“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
Those words are Nelson Mandela’s. He turns 95 today. The world today wishes him a Happy Birthday. The world has been gripped by his health struggles these past few months. Perhaps today some of the media outlets will focus on the many ways this man advanced the cause of freedom and justice. Perhaps we might remember in prayer the many ways this man has born witness to love and justice. Perhaps the best gift we might think to give to him could be a willingness to choose love.
In our baptismal covenant we commit to “strive for peace and unity among all people and to respect the dignity of every human being.” In a baptismal liturgy the question is often asked and answered quickly – “I will with God’s help,” we dutifully respond to the priest. Have we thought about what respecting the dignity of another looks like?
Mandela’s words above are powerful in reminding us that we are made for love. We are not made for hate. God made humankind in God’s image – and it was good. God is love. We were not born hating. It is a learned behaviour. Let us be reminded of love. Let us be reminded that we can learn love. Let us be reminded that it is more natural for us to love.
Upholding the dignity of another is a critical component of how we are called to walk on this journey as Christian pilgrims. Immanuel Kant argued that “dignity is a value that creates irreplaceability.” Another’s dignity is all wrapped up in their value. When we devalue others we see no need to worry about their dignity. When we say that we will respect the dignity of every human being we assert that we are going to honour the very unique ways in which each person is irreplaceable. We are going to honour the very unique ways each person bears the image of God. We are going to honour the very unique and irreplaceable impact each human being is having in reflecting God to the world.
On this birthday of Nelson Mandela I pray that we might have the courage to honestly asses the ways we have learned to hate for fear others. I pray that have the wisdom to discern that and repent of that we might remember love and learn to love. Peace and unity for all people is contingent on respect and dignity for all persons. Let us move toward love and seek ways to become better at it.
Sometimes we know that loving others is difficult because of our own life experience. People like Mandela are powerful witnesses to us that we can find and choose love and respect another’s dignity even when we have to come at it from a painful place. We may not be able do everything at once but we can begin with small steps.
Henri Nouwen put it this way:
How can we choose love when we have experienced so little of it? We choose love by taking small steps of love every time there is an opportunity. A smile, a handshake, a word of encouragement, a phone call, a card, an embrace, a kind greeting, a gesture of support, a moment of attention, a helping hand, a present, a financial contribution, a visit … all these are little steps toward love.
Each step is like a candle burning in the night. It does not take the darkness away, but it guides us through the darkness. When we look back after many small steps of love, we will discover that we have made a long and beautiful journey
Love comes naturally to the human heart – let us fulfill our baptismal call to respect the dignity of every human being by finding small ways that we might reflect the image of Love who created us.