Socrates, Lincoln, Gandhi and MLK – What do they have in common?

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Confusing and tragic events are unfolding simultaneously around me and I’m finding it increasingly hard to translate my emotions and thoughts into clear, coherent words.

Venezuela, my home, is being submitted to the torment of perpetual uncertainty, a torture which, to me, easily matches the horrors witnessed by Dante in his Inferno. We have been waiting for years, literally years, for a resolution to this sustained climax, but nothing ever happens. For eighteen years we’ve been swaying in an ill cycle of cruelty, injustice and oppression and a constant promise that things are about to be resolved. And as we desperately await this ever elusive denouement, our spirits are diminished by anger, frustration and resentment, crippling our ability to work together to consolidate solutions, especially in disagreement; and shattering our chances of becoming agents of change in this perpetual act that goes in a loop instead of a progressive line.

In a parallel reality, the United Kingdom, a country that for me has always stood as an example of protocol and elevated standards of political debate, suddenly turned this year, into a mock of precisely these two virtues. A bunch of demagogues won the Brexit election on the basis of fallacies, and now, as ruled by a British court of justice only a couple of days ago, it turns out that after all the inflicted damage, the decision to leave the European Union was always going to be bound to a vote in Parliament. The country, as it stands today, is submerged in political and economic uncertainty, and society has been divided by a shallow political discourse of fickle leaders who took part in this game rightly trivialised in the euphemism: Brexit. The long term costs of this sad joke still remain unknown.

As if not enough, the United States, a nation I have always looked up to and birth place of some of my favourite political figures in history, approaches one of the most polarised and toxic presidential elections ever witnessed. The political debate between the leading candidates has been reduced to base personal attacks, provoking news and headlines in well-established media outlets that resemble those seen in sensationalist magazines such as the National Enquirer. The world watches in disbelief as the nation that was once led by men of the ranks of Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan is now threatened to be ruled by a clownish demagogue like Donald Trump. Politics has turned into show business in America this year, a bad reality show that stirs controversy and promotes confrontation amongst brothers and sisters because it’s “good for business”, because “true leadership” is not caring about political correctness, because it boosts popularity, because it is all about winning, no matter the costs.

And I can’t help but wonder what has happened to those high-minded leaders who, in the past, earned such widespread admiration because of their integrity, strength of character, humility and genuine devotion to their countries. Are we not breeding these men and women anymore? Are we allowing resentment and prejudice take over our capacity to feel compassion and empathy? Is there anyone who seriously believes that division and violence will forge a better world for our children? Because, sometimes, it feels as if a large number of people in this world are craving for war. And they openly admit it as if it was something to boast about. Have we distorted the idea of courage so much that people genuinely believe that shooting a gun and killing enemies are signs of bravery?

Courage is actually the complete opposite of violence. True courage, in my view, comes in the form of strength of character, self-control, the capacity to debate, the acceptance of dissent, the ability to confront those who are indeed violent with an intelligent idea, an argument that may dissuade them to lay down their arms and engage in dialogue.

Apart from being four of my favourite political figures in the history of humanity, Socrates, Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. have many things in common. First, they were incredible orators, meaning they were clearly aware of the power of ideas and rhetoric as weapons to persuade the masses and trigger change without violence. Second, they all firmly believed in the premise that “all men and women were created equal” and placed tolerance and respect at the centre of their political discourse. Third, despite their popularity and power, they all remained humble throughout their lives, exhibiting the same virtues they professed; gracefully avoiding the demons of arrogance and sense of entitlement, so common in those who have enjoyed sustained power.

It can’t be a coincidence that these four men, who shared similar values and similar astounding courage and who, with the exception of Socrates, succeeded in their missions of bringing about more justice to their societies, were all assassinated. It is a fact, which has become ever more evident to me in the latter months, that hatred, racism and greed run strongly through the veins of many. They think it but they don’t say it. Many practice it undercover. Why are the voices of tolerance being suppressed ? Why are people fighting against consensus? I don’t know. Peace is easier said than done, but gosh, we should get hands on now -today- because later might be too late.


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