”Do people shape society or does society shape people?” This is the question of the century and my answer is as follows. The sheer power of vision, creativity and strength that the human mind harbours and is capable of harnessing is truly remarkable. If properly channeled and developed it does not only have the potential of shaping sociey but it can also change it and alter destinies. This ethos and philosophy is well enunciated in William Ernest Henley’s 19th century poem (which happens to be one of my favourites) titled ”Invictus”. It’s most famous line where he confidently asserts that ”I am the captain of my ship, I am the master of my soul” resonates deeply with me.
These words are not only profound but they are also inspiring and beautiful. In his poem Henley is eulogising a beleagured soul who refuses to be intimidated, limited, bound or overwhelmed by the circumstances he has found himself in or by the cruel fate and ill-fortune that life has thrown his way. He depicts a gallant soul that has resolved to rise above it all, chart it’s own course and forge it’s own destiny. He is alluding to the philosophy of the ”triumph of the will” and the concept of ”mind over matter” and in so doing he affirms the Elizabethan worldview of life as enunciated by William Shakespear’s character Iago (from the play ”Othello”) when he said ”’tis in ourselves that we are thus or thus”.
I share this worldview and what it affirms is the belief that real men ought to help shape the societies that they live in and invariably great men, who have the courage of their convictions, often do. I totally reject the opposite and paradoxical philosophy that was so well enunciated by Othello himself when he rhetorically asked ”who can control his fate?” He obviously, and in my view erroneously, believes that fate and destiny lies in the hands of a ”higher power” alone. I also believe in the supremacy of God and in His ability to ”rule in the affairs of men” but I am also of the view that to a great extent we mortals can also control our fate and that our future is determined by the choices that we make.
Shakespear’s character Cassius in the play ”Julius Caesar” reiterates my point when he asserted that ”the fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves that we are underlings”. Charles Kay Anyabuike, a young and obviously insightful Nigerian, put it even more succinctly when he said ”weak minds are shaped by society whilst powerful minds shape society”. Both Cassius and Anyabuike hit the nail on the head because throughout world history it has always been the powerful and assertive soul and the strong-willed that have made the difference and that have determined the course of events and the fortunes of their people. A few examples will suffice.
Without Genghis Khan and the power of his will the Mongols would have never amounted to anything. Without Atilla and the power of his will the Huns would have been nothing. Without George Washington and the power of his will America would never have been independent and free. Without Napolean Bonaparte and the power of his will France would never have ruled Europe and almost the entire civilised world. Without Vladimir Lenin and the power of his will the Soviet Union would never have been established and without Mikhail Gorbachev and the power of his will it would never have been dismantled and destroyed.
Without Adolf Hitler and the power of his will Germany would never have ruled Europe and aspired to rule the world. Without Winston Churchill and the power of his will the Allies would have lost the Second World War. Without Margeret Thatcher and the power of her will Great Britain would never have got back on her feet.
Without Maria Callas, Pavarotti and Placido Domingo and the power of their will opera would never have been loved and heard in the four corners of the earth. Without Voltaire, Shakespeare, Marlowe, Machiavelli, Michaelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, Constable and Picasso and the power of their will we would never have enjoyed the pleasures and delights of literature and the arts. Without Beethoven, Mozart, Wagner and Handel and the power of their will we would never have enjoyed the most refined, the most beautiful and the most pure form of music ever created by mortals.
Without Wordsworth, Ehrmann, Henley and Coleridge and the power of their will we would not have tasted the sweet nectar of poetry. Without Martin Luther King jnr. and the power of his will the United States of America would not have had a civil rights movement. Without William Wilberforce and the power of his will the slave trade would never have been abolished and British naval vessels would never have blown slave ships out of the sea. Without Robspiere and Marat and the power of their will the French Revolution would never have been successful.
Without Abraham Lincoln and the power of his will the United States of America would never have remained as one united nation and slavery would have continued to flourish in the south. Without Martin Luther and the power of his will the Protestant Church would never have been established. Without Queen Elizabeth the First and the power of her will England would have remained a tiny island-state and she would have been overwhelmed by the Spanish Armada. Without Queen Victoria and the power of her will Great Britain would never have been the greatest and most powerful empire in the history of the world and Brittania would never have ”ruled the waves”.
Without Oliver Cromwell and the power of his will England would never have had a Parliament and power would never have gone to the people. Without Ayatollah Khomeini and the power of his will the Iranian revolution would never have succeeded. Without Ben Gurion, Golda Meir, Moshe Dayan and Menachim Begin and the power of their will there would never have been a state of Israel and she would never have survived. Without John Jerry Rawlings and the power of his will the Ghanaian revolution would have crumbled and would have been killed at birth.
Without Kwame Nkrumah and the power of his will there would never have been any concept of ”Pan-Africanism”. Without Thomas Sankara and Patrice Lumumba and the power of their will, Burkina Faso and the Congo would never have been free. Without Jomo Kenyatta and the power of his will Kenya would never have been rid of the British. Without Nelson Mandela and the power of his will apartheid would not have been crushed in South Africa. Without Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo and the power of their will Rhodesia would never have become Zimbabwe.
Without Pundit Nehru and the power of his will India would never have won her independence and without Mahatma Ghandi she would not have retrieved her soul. Without Mr.Jinah and the power of his will Pakistan would never have been carved out of India. Without Lee Kwan Yew and Dr. Mahatir and the power of their will, Singapore and Malaysia would never have been transformed into the great nations that they are today.
Without Mao Tze Tung and the power of his will China would never have been the great giant that she is today. Without Count Von Bismark and the power of his will there would never have been a united German state. Without Charles De Gaulle and the power of his will there would never have been a French Resistance. Without Kamal Attaturk and the power of his will there would never have been a modern, powerful, secular and united Turkish state today. Without Alexander the Great and the power of his will there would never have been a united Greece.
Without Augustus Caesar and the power of his will the Roman empire would never have flourished and gone from strength to strength. Without Bell and the power of his will there would have been no phones. Without Mark Zuckerburg and the power of his will there would have been no Facebook. Without Bill Gates and the power of his will there would have been no Microsoft. Without Steve Jobs and the power of his will there would have been no Apple.
Without Fleming and the power of his will there would have been no penicillin and no antibiotics. Without Eddison and the power of his will there would have been no light bulbs. Without Albert Einstein and the power of his will there would have been no theory of relativity. Without Charles Darwin and the power of his will there would have been no theory of evolution. Without Buddha and the power of his will there would have been no buddhism. Without Mohammed and the power of his will there would have been no islam. Without our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and the power of His will there would have been no christianity.
Without Abraham and the power of his will there would have been no judaism. I could go on and on. The list is endless. These men and women, and many others like them through the ages, had courage, drive, purpose and vision and they helped to shape the fortunes of humanity and the destiny of nations. Society did not shape them but rather they shaped society by the very force of their will and by the courage of their convictions. This is what is known as the ”triumph of the will”.
Some have argued that had they not existed others could have successfully played their role. I beg to differ. Every single one of these men and women were unique and irreplaceable. Each one of them was carefully and specifically crafted, created, configured and contrived by the Living God to play their role on the world stage and to achieve their life’s purpose. And even if there were others that could have achieved what they did or that assisted them from the behind the scenes, they alone had the drive, the commitment, the strength of character, the courage and the sheer force of will to bite the bullet, to take the risks that needed to be taken, to take the bull by the horns and to take a leap of faith.
Not many can do that even where the seed of greatnesss has been planted in them. And that is precisely why there are so many dead heroes in the grave that never fulfilled their life’s calling or had the chance to answer the call of greatness. Sadly such people have been long forgotten and tossed into the dustbin of history. These are men and women who were gifted with briliant ideas and great talents but who could not muster the fortitude and resolve to do whatever it took to bring out those potentials. This is tragic and sad and it results in nothing but unfulfilled dreams and shattered souls.
What cripples most people is a lack of confidence, conviction, fortitude and faith and worse of all the fear of failure. This is what separates potentially great men and women who end up just being losers and dreamers and those that are the real heroes who end up being covered in the irresistable robes of eternal glory and greatness. The character traits that makes the real hero stand out is the ability to persevere against all odds, to endure difficult circumstances, to reject the fear of failure (which is the biggest dream and destiny killer of all), to cultivate the ability to take a gamble and to cultivate an unshakeable beleif in himself and in his cause.
That is what makes such people unique. They were destined by God and providence to make a difference in their generation and in their various fields of endeavour, they worked extreemly hard, they burnt the night candle and perservered against all odds and they were gifted with extraordinary qualities to do all these things. This should be the quest and objective of every great man and woman- to live forever in glory in the hearts and minds of their people. This is what is known as ”the triumph of the will”. God bless you.