4. Ubuntu: I am because of you
Boyd Varty grew up among lions, leopards, crocodiles and other wildlife in South Africa. How? Well, his family has owned the Londolozi Game Reserve, a safari business, for four generations. His job is to take people out into nature. This life experience has given him a unique perspective on people, animals, and earth. His plan for this TED discussion was to encourage us to connect with nature; however, the day the TEDWomen 2013 conference took place was the day Nelson Mandela passed away. So Varty begins his talk with a tribute to Nelson Mandela, one of the men who inspired him the most. It turns out that he knew Mandela as a nine year old boy, when Mandela came to Londolozi to “rest and recuperate” after his 27 year-long incarceration. He remembers bringing Mandela “breakfast in bed” and watching him walk around the garden. He describes the essence of Mandela beautifully: “Mandela said often that the gift of prison was the ability to go within and to think, to create in himself the things he most wanted for South Africa: peace, reconciliation, harmony. Through this act of immense open-heartedness, he was to become the embodiment of what, in South Africa, we call Ubuntu. ‘I am; because of you.’” But Varty doesn’t think Ubuntu is just for people. “In the cathedral of the wild, we get to see the most beautiful part of ourselves reflected back at us. And it is not only through other people that we get to experience our humanity, but through all the creatures that live on this planet.” He tells us (as is the custom in South Africa) a couple of “campfire stories” of “heroes of heart” to give us evidence of his beliefs. One is about a remarkable tracker called Solly who saved Varty’s life. You see, Varty had decided to wade in the water and was attacked by a crocodile that tore up his leg. Without a thought, Solly walked into the water (with the crocodile still lurking about), picked Varty up, carried him to shore, wrapped his leg, and drove him to the hospital, saving his life. The other story is about an elephant named after Elvis. She was named that way because her deformed legs looked like she was doing the “Elvis the Pelvis” dance. Varty was worried she wouldn’t survive the wild, but then he noticed the other elephants breaking off branches for her to eat, pushing her uphill, and slowing down the pace of the entire herd so that Elvis could keep up.
We’re in awe of the human and animal spirit and love Varty’s campfire stories, which improve the interconnectedness between all of us. Ubuntu.