What indeed manifests the very core of our being? For a solitary individual, it may be a personal experience, or a series thereof. A community, on the other hand, might find its identity forged by a shared event, typically a cataclysm of sorts. But what of the entire human race? A conundrum of unimaginable proportions. Ponder the historical figures that have left indelible marks upon our collective consciousness - the Buddha, Christ, or Mohamed; the malevolent likes of Pol Pot, Hitler, and Bin Laden. Yet, I find myself drawn to the likes of Gandhi, King Jr., and Mandela, who have woven themselves into the tapestry of my own existence - not merely defining who I am, but rather, illuminating the person I aspire to become, the very essence of my soul, if I dare claim to possess one.
The quintessential India evokes the specter of Gandhi; America, the indomitable spirit of King Jr.; Africa, the resilience of Mandela. Fortunate are we to have witnessed the presence of one of these luminaries in our lifetime, to have been touched, however fleetingly, by their essence. As I made my way home today, the news of Madiba's demise still fresh in my mind, I reflected upon my own encounters with racism and intolerance, both in my native Tanzania and my adopted homelands of Canada and the United States. I pondered my actions, and the actions I wish I had taken.
I penned a commentary some years ago about Madiba, incorporating the poem "Invictus" by William Ernest Henley, which served as Mandela's steadfast companion during his 27-year-long incarceration. The words of Henley possess a formidable potency, yet Mandela's actions eclipse them in sheer magnitude. If Madiba's life and death are to bear any significance in our world, his actions, like those of Gandhi and King Jr., must not stand in isolation. It is incumbent upon us to tread in their footsteps, to demand from ourselves and our elected representatives the tolerance and compassion that the term 'humanity' so rightfully deserves.
"Humane" is a word of considerable weight. It calls upon us to transcend our Darwinian instincts, to survive not at the expense of our brethren but rather, to recognize that our individual liberties and opportunities for greatness can only be fully realized when our entire community is free and thriving.