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Little Mandelas

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

We live in an age marked by contradictions. We preach love when we easily hate; we preach education and swiftly succumb to ignorance; we preach tolerance when we exercise bigotry; and we project to the world an image of perfection when — under the mask of anonymity — we expose our rancid self.

The relevance of the quote today is no less significant than it has ever been in human history, or will be in the future. We have as a species for long been assigning labels to possessions and concepts — and while the human mind has evolved to compartmentalise the world around us, it has become fodder for assigning people to “us” or “them” for any number of criteria. Criteria we have been formulating over time, but have been significantly taught while being young.

For a time in my childhood years, it has been repeated to me in school or observed through social behaviour in others that everyone who is not a Muslim is evil and going to hell, and that a certain group of people called Jews and others called Americans are the cancer of society. This perplexed my mind; why would someone who believes in something different than I be called evil? And why would someone who comes from a different country be considered cancer? I was young, of course, and couldn’t comprehend the political or religious complexities when I was exposed to these topics, creating a stereotype in my head for a long time that I have struggled with because I knew that it was wrong, but I did not know any better.

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What helped me, though, is my mixed-religion background. It helped me see how the Christian side of the family were wonderful people, and that I felt more connected to them than my Muslim side of the family. It also showed me that religion does not make anyone better or worse than the other; people showed various shades of kindness and malice, and more often than not, these acts were not based on religious tensions.

Visiting the States in 1997 has also changed my views of the world. I was in the “heart of cancer”, and every church I have seen has caused me unexplainable rage. I even remember telling my younger cousin there to always cuss at churches, because I have been told that it and their followers are evil and will be banished to hell. Thankfully, she didn’t listen — and while I have forgiven myself for having those beliefs as a kid (and growing out of them), I would have had a difficult time forgiving myself had my words affected my cousin.

I am happy because I have seen what Mandela has said as I grew up: I have been taught to hate. Taught by zealots and bitter people who hated the world and hated others. I was taught by people who told me everyone else goes to hell but have not told me that God is forgiving and looks into the hearts of people and that is what really matters. I have been taught to hate by people who have anger in them — and I do not blame them for their anger — because of geopolitics that have been shaping this region for over 60 years and continues to be so.

Yet thankfully, I had the heart and compassion to see through all of that, and that my mind always questioning beliefs and society has led me out of what I once was. I still struggle in many things, and like many of us who have had a similar upbringing here or abroad, it takes herculean effort to unlearn what has been learned.

My life is richer now because of the different people from different cultures and faiths in my life. It is, in fact, much easier to love now than before; with globalisation and the internet, the “others” in our brain are so overwhelming that the “us” are but a mere spec of mankind. In the end we are all the same. We want to be happy; we want to fall in love; we want to cherish that first kiss; we want to eat and drink and enjoy the flavours and the fruits; we want to feel safe and have a place we call home. We want to know there will be a better tomorrow and live (or wish we could) today to the fullest. We all have our fears and our sorrows, and we all have our laughs and our songs and our music.

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We as people really are not different. And those differences are what makes us amazing and exotic. Love is much more rewarding than hate. Each one of us is a little Mandela, with our struggles and our strife to make life better for ourselves and for others around us.

Rest in peace, Madiba.

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