I (Gioia) found a new word the other day: Ubuntu. Apparently Ubuntu is a Zulu term for compassion and humanity, or human kindness. It means, literally, “human-ness.” I had been looking for a way to describe what we witnessed recently when we were giving a keynote in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. We had been honored to participate in Sussex County Survivorship Coalition’s 3rd Annual Cancer Survivorship Conference, “After Ringing the Bell”.
The conference focused on mind-body strategies for resilience. Several speakers presented on yoga, mindfulness, and the power of photography to tell stories of survival. Our topic was “Honoring resilience through creativity.” We figured the 175 participants were experts in this area. Their stories and art work eloquently revealed the unique ways they had managed their hardships and difficulties, coping with tough times as best they could. One of the strategies mentioned most often was connecting with others. Even more poignant, they spoke of how, even if they were very sick, kindness to others helped. “Reach out and make someone’s day”, they advised, as those little acts of kindness, while they don’t make the cancer go away, helped to distract from their troubles.
For example, one woman shared a story in which she had been in her oncologist’s waiting area, anxiously bracing for feedback on her treatment. Another patient in the waiting area complemented her on her coat, which happened to be her favorite winter-wear. Later, the woman overheard her fellow waiting room friend reveal to the office staff that, on top of her illness, she was struggling financially. After her appointment, she decided to leave her coat behind as a gift for the other woman, hoping that it might brighten the latter’s day. Even though the news she, herself, had gotten from the doctor was not good, the act of giving something special to someone else who was struggling gave her some solace.
Although it might seem counterintuitive, the cancer survivors told us that being there for others when you’re suffering had been one of the things that helped them the most. This was echoed in the support they gave each other there at the conference, as they did art work and shared their stories about the things that had kept them strong in their struggle with cancer. So as I was writing this, and found the word Ubuntu, the universal bond that connects us all, it seemed clear to me that this encapsulated one of the most important elements of resilience.
Art Directive: Journal about a time when you were struggling, yet still found a way to help someone else and it made you feel better. Make a piece of artwork in response.