The passing of Nelson Mandela has given us time to reflect once again on the difference one life can make to the world at large. The largest stage ever imagined is extremely daunting when we think of our own abilities as one solitary person. The idea that one person defined by time and space can make that kind of difference is awe inspiring. And yet, in all of our lifetimes, we have witnessed just that: one person persisting in their beliefs, never backing down, and surviving all manner of indignities to make a difference.
I’m sure Nelson Mandela himself did not think at the beginning of his struggle that he would be an example to the entire world, going far beyond his native South Africa, or even the continent of Africa. He is a man who was influenced by what was going on around him and became involved in activities that eventually led him to make some choices. He was persistent, earning his law degree in prison. He was controversial, at times admiring socialism and communism because they represented to him ways to move beyond what he saw happening in his country. But despite all these ideologies, when he arrived in office as President of South Africa, he did not nationalize industry because as a practical man, he did not want to walk away from economic development that his country so desperately needed. When he needed to speak out on issues such as against the Iraq war, he did so, but it didn’t stop him from working with President George W. Bush on fighting AIDS.
If we look to gain from “Madiba’s” triumph and hard-won lessons, what we can take away is the spirit of perseverance. Never give up, but do forgive and move on. Instead of dwelling on the past injustices, Mandela moved the world forward into a time when apartheid was a thing of the past. His single minded dedication to doing the right thing for his people, and not narrowly defining who those people were, speak volumes about the nature of this man.
Although not born to wealth, he did have a relationship with tribal royalty and due to family associations was expected to become a trusted counselor and advisor. Nelson Mandela moved that tribal responsibility to a much larger plane, that of South Africa, Africa, and the world. As we examine our hearts and strive to emulate this wise leader and teacher, the one thing we can claim for our own personal brand is to persevere, to stand up for what we know is right, and to remember to forgive those who do not understand. Ultimately, the tide of human endeavor will pull all of us along, whether we set out to go that way or not, the important thing is to move forward and put the past behind.