Who and what on Earth are we?

7 min readMay 14, 2024


A Civic Futures Contemplation by Mama D Ujuaje, who is the Co-Founder and Lead Facilitator at Community Centred Knowledge, and was part of the first Civic Futures cohort in 2019. They have delivered a version of this contemplation at the beginning of each subsequent cohort, and is also available as an audio recording on www.civicfutures.london.

As you go about your daily business of living: getting up or sleeping in, going to work or going for a walk, nourishing your bodies or eating on the go, sharing knowledge or sharing good times, do you ever pause to consider who it is who is doing all of this, to reflect upon who or what you really are?

Just in case you don’t, I will bring that question to you now. Ask yourself, who are you? You who shares planet earth with literally billions of others: Who and what are you?

Are you surprised at the question? Let me offer a follow up question that might help your response; Are you a human being and if so, what does that really mean to you, right now? Are you a human having or a human doing? Or are you a whole person in wholesome relationship with planet Earth?

Science tells us that our human cells make up only 43% of the body’s total cell count. The rest are microscopic colonists: the bacterial, viral, fungal and other small bodies that take up space within us!

I would like to take that a step further, most human bodies are at least 65% water, an element we share with Earth. Our body’s mineral store of calcium, potassium, magnesium, chromium, etc broadly mirrors the Earth’s make-up of elements. All of this is not surprising because, when you really come to think about it, we are mostly not human, we are mostly Earth.

Sit with that a moment. Most of our body mass is in continuity with the earth around us. And although we reflect the elements that the Earth is made up of, we are also increasingly responsible for the destruction of our Earth environment, so we are that too: Homo self- destructus rather than Homo sapiens. Do you think you can close yourself off from the toxicity that surrounds us, think again, because 57% of it passes through you on a regular basis!

What this also means is that all of us share a whole lot more with each other than we might care to admit.

How much does our governance of the planet respect these truths? Do we care for each other enough to give credence to these wisdoms?

What have we been learning from the system that we work in so that we can give back to it in ways that it can strengthen both itself, and also continue to resource us?

Being in Relationship

What really matters is not only an ability to read the landscape and plot a course through it but to have capacity to be deeply empathetic with all others navigating uncertainty across its rapidly changing terrain. Recognising the quality of the struggles involved can help develop a genuine capacity to empathise, by mirroring relationships which can help provide solidarity throughout the journey.

As such what is called for is beyond the usual leadership training, it’s about how to develop and sustain relationships — offering each person opportunities to develop different and more healthy attitudes towards oneself as well as each other. It calls for the deepening of capacities to respond to the call of being human. This might involve developing the ability to be less judgemental and more explorative, to be curious about human coping strategies around challenge and difficulties. It also includes insight into the psychological qualities of emotional responses such as grief, stuckness and the loss of face around the sheer awkwardness of not knowing what to do. This might also involve the demonstration of compassion for those whose natural enthusiasms have become diminished, or who have lost the way and who might be bitter or disappointed, overcome by a constant sadness.

The ability to identify with all of these human responses in the context of an ever more common backdrop of uncertainty seems to me to be a critical and necessary human characteristic. To be able to relate to others in ways that transcend the kind of single- mindedness that is based upon preconceptions and to be open to deeper connection with others, to walk miles in their shoes. These are qualities which support the development of communities who hold resilience and hope. These are the qualities of a typical cohort fellow.

Why You Are Here

To be a post Brexit, post-pandemic, post-lockdown, post-crisis activist, campaigner, learning facilitator, agitator and/or community organiser makes you, apart from madly tired and exhausted most of the time, the fulcrum of your communities and your own lives as well as part of the governance of this city.

It is to become sensitive to all the opportunities to learn, to learn to see ourselves differently, to listen more carefully, to respond more mindfully. We are all more aware, now, of the precariousness of human existence and its relationships and have greater awareness of the systemic nature of human behaviour: its positive as well as less generative attributes.

It is this capacity to teach well what you have most to also learn from which brings you the special value you each potentially have.

You probably already recognise that to possess empathy is to also commit to understanding what it means to be resilient, regenerative and relational in broader society. It is also to have or develop the capacity to deeply listen to the communities you work in which are deeply marked and traumatised.

I know that what some of this has meant is that you have needed to equip yourselves with capacities for feeling as well as thinking, for relating whilst evaluating and to be adept in building extended networks which have the capacity to do the same.

To work in this way is to abolish former ideals of single-minded saviourism. It is much more about building solidarities of understanding that can be responsive to the multiple and emergent communities which make up the social fabric of our increasingly urban environments.

To work at different levels of yourself is to be a dextrous manager of relationships across multiple, co-existing domains of being. This calls upon a number of skills that are rarely to be found in a single individual. So, to elect to work across human social networks of change and uncertainty requires an ability to draw together a potency of several actors, past, present and future to produce an alchemical ‘broth’. Each constituent ingredient drawn from across the generations and weighted in accordance to the dynamics of power to avoid distortions.

A critical part of your development will be to develop the capacity to work in relationship. Recognising that the ‘self’ that is you is not atomic and individuated, but highly distributed across the wealth of communities which have been a part of shaping your personhood and also contributory to how you understand multiple intersecting realities.

As such, self-knowledge is also part of an Ubuntu paradigm: Ubuntu, a concept of the Nguni people of Southern Africa, says that all knowledge is interdependent, reliant on each other and the knowledge arising from the Earth in its past, present and future, entwined with its ecology.

To know your community is to have a deeper understanding of its shaping forces. Self- knowledge recognises one’s edges and boundaries, not as limitations, but as sites of potential creativity and shared imaginaries. So borders become creation zones rather than sites of conflict.

Your design works embed justice and the capacity to transform and be in meaningful relationship. This doesn’t happen simply because you are inclusive, it happens because you recognise that diversity is a principle that helps you to respond to what is emergent.

In Conclusion

How do you continue to improve? To become more regenerative, sustainable and reparative? To acknowledge who you really are?
In this we all still have major challenges on our hands: race, climate, environment and public health are still very much on the agenda:

  • What could you, as a cohort fellow, think, feel and do together with others?
  • How will you, as a cohort member, come to be a part of a learning, sharing, system of lived — embodied — knowledges –in action?
  • What opportunity does Civic Futures represent for change, recovery, and reparative restoration in all of us, as individuals, and collectively?
  • How can it ultimately support life affirming changes in our working environment(s), and in the communities in which we work, live and play?

These questions direct our work, whether we are aware of them or not. The more attention we give to how we might respond to them, the more that we can find, amongst ourselves, strategies to inform our hope, to hold our energy and to keep us motivated and informed.

We are resilient, and so mirror the earth, we become interdependent, resourcing ourselves from our diversity, acknowledging each other and taking nothing for granted. We move forward with agency and responsibility; we reflect upon the past in the present to creatively co-design and celebrate our collective civic futures.

Mama D at City Hall for the launch of Civic Futures in 2019.




A learning consultancy dedicated to imagining and building a better world.