"I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one's head pointed toward the sun, one's feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death."
With the recent world events and alarming responses by many Americans, I've been reflecting on such passages from Nelson Mandela's Long Walk to Freedom.
Finishing Mandela's autobiography was one of my New Year's resolutions, and I finally completed my goal during Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon on October 17. To my recollection, the only book that took me longer to read from cover to cover was The Bible. I believe I spent 2.5 years reading The Bible straight through and over 1.5 years reading Long Walk to Freedom.
Fittingly, I find myself looking to both epic stories for strength during these times. I find myself asking "What would Jesus do?" and "What would Mandela do?" Before anyone gets their panties in a twist, as a Christian, I am not equating the two by any means. I just think think back to Mandela's words, and I am inspired to try to act in kindness and love to those whose behavior is fueled by fear, ignorance or hate.
“I always knew that deep down in every human heart, there is mercy and generosity. No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite. Even in the grimmest times in prison, when my comrades and I were pushed to our limits, I would see a glimmer of humanity in one of the guards, perhaps just for a second, but it was enough to reassure me and keep me going. Man’s goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished.”
I realize if I, and those like me, continue to just remove the racist, xenophobic and otherwise prejudicial people from our lives, those angry people will only associate with and be influenced by the like-minded, hateful mob. Divisions will only grow deeper.
“And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”