The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein once said “The limits of my language means the limits of my world”. What this means is, when we have a narrow viewpoint and limited means of expressing ourselves we are limited in what we think, feel and know. Our culture is just one of so many cultures, and to limit ourselves to our own small fish bowl only prevents us from growing in spirit, mind, and body.

This blog explores how the introduction of two words from different cultures can hep us shift our thinking to a more global and caring mindset – Ubunto and Iroquois.

Language concepts

Lisa Feldman Barrett’s work on the Theory of Constructed Emotions tells us that we can change our unhealthy emotional responses and behaviours and create better ones, just by interpreting our emotional responses in a healthier way. However, if we only have a limited vocabulary and limited awareness of what is possible, we are trapped in a cycle of unhealthy thinking. We need to expand our world by finding and learning new ways of thinking, which will help us create new ways of feeling.


An African word, roughly translated means “I am because of you”. Desmond Tutu first introduced this to the West, explaining that it is about feeling compassion, love and respect for everyone, to recognise that we are all connected and everything I do is bound up in everything you do. None of us exist without the millions of other people existing before us, with us and after us.  Nelson Mandela explained it as that experience of arriving at a new place and the people being kind and generous, caring for your needs. In your own community, it would mean that everyone has an interest in helping one another because everyone is connected.


This is the name of a tribe in the Native American culture, where their culture is one of harmony with the world around them. Their way of being is often referred to as the “seventh generation principle”, where the tribe make decisions that take into consideration how it would impact the seventh generation of their people. Thinking Iroquois when we plan, decide, and action anything shifts our mindset and reminds us that we often destroy something to build something. It is a philosophy, a commitment to think before we act, to look at the blue sky, the green mountains, and listen to the bird song, and promise our descendants that they too will have the privilege to see and hear the same.

Socially constructing a new culture

No culture stands still, fixed in time. All cultures shift and change through the generations, being influenced by what is most important to the people at that time. The rise in environmental and social concerns means we too are starting to shift into a new chapter of the Western culture. We can help shape that by influencing each other, constructing a new way of being. Not only is important that we shape our culture in a way that creates compassion, harmony and connectedness, but quite frankly it’s fun learning new words! So go on, get curious and see how many new words you can introduce into your vocabulary!


About the author:  Lisa Jones has a professional background in human resource leadership. Now self-employed she is studying for a Masters in Applied Positive Psychology at Bucks New University where she intends to use her knowledge and learning to continue researching, primarily on the topic of social change and meaningful living. She intends to undertake a PhD within the research area of positive psychology.



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