Like millions of people around the world, I admire Nelson Mandela and all he was able to accomplish in his lifetime. Perhaps the most profound thing I heard about him over the past few days had to do with a speech he gave at Howard University in Washington, DC a few years after he was released from prison. Students who had been there for that speech spoke of what Mandela meant to them and what they had learned from him.
Long Walk to Freedom, in which Mandela said, "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."
There are many prejudices in this world. There is hatred of races different from our own, hatred of religions that do not agree with ours, hatred of cultures that vary from ours. There is hatred of people who have more than we do, of those more beautiful than we see ourselves, of those more intelligent or intellectual. There is even hatred of people who remind us too much of ourselves.
Yet what Mandela said is true. We are not born with hatred. It is learned.
Perhaps one of Mandela's legacies is to stop and look at ourselves, to question why we hate, why we discriminate, why we feel prejudices. And to understand that if we can learn an emotion that will destroy not only others but ourselves, we can also learn to love, to accept, to forgive, to embrace.
What did Mandela mean to you?