“A revolution is not a bed of roses. A revolution is a struggle to the death between the future and the past.”

He served as Prime Minister of Cuba between 1959 and 1976, following up as President of the country from 1976 to 2008. All said, Fidel Castro was in charge for nearly fifty years. And during almost the entirety of his run, before handing power off to his brother, Castro was a thorn in the side of whoever was the President of the United States at the time. The Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 is perhaps the best known.

After battling years of poor health, Fidel Castro passed away on Friday at the age of 90. It’s not like we didn’t see this coming. It was only a matter of time and this comes shortly after relations between Cuba and the United States have improved so much. The borders are finally re-opening after all these decades.

As difficult as it might be, I’m going to avoid the politics of the situation. My Facebook feed is getting flooded both with people expressing grief and with people celebrating the end of a difficult era. Fidel Castro was certainly a polarizing figure, so I will leave you to your own conclusions.

What I can say, and this is something that I’ve said before, is that we can all learn for almost anyone, even if we disagree with them on a fundamental level. You may feel a certain way about Charlton Heston or you may disagree with the politics of Hillary Clinton. You might not like Jeb Bush. But sometimes, we have to separate the ideas from the individuals.

And in the case of Fidel Castro, he had some rather bold, audacious ideas. He led the Cuban Revolution and, as indicated by the quote above, he recognized that a revolution “is not a bed of roses.” The fight is hard. As Hillary Clinton said in her concession speech earlier this month, “Please never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it.”

Of course, we all have differing opinions on what we think is “right.”

“They talk about the failure of socialism but where is the success of capitalism in Africa, Asia and Latin America?”

Fundamental constructs, like socialism and capitalism, are not inherently good or evil. All of these kinds of ideas can work in theory. The challenge is figuring out how to make them work in practice and, more often than not, it’s the people who get in the way. The human condition gets in the way. Individual greed and ambition get in the way.

It will be fascinating to see what becomes of Cuba (and its relations with the U.S. in particular) in the coming years. Fidel’s brother Raul has been President of Cuba since 2008, but he plans to step down in 2018. What happens after that is anyone’s guess. But the world will certainly be watching.

Image credit: Christian Frei Switzerland (Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0)