As I stepped off of the plane Thursday evening, I saw people gathered around airport televisions as the news anchor commented, “He believed in reconciliation.” It would only seem plausible that such attention intertwined with such commentary would be attributable to the passing of Nelson Mandela.
As I’ve observed the press coverage of these past few days, it has struck me that there are clear lessons to be learned and remembered from Mandela’s existence that have little to do with things politico. Rather, they are lessons of humanity. And so, I submit that these are just a handful of those lessons to be gained from the man they called “Madiba”:
“He believed in reconciliation.” He did not request it, demand it, or advocate for it. He believed in it and so he lived it. After 27 years of imprisonment, he did not dwell on the past nor hold himself out as a victim, rather, he looked ahead and sought to understand and advance the circumstances of a people based on the lessons of his own journey. He learned the language of his enemy in an effort to seek to understand and be able to communicate with them, fully recognizing that at some point they would have to interact in order to resolve for the good of the future. Our lesson is that the front windshield is typically quite larger than the rear – and for good reason. To reach and achieve reconciliation, one must first resolve to look ahead.
He was of the people, not partisan. In seeking to understand and achieve reconciliation, he was not contained by a seemingly impenetrable aisle of bureaucratic group-think. We should be so fortunate to be able to extend a hand without bias.
He had an unwavering sense of self and stuck to his values and ideals. In one interview this weekend, one of our former leaders spoke of asking Mandela how he survived 27 years of imprisonment. In his response, Mandela noted that his captors could take his possessions, remove him from his family, and ultimately reduce him to his singular existence – yet they could not take his mind or his heart. Even during his most oppressed days, he was free to think and free to love – and he chose to enjoy that freedom and remain committed to what he knew to be true with faith that all would eventually be resolved.
Mandela knew the value of the greater good. Once quoted as saying “to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” In other words, he understood that the gifts with which we are entrusted as given to us so that we may serve to the benefit not only of ourselves, but others around us – our community, however broadly that may be defined.
And finally, it is his legacy as “Madiba” to an entire nation that should cause us to sit up and take note. “Madiba” has been loosely translated as meaning “father.” Again, he is not remembered for his partisan views or for crafting a particular policy or bureaucratic initiative – he is remembered for his steadfast, paternal guidance of a people through very tumultuous times and shepherding them into a period of healing and advancement. He is as much their “Madiba” for what he did as he is for how he did it – with love.
Mandela once said, “When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people and his country, he can rest in peace.”
Indeed, Mandela did his duty to his people, his country, and his world. To have done so much and to be remembered as “Madiba” or “Father” seems to be the greatest accomplishment of all. “Father” versus more sterile titles of occupational or educational nature is indicative of a life lived well and lived full. May he rest in peace, as he his duty to his people and country are done.
And may we all be so fortunate as to retain untainted ownership of our own hearts and minds, to remain so entrenched in our commitments to what is good and right, to forgive those who have trespassed against us, to look ahead and not dwell on what is in the rearview mirror, and to deploy our abundance of gifts and talents for the betterment of others. In doing so, our own legacy will be determined.
What do you choose yours to be?
With thoughts and prayers for the people of South Africa. And with special thoughts for Smitty, Brian, and the Septembers…
Keep it Lit, Y’all. Peace.