What We Can Learn From Nelson Mandela

MandelaAlthough I am definitely not of any political persuasion, I have to say Nelson Mandela’s death had a surprising effect on me.  I personally feel that the changes we need earth wide will not be brought about by a man, any group of men, or even a woman.  It will take a stronger and wiser Personage to handle this hot mess we’ve got goin’ on down here.

That said, even though Mandela was a man – and by his own admission, a flawed and imperfect one – he has left an indelible mark in history.  For one, I was struck by his loyalty and single-minded dedication to a higher cause than himself.  But shouldn’t we all have that quality?  Let’s ask ourselves, is there something in my life that is worth more than life itself?  I’ve noticed that when such is the case, a noble purpose drives individuals to enrichment of character and fortitude.

No, I’m not encouraging fanaticism, instead, deep reflection as to whether those of us who live for our jobs, our beauty, or accolades will still have happy and fulfilled lives when these things are gone.  It is of the utmost importance to live for something honorable, greater and that has an unfading value.

Secondly, we can learn patience from Mandela.  How many could endure 27 years in prison and come out without an overwhelming feeling of bitterness and anger?  I’ve since learned that Mandela initially took up violent ways to accomplish his purpose before being sentenced to jail time.  Later, however, he realized that violence was not the answer.  This he learned in the 27 years he spent behind bars.

Now, most of us will not have to endure 27 years in prison but are we dealing with long-term illnesses of our own or of a loved one we care for?  Are we struggling to save our marriage or are we wrangling with a moody teenager?  These situations can be stressful and can easily make us throw up both hands.  But wouldn’t it be better not to give up so quickly and find a way to cope and hopefully improve matters?  Do we think Mandela did this on his own?  No, he had cellmates that became his friends.  They no doubt gave him strength and the encouragement to go on.  So where is our support?  Let’s be adamant about having that in our lives.  We all need it, especially when struggling with difficult times. 

Finally, some have placed Mandela on a very high pedestal and gave him sainthood.  I would rather see his flaws, problems, struggles and pain so I can learn from them.  It’s something I can relate to.  I’ve never known a perfect person and would not know what that was like.  But I can connect to imperfection, the ups and downs of life, disappointments, death, and hope.  And that’s why we all can connect and relate to Mandela – he was unabashedly human.  He exhibited the complexities of any person put in similar circumstances.  Did he struggle? Yes.  Did he fall? Of course!  But most of all, he prevailed.  And that, my friend, gives us all hope.

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