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  • Dr. Sandra Y. Lewis

Let's Do The Math: 1+1=1

Nope. The math is not wrong. Yes. 1+1 = 2. And 1+1 = 1. Both equations are accurate. Most of us are very familiar with the idea that 1+1 = 2. In fact, I’m sure that many of us remember how excited our parents got when we responded “2” after being asked, “What is 1+1?” We were rewarded with hugs, candy, money, toys, smiles and a most highly value gift, our parents’ pride in our accomplishment. If we’d responded “1” to that inquiry, it’s very likely that our parents would have been quite concerned.

They may have even hired a math tutor to help us. Their concern about our future GPA may have blinded them to the genius being revealed in that moment. Funtunfunefu-Denkyemfunfu is an adinkra symbol. Yes, I know the words may not roll easily from the tongues of us monolinguals but the concept is quite ingenious. Try singing the sounds. Sometimes that helps you get the rhythm of an unfamiliar language.

Adinkra symbols originate in the Akan tradition, prominent in Ghana and some other countries in western Africa. Actually, if you’re into ink (i.e. – tattoos) or you move about the world taking care of business, you’ve probably seen Funtunfunefu-Denkyemfunfu or other adinkra symbols on someone’s forearm, ankle, lower back, or inner wrist for the more discreetly inked. Maybe children in your family read, “The Talking Cloth” or participated in a class where they used adinkra stamps to create works of art that graced your refrigerator door. Like pictures, adinkra symbols are worth 1,000 words. Yes, they fit right in with our “genius math equation”, 1+1 = 1.

Funtunfunefu-Denkyemfunfu is the symbol with Siamese crocodiles. The crocodiles share one stomach but they fight over food.

This symbol reminds us of the importance of unity and sharing resources. Imagine a world where someone else could eat but you would feel full and satisfied. Even if the other person ate something you didn’t like, it wouldn’t matter. Once food reaches the stomach, it’s all about nutrition, energy, resources to sustain the body and all it’s intricate functions.

My traditional Chinese medicine teacher once said that the stomach is the most faithful organ. What!?!?! You’re right. This is both an exciting and perplexing idea. Why is the stomach the most faithful organ? Because it takes whatever you give it and works with it to extract all of the goodies, then sends it along so that your whole body can use it. The stomach trusts. No matter what you put in, it will work with it. Yes, the late night potato chips or cookies. Or the button your 3 year-old neighbor swallowed because it looked like a piece of candy. The stomach will go about its work extracting the good stuff and send the rest on its way out of the body. So, if you have to share an organ, the stomach would definitely rank in the top three. It’s always on everybody’s side, giving it’s all so that everybody gets the best.

At the heart of Funtunfunefu-Denkyemfunfu is the concept of interdependence. Simply put, I need you and you need me. Neither of us is deficient.

Yet, each of us benefits when the other one does well. Like links in a chain, we need each other’s strength. The capacity of the whole chain depends on the strength of each individual link. As the saying goes, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

Many years ago, when I was studying John S. Mbiti’s research on African spiritual traditions and philosophies, I learned the proverb, “I am because we are. Because we are therefore, I am”. It resonated with me. This idea has been blended into the bass of my life-beat. And we know, it’s all about that bass. While Meghan Trainor isn’t necessarily singing about the beat in her song, she certainly

recognizes the authority of the bass. Metaphorically speaking, that is.

The bass creates rhythm, keeps time, gives music it’s foundation yet makes it flow. Interdependence does the same for us. It strengthens our foundation and tunes us into the rhythm that keeps us moving, flowing and growing.

In his description of “Ubuntu”, Nobel Peace Prize winner, Bishop Desmond Tutu offers one of the most compelling explanations of interdependence. As you listen to him, you are deeply touched by the power of interdependence. It is #reciprocity revealed. Interdependence is a catalyst for actualizing our greatest potential while simultaneously building a better world. You may have seen Ubuntu in your neighborhood Whole Foods market. It was probably associated with current day sustainability, self-sufficiency, or collaboration projects aimed at sharing resources or improving health or creating the highest quality of life for all people. However, Ubuntu is an ancient concept that has so much to offer our modern world.

Bishop Tutu says, “There is no such thing as a solitary individual. A person is a person through other persons. We belong in the bundle of life. I want you to be all that you can be. I need you to be you so that I can be me.” Can you feel the bass line?

© Sandra Y. Lewis | All Rights Reserved

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