Sawbona – I See You

November 1, 2023

As she was going out to grab a cup of coffee, a secretary at my former workplace, Palo Alto Unified School District in Palo Alto, CA, USA, asked a group of us if we wanted her to get coffees for any of us as well. I gladly took her up on the offer. When she returned, I realized I didn’t have the correct amount of money to pay her back. Her response: “I pay for this cup. Your child will pay for a cup for my child in a few decades. Not a problem.”

At the time, I recall being really touched and moved by her long term mindset and her understanding of our deep interdependence. She lived in the intense awareness that we need to always engage in reciprocity – to realize how we are so inextricably interconnected. In her bones was a profound understanding that we need to be a value add to one another – we are all in it together. Her generosity and mindset were inspirational to me and that interdependent mindset continues to be most evident to me when I leave my home country of the USA, as sadly, in my often more individually focused context many of us forget we are a collective.

So, when I arrived to facilitate workshops at the Association of International Schools of Africa (AISA) conference in Nairobi, I was beautifully reminded of this learning as the incoming executive director, Elizabeth Imende, had attendees of her keynote look to the other side of the room and acknowledge one another ‘Zulu style’. “Sawbona. I see you. My full attention is with you. We are connected.”

Sawbona. I see you. My full attention is with you. We are connected.

In the world today we say we “see” others – on our TVs, across continents, across the political aisle. In zones of conflict in the Middle East, in Ukraine, and in the US House of Representatives. We look at others but do we see each other?

Do we really see each other with a deep understanding that we are interconnected? This idea of seeing others deeply is ever present in the concept of Ubuntu. Ubuntu is an ancient African word meaning ‘humanity to others’. It reminds us that ‘I am what I am because of who we all are’. We are nothing without others.

Our willingness to see others and to engage respectfully with one another matters for the health of the world and the collective well-being of all on this planet. We can and must intentionally ask ourselves how we can learn to live respectfully together, even in the midst of the challenges we are facing.

We need to willingly moving ourselves from isolation and separateness to a connection to and concern for community far and wide – in our schools, in our nations, and in the world. It is critical for our shared future. (Note: shared future.) We must demonstrate a belief in the worth and dignity of all individuals.

Being a good global citizen (and a good team member and a good partner and a good family member as well) requires us to do the inner work to manage our emotions, to suspend certainty that our way is ‘the’ way, and to strive be respectful to all.

We need to communicate effectively in challenging times – and with a sense of cognitive conflict, not affective conflict. Yes, there will be and should be intellectual friction in our discussions and interactions, but if we work on our Sawbona skills we know and we can and should individually tone down the social friction.

We must learn to share disappointments, concerns, and perspectives humanely in as non-aggressive a manner as we can. Our way of communicating with others that deeply sees the dignity of and in others has the power to change the energy of the collective and contribute to a healthier shared future.

Mutual respect is something we must learn to live out loud. There is worth in all human beings. We need to create environments in which everyone is acknowledged, feels a sense of belonging, and is treated justly.

May we see each other. May we recognize we are inextricably interconnected. The next cup of coffee we have together is on me.

If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions please feel free to email me at I look forward to hearing from you.

Cool Resources

Currently in my shopping cart…

Coaching: The Secret Code to Uncommon Leadership by Ruchira Chaudhary. “This book lucidly illustrates how a leader can bring out the very best in people by coaching them, and how coaching can unleash creativity as well as innovation while inspiring teams to play to their potential. It also examines how coaching helps leaders maintain a fine balance between managing and guiding, and between appraising and supporting their teammates. While many excellent books have been written about leadership, talent, and coaching, this is a rare book that stands boldly at the intersection of leadership and coaching. This is a book for our times.”

The Persuaders: At the Front Lines of the Fight for Hearts, Minds, and Democracy “The lifeblood of any free society is persuasion: changing other people’s minds in order to change things. But America is suffering a crisis of faith in persuasion that is putting its democracy and the planet itself at risk. Americans increasingly write one another off instead of seeking to win one another over. Debates are framed in moralistic terms, with enemies battling the righteous. Movements for justice build barriers to entry, instead of on-ramps. Political parties focus on mobilizing the faithful rather than wooing the skeptical. And leaders who seek to forge coalitions are labeled sellouts. In The Persuaders, Anand Giridharadas takes us inside these movements and battles, seeking out the dissenters who continue to champion persuasion in an age of polarization.”