“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion,” Mandela said. “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.”
For some time I had noticed a particular International student in our Oasis centre. He sat in the same spot most days focussed on the screen of his computer. He never seemed to engage with other students. I thought he might be suffering from Parent Syndrome – the weight of expectation to not just succeed, but succeed at the top of the class. I let him be.
One day he approached me at my office door and asked if he could talk with me about ‘spiritual’ matters. I welcomed him in and waited to see what was on his mind.
‘Why are you always happy?’ he asked.
It was a question I was not expecting.
I had decided long ago that I would always respond to people at face value. If the question was hiding a deeper one, it would come out in good time. So I thanked him for the complement and told him my story.
‘As one gets older and the body starts to creak, it is understandable that some folk give in to that and turn inward as if the call of the pain must be answered with a curse. I did not want to become a grumpy old man’, I said, ‘so I decided to be happy. In fact, I had started to greet my wife each morning with silly dress-ups to make us both laugh and to test my creativity to find something different each morning that I could be silly with. But to answer your question, I choose to be happy. And I choose to do happy things.’
There seemed to be no immediate response from the serious young man, but I seemed to have made myself vulnerable enough for him to trust me with what was lying underneath. It turned out that he had the idea that he was responsible for solving all the world’s problems. Yes – seriously! So overwhelmed by the enormity of this vocation, he had attempted suicide – I think three times.
My role was now to support him get professional help, which he did, and to keep the channels of communication open.
This incident came back to me when I saw the Nelson Mandela picture and read his words. They challenge me to open the door of love and close the door of hate.
But I would add this: learning to love begins with a conviction that love, no matter how costly, is more powerful and productive than hate. The evidence is there to be seen. It leads to good things happening.
Secondly, when we choose to love and be happy each moment, this continuous practice becomes a lifestyle. We are not even aware that other people think we are always happy, as if we were born that way.
That is how, in Mandela’s words, we learn to love.