John Thottungal

Working with opponents key to resolve polarized debates, enable changes

It is funny how you always tend to remember where you were and what you were doing when news of someone famous passing away hits you.
I remember where I was when I learned of Princess Diana’s death 16 years ago, but with Nelson Mandela’s passing away I felt a sense of peace because he had lived a life that ended not in a car crash, nor with a bullet to his head like JFK, but in the presence of his family and friends.
Mandela, known affectionately as Madiba, represented more than just the man — he stood for an ideology.
Fighting a regime that was unjust and oppressive, he refrained from stooping to the intolerance of violence and changed himself to bring about change, and as a leader, that is where his greatest strength lies.
Through his life, Mandela leaves behind a legacy of partnership, tolerance and acceptance of mistakes in his mission to bring about change.
Despite the honor we give to our heroes — Abraham Lincoln, JFK and Martin Luther King, Jr. — in their martyrdom, it is disenchanting that their lives ended in violence because as revolutionary and radical for their times as they were, some people could not accept their ideologies.
We must, as a society and nation, learn to put aside personal differences and stubborn loyalties to ideologies and stand together to make a change rather than obstruct any person trying to make a change for the betterment of our nation.
I can allude to President Obama’s controversial health care initiative but only time will tell if the changes he hopes for will make a positive difference.
However, I am certainly glad that in the mean time he is well protected and is less likely to suffer the fate of Lincoln and Kennedy. I am glad that maybe in the future, all Americans will have the ability to buy health care and we will not have to fight a civil war over it.
I’m not trying to support or reject Obamacare, but give a stark reminder that our heroes who are trying to make a change that we may not be able to understand completely now need not become martyrs for their message to be heard.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the need to honor all our veterans who return home from wars they fight on our behalf. As of this publication, there are approximately 5,000 veterans in Texas who are homeless according to a report from burntorangerreport.com, and several are in need of health care and suffering from neurological conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder and clinical depression.
We honor our soldiers who have lost their lives in protecting our freedom and way of life, but we also have to protect and take care of our heroes who are present amongst us.
Our history of only realizing contributions from our heroes after they are gone or have been killed should stop.
If Lincoln, JFK and MLK are considered as our nation’s heroes for bringing about the changes we needed but refused to see at the time, then so is each soldier who goes out and risks his life for our nation.
We as a nation have the sense of truth and compassion to honor every American hero when they are alive, be it a soldier, a teacher, a doctor or even a person who is trying to make a change that is needed but not always welcomed such as President Obama.
In Mandela’s words, “If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.”


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