by Ozan Varol
Sawubona is a standard Zulu greeting. But its meaning goes far deeper than your typical hello. Sawubona literally means “I see you.” It refers to seeing in a more meaningful sense than the simple act of sight. It means, “I see your personality. I see your humanity. I see your dignity.”
Sawubona says you’re not an object to me. You’re not a business card. You’re not a transaction. You’re not a title. You’re not just another person standing in line between me and my Starbucks macchiato.
You exist. You matter. You contain multitudes. You’re a memory to someone. You are a living, breathing, imperfect human being who has experienced joy and suffering, triumph and despair, and love and grief.
The traditional response to sawubona is ngikhona. It means “I am here,” but its meaning also goes deeper: “It tells the observer that you feel you have been seen and understood and that your personal dignity has been recognized.”
When we feel understood in this way—when we feel that the other person really gets us—we vibrate on each other’s frequency, instead of moving past each other.
This doesn’t require any grand gestures.
It means holding emotional space for a loved one with a simple, “I’m sorry. That’s awful,” instead of immediately jumping into problem-solving mode.
It means grieving for laid-off employees instead of blithely marching onward to the resolute beat of business as usual.
It means finding the human dimension in the products we create by looking at them from the perspective of those we serve, instead of getting lost in acronyms, processes, and PowerPoint decks.
It means remembering our common humanity even when we disagree.
It means choosing to see in a world that has stopped seeing.