Time and time again we all likely ask ourselves, “why are we the way we are?” If you are born in China you will likely speak Chinese. If you’re born in Italy, you will likely speak Italian. Historically, in culture of the Amazon Head Hunters if one brother had a collection of heads bigger than the other, it would be a “good” thing as it represented prestige, manhood and acted as means for securing the victim as a slave in the afterlife. So, in that environment, if you’re born in the Amazon with headhunters, this practice might be natural to you. With that being said, it’s probably safe to say if you grow up in a racist environment, you will very likely be racist. The environment around us can have a tremendous impact on who we are, our values, ideas, mannerisms…etc. We tend to reflect our surroundings, or culture. You can read more about that in the article, Understanding Us: From Values to Color Perception.
John Locke – “We are like chameleons, we take our hue and the color of our moral character, from those who are around us.”
Without really realizing it we tend to go along with what the crowd is doing and we follow our cultures traditions and laws. Not always a bad thing but what about if you live in a culture of war or slavery? Do we live in a culture of war today?
Now it gets more interesting. Whatever may be that culture’s definition of “good” or “bad” will likely be your definition of “good” or “bad”. An example Jacque Fresco uses refers to the Romans many years ago when they fed Christians to the lions. Where on the scale of good or bad was that according to their culture at the time? I’m sure many disagreed with it but it was an acceptable practice for punishment and some might have even looked forward to it. In comparison, where on that scale would it be in our culture today? It would be unacceptable. It suggests that good and bad is defined by the environmental circumstances of your time.
Throughout history there have always been people that don’t go along with everything like all the others. Something deep inside of them awakens and gives them the courage to speak up and walk the opposite direction, defying their culture. Nelson Mandela defied his culture of racism and was willing to stick his neck out to make things better. It’s always easier to go along with the crowd, keep your head down and not stand out. Most people don’t want to be the odd man out because it draws attention to them and can make life harder than it already is.
So why do people like Nelson Mandela take that hard road and fight their whole life for what they believe is right or “good”? He was a staunch believer in the equality of all people and his determination to overthrow the system of apartheid (Apartheid was the official policy of the National Party which became the governing party of South Africa in 1948.) in South Africa. He helped organize and lead many peaceful campaigns but after violent disruptions by the state and its outlawing of the opposition organizations, it became clear to him and his comrades that the peaceful protest was impossible. In 1961 they decided to turn to an armed struggle and established Umkhonto we Sizwe (spear of the Nation) – also know as MK – as an army for Freedom Fighters. During this courageious fight for equality Mr Mandela was arrested on several occasions and stood trial four times. He was sentenced to life imprisonment on June 12, 1964. He was released in 1990.
People like Nelson Mandela sacrifice their lives for what they believe in. It’s people like him, who are willing to speak up and take action, that shift the tides of culture and human values. His actions created a ripple affect into the future and surely inspired others to recognize the deep feeling inside they might have had but were afraid to express. Today there are schools, parks, scholarships, universities and foundations all named after Nelson Mandela. Today he is a hero but during his time in Africa, to that culture, he was the criminal.
At present time, we have the same oppression but in different disguises. We all have to open our eyes to the environment around us and find the courage to fight for what we believe in. Once you stop caring about what other people think you will no longer be their prisoner.
If you’re not uncomfortable, you’re not growing as a human. I read that in a book a few years ago and it stuck with me ever since.
The below video is a very powerful speech given at Harvard in 1998.