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10 Caring Traditions from Around the World

After the podcast of Billy Osogo on Ubuntu, I decided to search how people around the world show kindness, whether it comes from caring tradition or generosity. This may inspire you to show kindness to yourself or someone else today.

  1. Sub Saharan Africa: Ubuntu

Common to many cultures in Sub Saharan Africa, this concept was made popular by South African leaders Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. This word comes from the Nguni proverb “umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu“, which means “I am what I am because we are.” In short, you can’t live in isolation as a human being, and relationships within a group are more important than each single individual.

The deep sense is that we are human only through the humanity of others. When I accomplish something in this world, the merit will go equally to the work and competence of others.

For some, Ubuntu is like a force of soul that pushes them to perform selfless acts for the benefit of the community. It manifests itself in expressions of kindness and compassion, such as sharing resources, helping each other or caring for children in the community.

Nelson Mandela

No wonder the proverb “It takes a village to raise a child” originates from Africa.

  1. Japan: Omotenashi

Often described as the most polite country in the world, Japan’s caring tradition of hospitality stems from a practice known as “motenashi”  or “omotenashi.” This cornerstone of Japanese culture is based on the centuries-old tradition of sadō (tea ceremony). Beyond simply serving tea, one of the main intentions of the tea ceremony is for the host to ensure that all the needs of their guests are met without expecting anything in return and that the guests appreciate the hospitality of the host by showing gratitude. This creates an atmosphere of harmony and respect.

Omotenashi is often translated as “hospitality,” “spirit of service,” or “anticipation of the needs of others”. Long before COVID19 made wearing masks in public places a global norm, Japanese people were already wearing surgical masks to avoid spreading their colds to others.

  1. Greece: Philoxenia

In ancient Greece, hospitality was considered a command of the gods, especially Zeus (Xenios), the god of foreigners. If someone knocked on your door, you were required to greet them with food and lodging before asking questions. For their part, the guest had to show respect by not exceeding the duration of his stay. If you did not meet these requirements, you risked the wrath of the gods. And we all know how long they can hold grudges.

Derived from the Greek words xenia (foreigner) and philo (love), philoxenia means love of foreigners that later became hospitum, or hospitality.

  1. Italy: Caffè Sospeso

The Italian tradition is the “caffè sospeso” or “hanging coffee”. This caring tradition, dating back more than a century, originated in Naples. Anyone who had a good day or wanted to be generous ordered two coffees, paid for two, but you only drank one. A person can then come and ask for the “hanging coffee”. Usually, it’s meant for homeless people.

  1. Singapore: The Kindness Movement

Singapore has gone even further and made benevolence an official movement. The Singapore Kindness Movement is a non-profit organization inspired by former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong. Classified as a “public institution”, it aims to inspire “benevolence” in the inhabitants of the region through signs on buses and advice on its website. They prepared a questionnaire to find out if you are caring and some tips to achieve it.

  1. Iran: The Wall of Benevolence

In 2015, an anonymous man set up a “wall of benevolence” in Mashhad. The idea then quickly spread throughout Iran. This wall functions as a public space for donating clothes, food or anything the donor no longer needs. If a passerby needs something, they can simply take it freely. This movement has its roots in Persian culture and in the words of ancient poets such as Rumi, who defended the virtues of goodness. This spirit of generosity is also present in the Persian art of etiquette, or taarof, which places politeness at the forefront of all social interaction.

  1. New Zealand: Kaitiakitanga

There is benevolence towards oneself, benevolence towards others and benevolence towards the world. New Zealand is a perfect example of a country whose culture recognizes this value. Kaitiakitanga, meaning guardian and protection, is the practice of kaitiaki, the Māori concept of guardian of the sky, sea and earth. It is a way of taking care of the environment according to the Māori worldview. The local iwi (tribe) appoints a person or group to act as the custodian of a lake or forest. Important fact: in 2017, the New Zealand government granted the Whanganui River on the North Island the same legal rights as human beings. Harming this water is now punishable by the same penalties as harming a person.

  1. The Jewish Holiday of Purim

One of the most important Purim customs of charity and friendship is the donation of food — mishloach manot. Doing a mitzvah, or good deed, and giving to the poor, the elderly, and the less fortunate is considered virtuous.

  1. Philippines: The Tulong

Providing immediate and temporary help, Tulong means sharing food, money, or even housing. The Tulong originated after waves of natural disasters that left thousands of people in need. While the concept started on a small scale, between members of the same family, it later expanded to include other types of donations. Tulong-aral is an aid given explicitly for education, for example.

  1. China: Mudita

The Chinese concept of mudita stems from the Buddhist tradition of the practice of altruistic joy. It is about the happiness we experience when someone else is lucky or successful. This appreciation of the worth of others can be cultivated through meditation and mindfulness.

I am sure that also in your country there is a caring tradition of being kind one to each other. What is it called, and how is it practised? Or simply most of the people cultivate kindness to themselves, the others, and the world?

Please, visit my blog crisbiecoach to find out more on kindness.

20 thoughts on “10 Caring Traditions from Around the World

  1. I think this blog is an act of caring in and of itself, Cristiana. Thank you so much for taking us on a caring world tour. I’m fascinated by the New Zealand practice of granting the environment the same rights as people. Beautiful post!

    1. Thank you Wynne ! I agree, it’s beautiful and important what they did in New Zealand. In France they also are trying something like that, but on a small scale. You have to start from something…

  2. I like all of these. The great thing about showing kindness and caring is that you don’t have to fret over whether the recipient “deserves” it. You just do it. Thanks for posting!

  3. What an interesting and well researched post! I love what New Zealand did with the river. I also especially like Italy’s hanging coffee- so many great ideas that we could learn from here in the self-centered US.

      1. Thanks Cristiana- I try to go against our cultural grain 😅.

  4. Love the intention behind all these caring traditions from around the world..especially the idea that “the deep sense is that we are human only through the humanity of others” . Thank you for sharing these!

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