Finding Strength and Inspiration In The Life and Words of Leaders Worth Looking Up To

“I know that my country was not made to be a land of hatred.  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.”  -Nelson Mandela

Just days after my country honored the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., a man who devoted himself to the abolishment of segregation and discrimination against people of color, we will be handing over the reign of power to a man who would prefer that we go back to those times when “America was great”; that is, when certain people were not regarded as human beings with inalienable rights, but as ‘things’ that could be dishonored and dispelled of.  That includes not only people of color, but anyone who is ‘different’ or unfavored; that is, not white, cisgender male, heterosexual, Christian, American, monetarily well off, and physically able.  Members of society have fought long and hard to force those with privilege to see the humanity in each and every person and therefore, to share what for them has never had to be earned but has merely been freely given.

It is a battle we are still fighting.  And now, with the new presidency, it seems we will have to contest even harder to ensure that the victories hard won by the likes of MLK, Jr. and countless others are not overthrown in the name of hate, fear, and ignorance.  But hear this: hate begets more hate; that is, hateful people do not respond to hate with love.  Hateful people, like the one elected to be Head of State, only respond to hate with more hate.  If those of us on the other side want our values of equal rights and respect to prevail, we must put those ideals into practice even when our adversaries decide to take a dump on them.

If we are to continue along the path of progress, we must ask ourselves: what can this presidency show us?  What can the government teach us about ourselves even when it doesn’t care to represent us or show compassion for its people?   How can we, mere citizens, become leaders of our own lives, our own families, our own communities?  If we cannot depose the regime, perhaps we can affect change on a micro level and thus be the change we wish to see in the world.

“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.”  -Mahatma Gandhi

Sometimes people we don’t agree with can be like a mirror put in front of our faces, forcing us to see what we don’t like about ourselves.  How can we use that reflection to become a stronger, more consolidated nation?  How will we grow to become better having been put through the worst?  Will human kind ever evolve to see only the spirit that unifies us all, making us one; not the skin, or the body parts, or the body type, or the clothes, or the sexual preferences, or the beliefs, or the language, or the money, or the abilities that serve only to make us seem not of the same?

Nelson Mandela began his leadership on a very different path.  Initially, he thought the only way to vanquish the tyranny over his people was to conquer violence with violence.  But after 27 years in prison, Mandela came to the notion that the weapon needed to end the war against South Africans was forgiveness.  And sure enough, a peaceful resolution was finally brought about.  Similarly, as Americans, if we are to win the fight against racism, sexism, classism, xenophobia, homophobia, social injustice and discrimination of any kind, we –the people– cannot use the same ammunition employed by the new majority of leaders of this great country.    We must err instead on the side of love, peace, and hope.

At the same time, we must also be courageous and vigorous in the face of bigotry.  We must make our voices heard.  We must stand united against those who try mercilessly to divide us.   We must march in the name of what is right and just.

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”  -Martin Luther King, Jr.

Man or Woman, how do you measure?  Black, Brown, or White, how do you measure?  Straight, Gay, or anything in between, how do you measure?  Rich, Poor, Young, Old, Able, Disabled, Native, or Immigrant…. how do you measure?  We cannot allow ourselves to become or remain complacent.  The time to act is now.  The place to start… is in your heart.

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