…who chose to do extraordinary things.
With the passing of Nelson Mandela I’m afraid that like so many great people before him, his message will be remembered intellectually but will fail to move enough of us to actually DO and ACT with the very compassion, forgiveness, meekness and determination that we respected in the man. Isn’t that ironic? What a terrible opportunity wasted if statues are erected, vigils are held, candles are lit, poems are composed but nothing changes the behaviours of the common man or woman.
When he emerged from his prison, he had every reason to be bitter, to seek revenge on his captors, to stir up controversy, whip people into violent revolutions and live his remaining years as an embittered, hardened man. I wonder if another man in his position in 2013 North America would have launched a lawsuit and be going after the government for damages, egging people on to riot and rebel. Seems to me that’s the predictable response whenever someone feels wronged these days.
The defining moment and the most memorable thing about the man to me personally came when he shared his decision with the world to forgive and to encourage others to forgive. How often is our news filled with somebody who is shot or victimized and then everyone knows there will be acts of retaliation to follow and deaths to come. They call it retribution. And then the airwaves are filled with parents saying their child was loved by everyone and such a good boy. Apparently the lessons Mandela taught and encouraged through his words and deeds never got through in the first place to some.
So now I wonder how many will stand around, looking for inspiration, looking for the next great person to make a poster for, attend a rally for, pin their hopes on, raise their expectations on, and revere instead of looking in a mirror and saying to themselves that the person who could and should be doing something worthy is staring right back. You don’t have to be widely known, famous, have tremendous wealth or a title to bring about change.
Many of our idols today are young singers who are self-centered, crave a need to be idolized and adored, and they must have publicity managers who arrange photo shoots and charity events and coach them on how to behave, what to say and what not to say in order to craft a slick image. Were they left to themselves, they would be revealed for all to see. They make millions of dollars – literally – then put on a concert, and sell CD’s and turn around and get all the accolades of doing great things, but they themselves only give a pittance of their own wealth to be distributed.
Harry Chapin, a singer who gave us hits like, “Taxi” and “Cats In The Cradle”, before his untimely death would often address fans at concerts as he neared the end of his show. He’d say that when it comes to improving the lives of others and donating to charities it had to come from the ordinary middle class. He felt the poor couldn’t contribute because they had a hard time just getting by and the rich wouldn’t because they were too invested in themselves so it was up to us to do what we could to help. He’d then hang around with the band, sign autographs, pose for pictures and all the cash went to charities. But this isn’t about Chapin.
What can YOU DO? No better yet, what WILL YOU DO? Emphasize those three last words as you pronounce the sentence. ‘Can’ is a nice sentiment and signals intentions, but ‘will’ prompts action. Then change ‘will’ to ‘are’ as in “What are you doing?” as soon as possible.
Mandela was not born to destiny. He was born in a poor country run by white people and identified a situation that required change. He managed to use his diplomacy, love rather than hate, compassion rather than degradation, his vision rather than his blindness. And these made him memorable. But if you think he was somehow destined to greatness, I fear that you by default don’t believe you and I have the power to change anything because by default we are not so destined.
You and I – us – we have choices all day and every day to choose to do what is right, to stand up and extend a hand in aid to whomever we see. Opportunities are all around us in the form of street people, the homeless, the hungry, the impoverished, the illiterate, the mentally and physically challenged, the abused, the self-abusers, and on and on and on. If you sincerely feel in any way moved by the passing of this man, you’ll do something about it beyond attending a vigil, saying nice things that are expected of you and being politically correct. And if you don’t value the man and his message, you’ll just carry on as if his passing was no big deal and for you personally, you’ll be right.
Great leaders lead by example. The best leaders don’t just show us how to act, they inspire us to action and DO LIKEWISE to the extent we are able with the resources we have to help those we can. We need not be publicly recognized, given honourary degrees, gain fame and fortune.
Maybe all we need to do is start with a single act of kindness or forgiveness.