that my humanity is caught up, bound up, inextricably, with yours.
When I dehumanize you, I inexorably dehumanize myself.”
-Desmond Tutu, on the South African ideology of Ubuntu…
The first time I had heard of Ubuntu, the South African concept of humanity, was while doing research for my first speech assignment as a freshman at IUPUI. As I struggled to find an adequate enough topic for my speech, I decided to see my assignment less as ‘homework’ and more as an opportunity (you know, the kind of thing a teacher tells a reluctant student to try, in hopes he might actually do the work). Even with this new approach, however, I spent too long trying to conjure up a speech topic for the dreaded course. The only conclusion I had reached was that if I was ever going to deliver the next “I Have a Dream Speech,” I needed to choose a topic I was passionate about.
Choosing something to write passionately about is pretty easy for someone like me. As the most indecisive person who ever lived, I was sure of only a handful of things—one, that I loved writing and the power it held, and two, that I loved the essence of humanity—traits like humility, kindness and giving others the benefit of the doubt.
The importance of being kind and generous to others, as well as the heart-warming response it elicits from others, is what prompted me to get my first job in customer service. I love the opportunity that it gives—to connect with others, to make another individual feel welcome and ultimately, to serve others the way we know best—with love. As a Muslim woman wearing a headscarf, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit nervous about how customers would take to someone like me serving them, but time and again I have witnessed the beauty of Ubuntu in their actions toward me.
I began ringing up an elderly man’s groceries and as I handed him his receipt, wishing him a great rest of his day, he tells me how happy it makes him to see someone like me working here.
In another instance, one I will never forget, a non-Muslim customer tells me to be the best Muslim I can be… it was so profound because that is a motto I’ve been reminded of by Muslim teachers and my parents since primary school, about practicing my faith.
In the most recent of instances that remind me why I love customer service, a customer asks me if I’m into politics and after telling him I’m fairly aware of what’s going on and of Trump’s rhetoric, he ardently tells me that the people of my faith are free to practice here and they are welcome.
This August marked my one year since working as a cashier.
After finally breaking the topic block brought on by my apprehension of the course and reflecting on my own personal experiences with Ubuntu, I realized the importance of connecting my classmates in some way, so they could relate to my speech, myself and to each other. But how could I connect a group of strangers? I had joined the course a week later than everyone else, so I knew very little about them. I realized that what I valued most about people—the humanity that shows itself in their humility, empathy and kindness—is exactly what would allow me to successfully connect with my classmates.
I hadn’t realized this at the time, but the introduction speech I ended up giving would be my best one all semester. It’s ironic, but my improvement and growth in that class didn’t show itself at the end of the semester, after much practice of giving a number of speeches on various topics. My growth had happened while writing and preparing for that first speech, realizing that above all judgments I feared as an incoming college student, above our experiences, histories, weaknesses, strengths–above every quality that makes us unique individuals, humanity is the one element that transcends all of those. To this day, as I mentally prepare myself for a second year of new beginnings, the assurance that my humanity is inextricably tied to everyone else’s–that is what calms me and what humbles everyone in my eyes, more than enough to put my nerves and fears aside.
About the Blogger:
Nouha is a sophomore at IUPUI, double majoring in Political Science and Communications, while also pursuing an English minor in professional and public writing. She loves dogs and hopes to pursue a career in political speech writing.