Nelson Mandela, whose life was defined by moral courage and leadership, died in Johannesburg, South Africa on December 5, 2013. He grew from rural villager to resistance leader against the apartheid regime, and endured decades of imprisonment as a result. When released from Robben Island prison in 1990 he worked to negotiate a peaceful end to institutionalized racism, which earned him a share of the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize. The first black president from 1994-1999, Mandela was a hero of the 20th century.
I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair.
He was a man of contradictions. Born the son of a village community leader, he developed an abiding respect for authority. Using his father as a role model, he learned to collaborate and unite. But with training as a boxer and trial lawyer, he became a tenacious fighter. And when non-violent strategies were met with brutal force, he studied guerilla warfare. Yet as the President of his country, Mandela displayed the compassion, grace and benevolence of a truly great leader.
What positive qualities propelled Mandela to greatness despite his suffering?
- He was able to forgive his jailors
- He felt compassion for those who had hurt him
- He had a burning desire for reconciliation
- He put aside his personal needs for higher causes
Mandela is an excellent example of post-traumatic growth. The decades of oppression and brutality had an unintended effect – they produced a man of extraordinary character. Listen to Maya Angelou’s tribute poem, His Day is Done. And then think about how your life may be different if you were to forgive someone who hurt you. Because often that’s where healing begins.