Nelson Mandela’s greatness was most visible in his power to overthrow—through his courage, compassion, and peaceful manner—the brutality and murderous ways of the Apartheid regime. He was an ordinary man, he said, as he counseled us to find our own greatness.
How do we acquire greatness? Mandela’s power to do good was rooted in his charisma and love. If we are to be liberators like him, we presumably have to shed our negativity, fear, anger, malice, and violent instincts. We have to liberate our self from the darkness within.
From where in human nature does such negativity arise? A recent article in The New York Times tries to comprehend the human capacity for the slaughter of innocent people. Citing examples this year of horrific bloodletting by terrorists in Kenya and government security forces in Egypt, the article asks: Do we all have the capacity for such wanton murder?
Experts interviewed in the article say yes. But they don’t get to the core of the question. Instead, they blame the readiness to kill on “a culture of authority and obedience that supplants individual moral responsibility with loyalty to a larger mission . . .” Also blamed are “a routinization of violence, as well as injustice or economic hardship . . .” One expert says the most important ingredient in the willingness to murder for a cause is “the dehumanization of the victim.”
These explanations are superficial. Mandela, who died yesterday, would have more to offer. He would want us to ask ourselves: “What is it about me that would cause me to forgo moral responsibility? Why do I allow myself to see the enemy as less than human? Are there people who I hate, and do I have some hidden need to have enemies?” [Read more…]