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New Millennium

By Viswamitran

A hero is an ordinary individual who finds strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.

Determination in the face of overwhelming odds

Determination to succeed when all seems so desperate and hopeless

Determination to see hope instead of hopelessness; to create strength out of weakness; these are inspirational qualities and inspirational values

We’ve just seen the dawn of a new millennium. Every dawn brings an opportunity to leave behind the setbacks of the previous day and to start fresh. In the same way, the world as a whole, is entering the new millennium with a sense of optimism and hope. For the first time in human history, political conquest is showing signs of fatigue. Heroes of yesteryears were invariably the conquerors who built empires. Alexander the Great and Akbar the Great have been feted by history as heroes. As Winston Churchill once said, "Man has conquered everything except himself." The one who conquers himself will be the greatest conqueror.

Gandhiji, a twentieth century leader, was treated as a hero, not for building an empire, but instead for helping to dismantle one. His technique, Satyagraha, to most observers, was just a passive form of resistance, but to Gandhi, it was much more striking, as it elevated suffering and denial to a formidable weapon in the freedom struggle. When Gandhiji assumed leadership of the freedom struggle on his return from South Africa, he was already forty-six and colonial power in India was still at its prime. He could not have expected to see an independent India in his lifetime. What Gandhi and his followers achieved in a mere thirty years that followed would have been unthinkable in 1917 to most realists.

Another remarkable human being of our time is Nelson Mandela. In his epic autobiography, "Long Walk to Freedom", Mandela describes his early experiences in prison after being sentenced to hard labour for political activities. He was given, along with other prisoners, hammers weighing up to fourteen pounds to crush stones into gravel! During those soul-breaking days, prison warders stared at them like a collection of rare caged animals. His resolve to rise above the narrow mindedness of his jailers eventually made them realise that they were dealing with a man of immense reserves of inner strength. The apartheid regime attempted to crush his inner resolve in many different ways, including an offer to release him if he agreed to give up his principles and leave active politics. He rejected the offer in a open letter to his people saying, "I cherish my own freedom dearly, but I care even more for your freedom" I cannot and will not give any undertaking at a time when I and you, the people, are not free. Your freedom and mine cannot be separated."  Finally, after a further five years the government realised that they had run out of options and that their prisoner Mandela held all the cards that will help South Africa out of its political mess.  After nearly thirty years in prison cut off from the world outside, when he was released, the great man had no malice towards his warders or to the individuals who led the Apartheid regime. Mandela, affectionately called Madiba by his followers, is a truly remarkable man; a man with an inner will that motivated, energised and liberated a whole nation!

In his powerful book, "Still Me", Christopher Reeve who once portrayed the celluloid hero Superman, wakes up to the nature of true heroism after he is confined and trapped as a helpless paraplegic: a hero is an ordinary individual who finds strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles. Once merely a superhero of the celluloid, Reeve has joined the rank of real-life heroes as he sets an example for paralysed people worldwide.

Determination in the face of overwhelming odds. Determination to succeed when all seems so desperate and hopeless. Determination to see hope instead of hopelessness; to create strength out of weakness; these are inspirational qualities and inspirational values.

The most inspirational teacher I have had is Professor Sumantra Ghoshal, a world class teacher in transformational leadership who have been a senior professor at Harvard, INSEAD and London. During one of the several discussions we had in small groups with Calcutta-born Sumantra, James, a friend of mine and a brilliant TV producer, said that it is easy to blame the cards one is played in life, not realising that we are so fortunate. He then added that, it is not the cards obviously, but how we play them, how we deal with the challenges. How we go forward is driven by the values and beliefs we breath, automatically, without thinking. Just like the man in the Peugeot TV advertisement in which a little girl in a red coat is rescued from an approaching lorry by a dark-suited man acting selflessly, to the sound track of "Look for the hero inside yourself" by the music band M.People. Brilliant idea.

A profile of Yesudas that appears on this site elsewhere, is another story of human achievement against overwhelming odds. The values we discussed here are captured in an informercial that appeared in a magazine recently,  "They say there are no heroes any more. But they’re there. Walk down any street and you will find them. The mothers who work hard, the fathers who strive, the children who overcome. They aren’t larger than life, but they are larger than their own lives. Their names aren’t famous, but their virtues are. Hard work. Common sense. An unshakeable belief in themselves. If you’re looking for a hero, look around.

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