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Nelson Mandela chose love.

In our world, the standard response to an attack is a counter-attack. Anything less is widely considered weak. As Toby Keith sang post 9/11: “And you’ll be sorry that you messed with/The U.S. of A./`Cause we`ll put a boot in your ass/It`s the American way.”

Boots in asses don’t change the world. Not for the better, anyway.

The old adage rings true — an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind. Hence why much of the globe is still mired in darkness.

Nelson Mandela, however, chose love. When faced with the most horrific of circumstances and every reason in the world to seek vengeance, he chose love, forgiveness and non-violence. He was an eternal optimist, and believed in mankind’s inherent goodness.

As Esquire’s Stephen Marche wrote, “We live today in an age of profound cynicism, in an age of despicable politics. The more clever we are, the more cynical we are, the less happens, the less we achieve whatever we wanted to achieve. Let us remember this great man in the human reality he revealed which is also the reality that is the best of us. Love wins. It is the impossible path. It may also be the only path forward.”

Love and compassion have the power to elevate the world. Hatred and vengeance, however, have done nothing but tear it down. In Mandela’s words: “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”

Imagine, if everyone faced their enemies with forgiveness? We’d live in a very different world.

War begets more war. Anger begets more anger. And hatred begets an endless and vicious cycle of more hatred and violence. Nelson Mandela showed that peace and positivity are far more powerful tools to use in shaping the future of humanity.

Even for those of us in less than extreme circumstances, there are little ways we can live this philosophy on a daily basis. Meet a scowling face with a smile. Buy a coffee for an irate traveler in the airport. Stop yourself from judging someone engaged in an action you disapprove of. It may feel counterintuitive at first, but you’ll soon find that it brings a sense of peace you’ll never feel with the alternative — and often, it serves to change the entire attitude of the other person in question.

Take this simple example. Someone’s behind you in the drive-through. They’re honking, yelling and generally acting like an ass because the line isn’t moving as quickly as they’d like. In one scenario, you take your time just to spite them and refuse to move, even after you receive your order. You seethe over their rudeness and mentally berate them. You Tweet about their douchebaggery. As a result, your actions fuel their fire and incite their rage, making them only more likely to continue to treat others poorly. And you leave the situation feeling annoyed, stressed and irritated with people in general.

In another scenario, you choose an act of kindness and buy their order. You consider that maybe they’re having a horrible day — maybe they lost their job, got dumped or stayed up all night with a new baby. You offer compassion instead of condemnation. Here, you create an experience that the person will probably never forget. They’ll likely feel humbled, and go about their day treating others far more gently. And so will you.

Which is better for the world? For the other person? For you?

In honor of this great soul, let’s all do our best to choose love. The next time we’re faced with a situation that begs anger or resentment, let’s turn our hearts around and act in his memory instead.

“No one is born hating another person because of the color 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.” 

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