February 19, 2021
A certain billionaire set out to perform a social experiment. Resigning himself several days beforehand to a state ofbeing unkempt and dirty, he clad himself in a worn out jacket, threadbare jeans, shoes held together by duct tape,and seated his body against a downtown building in a large city. Hundreds passed him by on that cold dreary day, most oblivious to his presence. A couple of people did pause to drop some quarters or a dollar into his cup, yet did so with a seeming air of loathsome arrogance.
After a couple of hours, one young man engaged the “beggar.” “I myself have no money, revealing an empty wallet, however I do have an extra sandwich I’m willing to share. You see, I’ve already walked ten miles this morning to get to work. My wife is at home with our children and they depend on me to provide income for our own living expenses. Without my job, our family would also find ourselves on these streets. In fact, we were for a time, just six months ago. I know where you’re at.”
Upon hearing this story, the beggar took pity not only on the man’s plight, but his generosity even given his own meager circumstances. In short order, he whipped out his checkbook, asked the man his name, proceeded to revealhis own true identity, and wrote a check out…for $1,000,000!
How often do we “pass” around others? The invisible or lonely people, if you will? The Eleanor Rigby’s and the Father McKenzie’s of our lives? Those deemed not worthy of acknowledgement?
The Zulu tribe resides in one of the four original provinces of South Africa. Whereas our common greeting to others may be “hi” or “hello,” theirs is a unique word all to itself. “Sawubona.” Sawubona takes greeting to an entirely different level. It literally means, “I see you, you are important to me and I value you.” It’s a way to make the other person visible and accept them as they are with their virtues, nuances, and flaws. In response to this greeting, people will say “Shiboka,” which means “I exist for you.”
Sawubona gained greater attention some 30 years ago with the release of a business book by Peter Senge, “The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization.” In that book Senge wrote of the Zulus and the magnificent way they interacted with one another, seeing it as a model for not only professional, but personal behavior.
One of the joys derived from working with some of my lifecoaching clients is the opportunity to develop an “affirmation statement.” An affirmation statement promotes a formative process with the individual towards their desired future outcomes, addressing goals and desires in such areas as relationships, work, finances, health, recreational, and spiritual connection. Although the affirmation statement often comes as a surprise to clients its purpose penetrates deeper. As a homework assignment the individual is asked to record the words in their own voice and play back the recording each evening before bedtime. Although just a reiteration of what the client has basically already shared in their own words, it becomes a powerful tool towards visualizing hoped for goals and dreams as a current reality.
More importantly it communicates encouragement and value to that person, reminding them of their visibility in the eyes of others along with their preciousness.
Sawubona symbolizes the importance of directing our attention to another person. It exists to remind us to understand others without prejudice and to leave grudges behind. The term reminds us to be aware of other people’s needs and to give importance to individuals within a group. It also helps us think about integrating ourselves into our communities and valuing them.
Sawubona and Shiboka.
The Seed Sower