One of the hero’s of this century died in early December, 2013. At the age of 95, after enduring 27 years in brutal incarceration on Robben Island, Nelson Mandela emerged to free his people and all of South Africa to move into a time of equality and democracy. I am moved to my core that someone who stood for so much was willing to suffer and sacrifice so much and rose up after almost three decades in prison and offer his hand in forgiveness and reconciliation to the white people who had treated his people so unjustly. It never ceases to amaze me, the power of the human spirit to take the high road. Madiba, as he was fondly known, would often say in his simple but humble way “ That’s just not right!” and it was that knowing that gave him the courage to keep on going even in his darkest hours. He fought against apartheid, and discrimination and poverty and AIDS.

In that spirit it makes me reflect on my own life and how many times I do not take the high road, how I can be full of regret and remorse, and my own petty personal preoccupations. Imagine if Nelson Mandela had come out of jail and just wanted revenge, or to go lick his wounds and live a quiet life–he certainly would have had that right.

But no. He, like Martin Luther King, and Gandhi before him, and so many other heroes of this century, chose a different path. They chose the path that their Soul knew would lead their people and their country to another place in history. They chose to follow a deeper calling.  They had no way of knowing where it would lead, or how they would get there. They just had to keep walking in the direction they knew was right, and trust themselves above all else.

I think of the women of the early 20th century who chained themselves to the railings of parliament and went out every day to fight for women’s rights when women had no rights, and were really beholden to man’s bidding, for better or worse. I thank them for all their courage and foresight to know that something had to change, and it was up to them.

I bow down in gratitude to the great men and women leaders, who made the changes that let me live in the world we live in today. I know we still have a long way to go before we are living in a world that works for all, but thank God that we have come as far as we have because of visionary leaders like the ones aforementioned and many more unsung heroes who gave and are giving their lives in the name of freedom and justice.

We owe it to these heroes that we live in a free world today and we have the liberties that we do. We stand on their shoulders. We have so much to be grateful for and  to be inspired by. Instead of complaining that this world does not make us happy, or blaming the government or the corporations for the terrible things that are happening, how about becoming a hero in your own life and making whatever difference you can in the world. It may be a big difference. It may be a small difference. But make a commitment to honor those whose shoulders you stand upon and live the best life you can.