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I always knew that deep down in every human heart there was mercy and compassion. 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. Even in the grimmest of times in prison… I would see a glimmer of humanity in one of the guards, perhaps just for one second, but it was enough to reassure me and keep me going.
Man’s goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished. A man who takes away another man’s freedom is a prisoner of hatred, he is locked behind the bars of prejudice and narrow-mindedness. I am not truly free if I am taking away someone else’s freedom, just as surely as I am not free when my freedom is taken from me. The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity. When I walked out of prison, that was my mission, to liberate the oppressed and the oppressor both.
Some say that has now been achieved. But I know that that is not the case. The truth is that we are not yet free; we have merely achieved the freedom to be free, the right not to be oppressed. We have not taken the final step of our journey, but the first step on a longer and even more difficult road. For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains; but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others. The true test of our devotion to freedom is just beginning.
Long walk to freedom, Back Bay Books 1995