Lessons from the great Nelson Mandela

Now that the fever surrounding Nelson Mandela’s (Madiba) passing has died down, we have a chance to reflect on what we can learn from his life. There is so much, it would be impossible to get even a fraction into this article, and much can’t be put into words, but here’s my ‘top 3’ lessons we can learn from Madiba;

1. The human capacity for change.

Mandela was the first to admit that he was no saint. When he was arrested he was an angry young man focused on a violent path to retribution. Yet he emerged from prison 27 years later with a very different outlook and ideology. He was still the same person, the same personality, with the same passion for equality, but his words and actions in the years that followed his release showed us my next point;

2. The human capacity for forgiveness.

How much of our time and energy do we spend focused on justice? On wanting past wrongs to be righted? In arguments, do we stay focused on what will help us achieve the outcome we want, or do we simply insist on what we feel ‘justified’ in saying? If Nelson Mandela could leave prison after 27 years in such dreadful conditions ready to forgive those who put him there, then I think we can all learning to forgive a little more easily.

Remember, forgiveness does not mean forgetting, we can still learn from past experiences. Perhaps we can choose not to associate with people that have hurt us in the past, but we can work on letting go of the emotional attachment to them, to our past traumas. This is often not easy, but the first and biggest step is the willingness to try. There is a great saying in Buddhism “Holding on to hatred is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die”. Forgiving and letting go is something we do for ourselves, in order to give us the best chance of achieving our own goals.

3. That one man really can change the world.

I think Mandela embodied the saying; “Those who are mad enough to think that they can change the world are invariably the ones that do!” We all have the capability to affect massive change in the world, this doesn’t mean we have to attempt to change the course of political history, real and lasting change starts closer to home, and remember that everything you do, positive or negative, ripples outwards. Could we consciously do one thing each day to improve the life of someone else? Perhaps someone who we had held a past grudge against? Remember that those who do wrong to others are unhappy people, happy people do not bully or start wars. So by positively influencing them, perhaps you can prevent them wronging another.

I’m sure others could more eloquently explain the effect Nelson Mandela had on the world, but there are my thoughts on how he has influenced me and my life. I only lived in South Africa for 2 years, but I know he will be sorely missed. I hope that with his passing, we can use the opportunity to reflect and do more ourselves to ensure that his messages live on throughout the world.

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