I was a junior in college when Nelson Mandela was released from prison. The majority of students were deeply committed to ending apartheid, and I had been involved in the movement at my university. It was my introduction to political activism, and it shaped my thinking in critical ways. I became much more empathetic, tenacious and proactive. That period of time ended any option I had to live a passive life, and I have since sought to affect positive change through my work and my actions.
As the world mourns the passing of one of the greatest civil rights heroes of our time, I find myself thinking back to the lessons I learned and the amazing example that Mandela set for every one of us who cares about freedom, justice and equality.
As we all think about how we can affect change, in our community and in our own lives, let’s honor Mandela’s legacy by acting on the lessons he taught us through his life and accomplishments.
• Have convictions and fight for them: We all possess a moral compass and an ability to evaluate right and wrong. Do what’s right and don’t stand for others’ wrongdoing. In other words, live with purpose. Mandela is one of the purest examples of purpose-driven living the world will ever know.
• Don’t be afraid to make a difference: Mandela upset the status quo of his entire country to defend what was just. The consequences were severe, yet he knew change was necessary. Don’t remain complacent about a bad situation (job, relationship, social issue) because you are scared to push toward an uncertain future.
• Understand that we’re all human and will make mistakes: We are all complicated individuals with a history of diverse experiences that will color our decision-making. For all of the strength of conviction he possessed and the tremendous sacrifices he made, Mandela was not impervious to the challenges any politician and man would face.
• Allow your mistakes to make you stronger and to inform your future decisions.
• Know that no one can take your dignity from you: By all accounts, Mandela maintained his sense of self throughout his 27-year imprisonment. Despite being a “convicted criminal,” he believed in his cause and in himself. This is a profound lesson for us all as we will face those who wish to make us feel less than. Never let someone else’s judgment or provocation cause you to feel inferior or unworthy. Always let your behavior reflect your pride in who you are and what you stand for.
• Forgive and move forward:
• Who had more right to be bitter and anger than Nelson Mandela? But after nearly three decades behind bars, he emerged ready to reconcile and negotiate with his captors. He could have ignited a race war by seeking vengeance, but he displayed forgiveness. It gave him credibility, authority and moral superiority. Remember, it is oppressive and soul-destroying to be motivated by hate, and it will do more harm to your body and spirit than the revenge you seek could ever do to your enemy. Carrying anger around will just make you relive the pain daily, and you’ll never be free to explore everything that life has in store for you. Forgive those who have hurt you and move on.
• Email me or hit me up on Twitter to let me know how you plan to affect positive change in your life and in your community.