“I See You” and the Spirit of Ubuntu

I see you.

A peculiar little greeting, right? It doesn’t have the tried and true ring of hello or the robust call of howdy, nor does it possess the brazen optimism of good morning. If I were to try my new salutation with a stranger, or perhaps even a casual acquaintance, my words would likely fall into the gutter. That, or they’d bestow an unfortunate shadow of paranoia upon the poor unsuspecting passerby. To say the least, if I made it  my go-to intro, I have a lousy feeling that I would fail miserably at winning friends and influencing people. (Not to worry, Dale Carnegie. I study your words to this day.)

And yet I’m gonna stand my ground and say it to all of you…but only because this is the internet, and therefore I get to happily explain myself in an unspecified amount of paragraphs.

So…why would I open with I see you?

Aside from the fact that saying I smell you would likely score me even fewer friends, acknowledging that I see you serves a clear purpose. It does something that hello and howdy can’t.

I see you establishes an immediate connection.

Allow me to break it down.

With those three little words, I bring you into existence…or you could say, into my existence. Furthermore, when you say those three words to me, I immediately step into yours. Ta-dah! And frankly, that’s precisely where each of us belongs…in the presence of one another.

If you think I’m on to something, please hold your applause. Really, you’re too kind! Believe it or not, I didn’t make any of this up – even though I’d love to take the credit! As a matter of fact, people have been using the I see you greeting for hundreds of years…maybe even longer. Actually, it all stems from a region in the southern part of Africa where the Bantu people live.

With each encounter, members of the Bantu community call out Sawa Bona! (I see you!)  To which the response is Sikhona! (I am here!) In choosing these words, they continually bring each other into existence.

Okay…so what?

Aside from the warm, fuzzy feeling such encounters might engender, exactly why does this bit of mini chit-chat from halfway around the globe matter? What do the Bantu people know that could possibly be of use to outsiders like us?

I am who I am, because of who we all are.

The answer?

A lot.

Without going into too great of detail, the Sawa Bona greeting is part of a larger philosophy entitled Ubuntu. It’s a catchy word that roughly translates into I am who I am, because of who we all are.

I use this as my introduction to all of you because it speaks volumes about what I stand for. The spirit of Ubuntu reminds me that we’re connected in more ways than I presently understand. We’re strands in a web of sorts. What I think and do has a direct impact on this world we share. And the same goes for you.

I’ve admittedly spent years living a life of assumed isolation. I’ve foolishly believed at one time or another that my habits and choices ultimately could affect only one person…


Nothing could be further from the truth. Everything from the words I speak, to the actions I take, to the ponderous thoughts I think leave a mark in space and time (some things way more than others). So knowing that my life has a direct impact on yours, I’m adopting the best habit available to me…

I’m practicing awareness. Today and every day. From this point on.

I see you.


Click here to learn more about the spirit of Ubuntu from writer  Dr. Judith Rich.



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