It’s easy to talk about Mandela as if he were a secular saint. He certainly would meet the minimum two miracle requirement for sainthood:
- He literally transformed, fear, hatred and vengeance into forgiveness and compassion. Not exactly raising Lazarus, but trumps water into wine, don’t you think?
- For his second miracle, how about his voluntarily stepping down from power after one term? As the African continent goes that’s the equivalent of a virgin birth, it hasn’t happened before or since.
Mandela was just a man
Graca Machel, Mandela’s last wife resisted using language that deified her husband while he was alive, and even now in death. I heard her say that making him greater than just a human being, would not allow him to serve as an example to young people who would be quick to use his ‘holiness’ or exceptionalism to excuse themselves from even attempting greatness.
Mandela himself seemed to want this. He wanted people to follow his example.
But how can we emulate someone with a seemingly Jesus-like capacity for compassion?
Perhaps one way we can be like Mandela is to think of his first “miracle” (above) more as a practical strategy than a saintly demonstration of morality.
What Mandela knew was that
Forgiveness and Compassion Works!
Hatred and Vengeance does not
… at least, not if your goal is national unity and inclusion; not if your goal is having everyone in your community helping each other build a better future.
… who never lost sight of his true goal.
He was NOT fighting for revenge against whites, and rubbing their faces in the immorality of the system they grew up in.
Mandela knew that South Africa had to work for everybody, that it could not be about simply reversing roles as Mugabe did in Zimbabwe.
To that end forgiveness and compassion was simply
THE ONLY effective strategy.
For the world to be a better place, ordinary people like you and me must follow his example.
But can we? Can we be as compassionate and forgiving as he was? Maybe not on his grand scale, but in our day-to-day lives I think we can be a bit more like Madiba; as long as we’re clear on what our goal is.
Like Mandela we should be clear on our true goal
Being Madiba-like really depends on whether you share his goal. Is it bringing people together? Or is it more important to get even?
What is your goal when dealing with the people you meet every day? Are you looking for respect and making sure you get it? Or are you helping make your society a better place by the example you set?
Practicing revenge and tit-for-tat is simply an unconscious bad habit that we justify in the ‘rightness’ of our situation and the ‘wrongness’, aggression and injustice of the other party.
In my entire life I have always regretted reacting to a perceived transgression. Sending that reply to/all, telling the person off etc. has always worsened the situation. No exceptions; and I’ve had many, many examples.
‘Getting even’ only entrenches positions and creates long-term enemies who won’t hesitate to sabotage your efforts when they can. Even if it’s years later when you least expect it.
Never take things personally
The key I think is to keep your goal in mind—as Mandela did—and ask yourself, what is my real intention with this person who has just insulted me, or refused to help me? Is it to make them feel bad and get back at them?
Or is it to transform them into someone who wants to help me in the future, or at least leave the bridge intact? Mandela did not take things personally and was able to choose the latter … on a very … very grand scale.
For many of the petty daily transgressions we experience (many imagined), we are all capable of being Madiba-like.
I’d like to think Tata Madiba would be high-fiving Bapu, and Dr. King every time we choose to forgive, or at least ‘let it go,” especially the itty-bitty stuff …
and it’s all itty-bitty stuff.
“An eye for an eye leaves the world blind.”