(Article written – 5 December 2013)
Nelson Mandela died today. It didn’t come as much of a shock, being that he was an impressive 95 years old, but it still triggered a universal feeling of loss. We are reminded of his strength and dignity, his tremendous capacity for compassion and respect. And we are asked, in so many ways, to honor him by emulating his vision. After all, the sincerest form of flattery is mimicry.
But it’s hard. The reason that Mandela is universally mourned is because he was extraordinary — not just in what he’d done, but in how he had carried himself and treated others. Extraordinary. If everyone were like him, we wouldn’t feel like we lost anything, because he would be replaced by another equally incredible person. But he was uniquely emblematic of the human ideal, and we only have our several splintered selves to take up his fight.
One part of me is transformed when I read about Mandela. “If he could survive 27 years of imprisonment without hating his captors, it’s shameful if I can’t resolve a minor conflict with __ or forgive __. How much more could I accomplish if I didn’t hold onto hate?” Suddenly, an inner peace pushes every unnecessary grudge out, and I’m flooded with a sense of serenity.
It lasts for about five minutes, and then I remember why I was irritated or angry with __, and the thought passes that I’m not Mandela, so…
But! What I would do for a lifetime of those moments of bliss! I need to eliminate hate and anger from my life! …Ugh, but it’s so difficult. Here are some things I am trying to tell myself when I feel like giving up on being the next Mandela (which is how we should all be acting):
- Everyone has been hurt somehow.
You can’t know how to hurt someone without knowing how it feels to be hurt. You can’t push someone’s buttons if you don’t know what they are. People can only handle so much pain until it infects their personality — the best way to deal with this is to identify that pain, address it, and try to imagine them as their best selves. Positive reinforcement might lead to a change in behavior, but even if it doesn’t, it helps you heal yourself.
- You can never truly see someone else’s perspective.
This is just a fact of life. Opinions are colored by such a wide array of personal experiences. It’s impossible to really put yourself in someone else’s shoes, unless you knew all of their memories and thoughts and rationalities. I might share the opinion that education should be the federal government’s #1 priority, but this is influenced by my opinions on a variety of other subjects that might not be the common consensus. Enemies on one issue might be allies in another, and it’s narrow-minded to dismiss someone based on only one facet of their personality.
- Always believe in the possibility for good, but don’t expect it.
Inspirational leaders seem to be in constant awe of the world they live in. And why shouldn’t they? Life, as an existential idea, is incredible! But people focus so perversely on the bad, preparing for and hiding from and stressing out about it, that they take the good for granted. The next time someone holds the door for you, think about how easy it could have been for them not to have done that — and appreciate it. Though everyone (arguably) should partake in these little social niceties, it’s a friendly minority who actually do. Expecting everyone to act like this results in bitterness, which is not a happy flavor.
- Be kind. Be honest. Be firm.
If you tell someone you love them, act like you love them. Love them. And if they don’t love you back, or they don’t fulfill your idea of what love is, don’t hurt them as punishment. Show them love as a model, and let them know that they have been loved regardless. Love isn’t a limited commodity. Define clearly how you want to be treated, but treat them properly first. And if they start to take advantage of your kindness, of your honesty, of your love, tell them — kindly, honestly, lovingly—that you deserve more than what they’re giving you. You are telling them because you believe in them and their ability to give you more. If after all of this, they don’t make you feel loved — and you deserve to be loved, if you love in return—walk away knowing that you at least can’t regret how you treated them or yourself.
Vidya Kaipa is a 23 year old female, Berkeley graduate in political science and sociology. Photographer, journalist, editor, marketing and design analyst. World traveler. Loudly loquacious, bizarrely creative, itty bitty and witty, ABCD (American Born Confused Desi), enthusiastically organized, engagingly analytical.. but not overanalytical, which is not a word because it’s not possible to overanalyse.
Follow her @ https://twitter.com/VidyaKaipa