastly increased our prison population to never before seen numbers.  And if you are a child in this country and you succumb to peer pressure or do something impulsive and irresponsible (as fourteen year olds often do), then we can throw you in prison for the rest your life without giving you any opportunity to show that you are reformed, or that you deserve a second chance.  And in this country, we have no problem with the State ending the life of a human being – a permanent, devastating punishment that is unique in its finality and cruelty – despite the fact that one in nine individuals who are sentenced to this ultimate punishment are later exonerated.

I think the universal thread that runs through all of these issues is that people are comfortable with the actions being taken by our society as a whole, because they are being taken against nameless, faceless individuals.  Our society is self-centered – people often take the approach that if it doesn’t affect me and my friends and family, then why do anything. They don’t seem to see that the actions being taken against these individuals directly affect them.  Sometimes I feel that if we could foster a greater sense of Ubuntu in our society, maybe people would realize how these policies affect them:  How mass incarceration is damaging to the society, breaks up families, and causes destruction.  How throwing children away to die in prison illustrates our lack of humanity.  How allowing the state to end the life of another human being is a cruel and medieval practice that provides us with nothing but hate and vengeance in our hearts.

As I write this, I am reminded of the words of Dr. King:

[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.

But how can we get this individualistic society that we live in to realize this truth?  How can we foster Ubuntu in a society so based in individual identity?  How can we make people realize that what is best for them is what is best for all, rather than what is best for one?  Sometimes it feels hopeless, but I know that we must maintain hope and I will wait for the words of encouragement that I hope and trust you will be able to provide.

Please write and let me know how things are in Brooklyn.  Give Dayde and Kyle high fives from me.  I hope they are doing well and I know they are lucky to have you in their lives.

All my best,


An Open Letter to Humanity – One…

by Ryan Dalton

Dear Humanity,

I hope this letter finds you well, though I realize the individuals who form our collective “you” are each in such completely different and independent places, going through our own unique sets of trials, indifferences, and victories, that such a hope is more of a wish, and naive at best; but it is truly my hope, nonetheless.

My heart is more often than not heavy by the way we treat us. I desire so much more than what we have become accustomed to offering one another. It seems we routinely choose to see and believe the worst in each other, discriminatorily, and unfairly, withholding the benefit of the doubt; however, I might be offering the benefit of the doubt by insinuating that we have a choice in the matter, and that it has not merely become a subconscious habit, or custom, or a way of life.

Please do not believe for a second that I do not notice the good around me, the genuine offerings of the truest altruism, for those breaths of fresh air are what keeps us alive as one collective body; they are what keep us from completely falling apart. But in order for us to move to a more healthy place, we need to scrutinize the sickness we have become infected with, the negative ways we treat us. Will you help me in this investigation?

I have three questions for you, or us rather:

1) Do you think we are so quick to see and believe the worst in each other out of self-preservation, and maybe for the gift of a pleasant surprise when someone acts in opposition to our negative thoughts of them?

2) Why do we so desperately wish for the benefit of the doubt from others, but are so biased in our willingness to extend it?

3) How do you suggest we go about mending this state of affairs?

I would greatly appreciate any insight you might have in this matter. Please tell me. I will patiently wait for your response; yes, “your” plural. Take care of yourself, and us.



Cradle of Humankind…

by Ryan Dalton

Dearest Warsan,

I hope this letter finds you much more than well, welling over even. We have almost made it through the cold and dreaded Winter. Almost, that is. Spring is pushing its way in, truly battling to stay, as it seems Winter is trying to prove its final point for the season; snow is in the forecast today.

But I can’t be bothered by Winter’s need for attention. No matter what it is trying, I am on a much needed hiatus: Spring Break. A neighbor kid is over playing mini-basketball in my living room, Miles Davis is playing in my speakers, and I have no pressing matters, or urgent work, or places to be right now but right here, doing absolutely nothing. Truly sublime.

What is happening in your world?

I couldn’t help but notice, and be moved by, your tweet the other day.




That type of extended humanity is like a refreshing wave, washing clean the individualistic indoctrination society has attempted to stain our soul with, reminding us that we are, in fact, connected, that we are a part of something bigger than our all-too-often self-serving selves. So simple yet beautiful. Thank you for that reminder.

I suppose some of humanity’s avoidance of sharing with one another comes out of self-preservation and protection, wanting to be shielded and guarded from the pain, hurt, and abuse that can commonly come with human interaction; the pain, hurt, and abuse that you so eloquently oftentimes write about and seem to understand so deeply. Besides us trying to avoid pain, I think greed is probably another major perpetrator against our shared experience, our togetherness. But I don’t think that is how we were innately made to interact, to live, to be.

I think humans were created for communion, and the acknowledgement of the importance of one another, in our individual-yet-shared journey through life. I think Ubuntu, “I am what I am because of who we all are,” is imprinted in our DNA, though our modern cultures, for the most part, seem to be at war with this concept. Community was at the center of most original, indigenous cultures; cultures that were most pure, basic, and first; way  more socially developed than most cultures in existence today.

I find it extremely fascinating that the African philosophy of Ubuntu was founded in an area of Southern Africa that is also acknowledged as the Cradle of Humankind. Meaning, the idea of Ubuntu was developed at the heart of the geographical location of the very first humans. Stunningly magnificent. Surely this is no coincidence. And we still need that human connection so, so bad, though our modern societies have developed ways of hindering, and warping it. Why else would solitary confinement be one of the worst forms of punishment found in modern Western prisons?

At any rate.

If you wouldn’t mind, tell me about your experiences and encounters with Ubuntu. Your words always speak to a deep place in my soul. Please send my love and greetings to the lovely little sisters, and walk up to your mother and say something hilarious (of your choosing) on my behalf. Hope to hear from you soon.

Warmth and love from a wintery Spring day in Brooklyn,





Sharing, Over-Sharing, Pseudo-Sharing, “Sharing”…

by Ryan Dalton

Dear James,

I hope this letter finds you well and that you are enjoying your recent arrival into fatherhood. It suits you. Can you think of anything more spectacular than holding a tiny little being who is one-half you and one-half of the person you love most in the world? I can only imagine, truly. Give that sweet little baby a big squeeze and kiss on the cheek from me.

I have enjoyed seeing the pictures you have posted so far, and look forward to seeing others, and watching him grow from afar.

Do you remember the joke-yet-real-occurance from our childhood, where a certain family would invite another certain tepid family or person over to watch a slideshow of pictures from their vacation? Sitcoms from my childhood loved that joke, and I most definitely sat in on a couple of the real-life versions.

The pictures were literally projected onto the wall, or a projector screen; real dust danced around in the beam of light that glowed from the humming projector to its destination.

In this Facebook Age we live in, does that even happen anymore? Further still, do people even have actual, physical photo albums, with actual, physical photographs in them, or is everything digital now? I know, for sure, that avoiding someone’s vacation slideshow or photo album is much easier now: “hide from newsfeed,” or better yet “unfriend,” or even better yet “BLOCK.”


Lately, I have been thinking a great deal about sharing. These days, with all of our technological advancements, and the myriad of electronic devices we have at our fingertips, and the ever-growing number of social networks that we are constantly on, I think we “share” things with each other way more than ever before, and yet actually share with each other much, much less than days gone by. I am of the opinion that social networks create a sense of pseudo-community, pseudo-sharing, but hinder our sharing with people we are actually, physically with; texting is also a major culprit.

Don’t get me wrong. I am thankful for these advancements, in the way that they help me keep in contact with those who I might not normally have contact with. I myself am on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, email, several different blogs, and even Myspace, though it has moved into a place of irrelevancy. I am on, at least a couple of, these platforms daily, and I cannot actually remember a day that has passed in which I have not texted with at least one person; side note, texting has become such a significant part of our lives that the word “text” has even been added to our dictionary as a verb; it was only a noun a mere few years ago.

I myself provide a daily deluge of posts, on various different social networks; considerably more than many people I know, at that. So, please do not think I am excluding myself from these grievances. My concerns might possibly even come out of my own guilt and self awareness.

But how often do we see two people sitting across from each other at a restaurant, not sharing even as much as a glance at one-another, or a second, much less a word, and yet they’re plunked across the table from one another, obsessively staring down at their cellphones, communicating with a person, or even multiple people, who are not even in the room or in that moment with them? And then ironically, I imagine them later that day, or week, or month, spending time with the person, or multiple people, they were so preoccupied with during dinner that they neglected their significant other, not really spending time with them either, because they are so busy on their phones communicating with their significant other. What a vicious cycle of “sharing” and neglect.

There was a time, not all that long ago, when we were forced to truly be with the person we were with, un-contactable by, and unable to contact, others for the most part. Cellphones did not exist. We made plans in advance. The only interruptions at dinner were the waiters, or a friend who happened to be in the same restaurant and passed by our table, or thick, awkward tension from a fight, or general boredom with a relationship. But at least those variables actually physically existed in that moment.

We did not have a cellphone to text and tell our absent-from-the-moment friend, “I’m eating dinner with so-and-so. Lol.”

Or Facebook to update a status about how good or bad the service in that restaurant is, and maybe even “check-in”.

Or Tumblr to look through pictures of “Cats in Space”, instead of looking at the person we are with.

Or Twitter to randomly share our political beliefs while the person we are with rambles on about something we are not interested in.

Or Instagram to take a picture, documenting what the food we are eating actually looks like.

Or a blog to get on because we are so perplexed with how we don’t share time with people we are with, and it becomes so urgent in our minds that we decide to neglect the person we are with to share with everyone how sharing with everyone can be so toxic.

It seems we have fallen into a pattern of constantly “sharing” with people we are not with, simultaneously neglecting those who are in our actual, physical company.

The other day I saw a father post something on Facebook and it stuck with me, set up camp, and has refused to leave my mind. It was a really simple post. Apparently, he was in the middle of playing a board game with his five-year-old daughter and stopped to tell everyone what they were doing; not about to play a game, or finished playing, but declaratively in the middle of a game. I tried to envision what his daughter was doing while he was looking down at his phone, preoccupied with telling everyone what he was doing.

Was she just sitting there staring at him?

Was it her turn? And if so, was she even aware that he was paying her no mind in that moment?

Was it his turn, and she was just sitting and waiting for him to put down his phone and take his turn?

Was she nagging him to take his turn, “DADDYYYYYYY! It’s YOUR turn!”

I don’t know the answer to any of these questions. Alas, for all I know, she had excused herself for a moment to use the bathroom or get snacks. And again, who am I, the cyber-sharing king, to judge what was going on in a moment that I was completely absent from. But wait, I was included in those who the father chose to share that moment with, so according to this new technological age we live in, was I there? No, not really. But yes. Yes, I was. But no.

In all my pondering, I’ve realized that real sharing, in general, is a captivating concept, and is an integral one for true community to exist. And ways of sharing can be varied by the type, quality, and selection of who-to-share-with, amongst other things I’m sure.

We can share money, material things, emotions, touch, conversation, time, energy, love, and also even the elements that are the antithesis of these things.

We can share more than we have, be selfish with how much we are willing to share, share the best of what we have, or share with others less than what we are willing to take from them.

We can share with only one other special person, a close group of friends and family, the broader community, strangers, or even everyone we come in contact with.

But whatever the type, quality, or degree of what we are sharing, with whoever we are sharing it with, when we sincerely share with one-another, we are acknowledging the essence of Ubuntu: “I am what I am because of who we all are,” because we would not be who we are if others had not shared themselves with us.

My hope for us, and when I say “us” I mean humanity as a whole, is that we can get back to true sharing…

Dinner conversations that are uninterrupted by cellphone calls.

Intimate embraces that are undisturbed by re-situating to check a text.

Continuous attention whilst playing with our kids, with no unnecessary breaks to tell the world we are spending time with our kids.

Good, quality, un-intruded time with the person in our immediate, actual, physical company.

Am I being unrealistic? Has sharing just taken another form, and I am being an old grump? Is it ok that we ignore someone we are with in order to communicate with those who are somewhere else, because we might eventually do the same with that person, sharing with them when we are in the presence of others?

Nevertheless, this letter has turned into a novel, my thoughts have turned to idle ramblings, and I fear I am maybe being too harsh on us, or a little unfair. Please write and let me know how fatherhood is treating you. I would love to hear of any signs of Ubuntu you have encountered in your comings and goings. Extend my love to Jessica and that sweet baby boy.

Light and love from a Spring-like Brooklyn day,


Heart’s Dwelling…

by Ryan Dalton

Dear Cirvant,

How are you faring in Nashville? I know you miss South Africa dearly; there are probably few who understand that as well as I do.

The year-and-a-half I was in Tennessee, in between living in Cape Town and living in Brooklyn, was one of the hardest seasons of my life. It did, however, feel somehow necessary, though I maybe don’t understand the fullness of that necessity even now. Necessary nonetheless.

It is so strange living somewhere when your heart is somewhere completely different. Cape Town was my home for so long. Cape Town was my heart. They say “home is where the heart is,” and that year-and-a-half in Tennessee often left me wondering if I was homeless or heartless; though I was probably a mixture of both, as dramatic as that sounds and is.

All of that to say, I get it. I can imagine your deep longing for South Africa; I can see it in my mind, feel it in my stomach.

My laugh is too loud for America, my eye contact is too strong, and my smiles-to-strangers are too frequent.

I think the laugh was invented on the continent of Africa, and if not, it was most definitely perfected there. Most Africans I have met, from all different countries, from old to young, have learned how to laugh from the gut, from the heart, from the soul. There is nothing better than a whole-hearted, unapologetic, uninhibited, booming laugh. Musical. Poetic. Beautiful.

I digress.

But not really.


As blasphemous as it might sound, I miss Cape Town less than before. And that has nothing to do with Cape Town, or Tennessee, or Brooklyn. It has everything to do with me. You see, that year-and-a-half in Tennessee, I didn’t really make many major attempts at seeking out Ubuntu, that sense that we are all in this together. I just kind of sat in my own misery, with the occasional wallow, and waited for a savior; forgetting, or maybe not realizing, that I am my own savior or oppressor in those times.

I was rarely living in the moment, and spent more time resenting the past and longing for the future. But rarely just being. Not a healthy place.

I snapped out of it when I moved to Brooklyn.

I started giving of myself again, allowing myself to really be in the moment and not wish for something far off, and I started allowing others in again. I have made such wonderful family here in Brooklyn. I feel so content. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely miss Cape Town, but I am slowly making my home here in Brooklyn, and it feels good, great even.

Enough about me. Please let me know how you are doing. Have you managed to find any favorable signs of Ubuntu where you are?

Say hello to Woodie and the nephews for me. I miss them very much.

Positivity and love from Brooklyn,


Unwanted Skepticism…

by Ryan Dalton

Dear Jesse,

I hope this letter finds you well. In general, I am working hard and exhausted, but feel better than I have in a long, long while. I’m in a very good proverbial place right now.

There are, however, some things that have been weighing heavy on my mind; mostly us. No, not you and me specifically or necessarily. But “us” as in humanity. What are we doing? Have we lost the plot? And if, in fact, we have, is it possible to find our way back to it?

When I first moved to Brooklyn, I would ride the subway with a big smile on my face, greeting every person, making eye contact, and sometimes even attempting to strike up conversation. Most people on the subway looked miserable, and I was only sometimes met with warm reception. For the most part, people merely tried to avoid eye contact with everyone. I hated it; so many humans, all piled on top of each other in one city, yet such few human connections.

But city life is fast, and the days can feel longer and more abusive than days in other places. And after a particularly long day, I sometimes find myself assuming the avoid-eye-contact-at-all-costs-and-look-as-miserable-as-possible subway pose. Sad but true. I still hate it.

Tonight on my train ride home, a random stranger tried to befriend me. I’m not sure what about me caught his attention, but he kept making eye contact and smiling at me. I thought I was mistaken at first. But after several stops passed, I realized he was trying to make connection. Even though the hardened, citified version of me told me to be suspicious, I smiled back.

He immediately asked how I was. I responded with something simple, like, “Tired.” With growing skepticism, I didn’t ask how he was doing. I felt like a horrible person, but was obviously conflicted. He asked me where I lived, and voluntarily told me where he lives. He asked what I do on my free time, and I told him between teaching high school and attending grad school, I have no free time.

He said he was trying to be more social, make more time to enjoy the company of friends, because that is the more healthy way to live. I agreed with him fully, but felt my cynicism growing by the second. I went back and forth in my head whether or not I was being realistically skeptical or unrealistically overly paranoid. I never came to any conclusions.

Did I mention he had a kid, maybe 10-years-old, who sat beside him and played a video game the entire time?

They had Whole Foods bags between their legs. That’s normal, right? Not really serial killer vibes, huh?

I noticed a loaf of multigrain bread sitting at the top of the bag.

Right before he reached his stop he gave me his card. I took it, looked down at it, and looked back up at him. He repeated the name I had just read. I only gave him my first name. The train pulled up to his stop, he smiled, said it was nice to meet me, and him, his kid, and their Whole Foods bags were gone.

What is wrong with our human condition that he had to be a rapist or a murderer or a sociopath in my mind? Do you think he might just be a single dad, in a great big city, a little lonely, with no one to talk to, just wanting, no, needing a friend? I don’t know.

Anyways. I have rambled on. Have you had any recent signs that we are part of something bigger than our individual selves? Please let me know how you are doing.

Warmth from cold Brooklyn,



I kept the man’s business card. So, if you think I overacted and should make contact, let me know.