“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
~ Nelson Mandela
Courage and hope are greatly admired human attributes that were featured in the last post in this series, “Hope… Is It Enough?” It was inspired by words spoken by the former First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama when she urged young South African women leaders to give voice and form to these attributes because they will be caught and spread.
We live in a world that is significantly different from the one that existed when Michelle Obama spoke in South Africa in 2011. Political circumstances have changed at the highest levels leaving faith in democratic systems and capitalistic economies fractured. Uncertainty now rules and that instills fear for our collective future as citizens of this planet.
The news services herald the latest outrageous threats and insults hurled by political leaders at each other – each one claiming to own the truth. Social media has become the battleground as venomous volleys are loosed each day on Twitter and rebroadcast by news networks around the globe. Where are the standards of decency, honesty, and respect? They seem to be disappearing rapidly and many are predicting doom for mankind, which is admittedly unnerving.
Although I am retired, it is the teacher in me that was moved by the words of Nelson Mandela, spoken to high school students in Boston in 1990, quoted above. The context of the words he used was his concern that so many young people were dropping out of school. I believe his words apply to each of us who are fearful, disappointed, hurt, and in desperate need of change. The path of division, intolerance, and hate leads to a horrifying place that none of us wants to visit.
I am a student of history and I have learned about the great deeds men and women accomplished as well as the horrible atrocities visited upon innocent victims. Human nature is characterized by the duality of good and evil. It is my conclusion that humans exhibit their very best face when they act in hope and courage, in the face of fear, to help others. Modeling the attributes of hope and courage in our daily lives will help to inspire others, but Mandela believes that education is the best weapon to bring about the change we crave as humanity seems to be teetering on the edge of a terrifying chasm.
What inspires hope in my heart when considering Mandela’s assertion is that each one of us is a teacher. Some of us teach formal lessons in an educational setting. All of us teach informally every time we interact with other persons – in our families, among our circles of friends, in our places of employment, and in public while shopping, running errands, or enjoying leisure activities. Some of us are parents raising children – teaching them the most important lessons in life. Those kids watch every move we make, listen to every word we speak, and consider every decision we make. What attributes are we modeling every day?
Many suggest that our democracies are fractured and create disharmony in societies that desperately need unity of spirit and purpose. We point to leaders who listen only to the voices of special interests and in so doing, ignore the well-being of the majority. The concept of the common good seems to have been lost. As I ruminate on this sad reality, the thought occurs to me that it isn’t just the leaders who have lost their way in our free and democratic societies.
Have we, the citizens, lost our way as well? On election day, do we vote? If we do, are the votes we cast informed choices? Are we familiar with the issues at stake? Most importantly, do the issues touted by political parties and candidates have anything to do with the common good? Am I willing to vote for a party which will increase my taxes so that there can be a fairer distribution of wealth in society? If I say that the leaders don’t care about the common good, then it is most probably because we the citizens don’t care.
With the educational technology readily available in most homes today, there is no good excuse for not educating ourselves. If we’d rather waste hours watching entertaining programming on TV, then we are part of the problem and have no right to point fingers of blame at anyone else. Our example is being noted and learned by the youngsters in our homes. Words spoken thoughtlessly are heard and then mimicked. If we really want change we need to clean up our own acts and live appropriately so that others may learn from our teaching. The education we provide will be a powerful agent of change.
We teach by our words and our deeds. Together, let us change the world!