Nelson Mandela has passed into the ages. The tributes pouring in from all over create a rare opportunity to spur ourselves into a life of significance and action. Rare because of the near universal reverence for him and his indelible leadership impact. If something stirs in us on knowing what he achieved in his life, then this powerful resonance can spark off a little of the same greatness in each one of us.
How will the sparks fly? Where can we be touched by his greatness?
Three significant actions stand out for me.
First, Nelson Mandela on being released from prison did not harbour any animosity or bitterness towards the white supremacist government. Centuries old oppression of blacks in general, and 27 years of incarceration in particular can make any human-being want to retaliate. More so, when the tide has turned in his favour, as indeed it had, when he was released in 1990.
Nelson Mandela did not get carried away. He looked ahead. South Africa was in the throes of a historic transition. In creating a new South Africa, Mandela freed himself from the prison of the past.
He rose above the circumstances and led the way.
In appreciating Mandela’s greatness, can I create space for self-reflection? Can I have a sense of proportion with regard to my own share of perceived misfortune and injustice? I am humbled by my own experience; the slights & the hurts, the deliberately withheld contributions, the cultivated indifference, the vindictive urge to strike where it hurts. I have been there.
Second, Nelson Mandela chose to reach out to all of his people, including white people. He put supreme emphasis on keeping the whole country united and collectively marching into the future as a fledgling democracy. The price of failure was violent bloody civil war. And there were people on both sides readying themselves for it. Mandela did not flinch from his purpose, reached out publicly to all South Africans, and walked the talk on truth and reconciliation.
In my work, what higher purpose can inspire me to walk down the road of leadership that unites minds and hearts? What can I start off with, right now?
Third, Nelson Mandela did not hold power for more than one term as the president. He knew that his action set an example for a new democracy, an ideal for generations to live up-to and be inspired by.
What can I give up to set an example? Knowing that there is a higher ideal at stake. Knowing it is the ‘right’ thing to do even though I might not benefit from it. When I do that, I reclaim a little of the same greatness that is there within. And so can you.