The very mention of that name – Nelson Mandela – evokes fond memories, epic images of his smiling face and the admiration of a life fully and well lived.
He has arguably been cited as one of the most influential men that ever lived. The volumes of books that have been written are still not enough to fully capture the lessons gleaned by people around the world from this one life.
He was born on 18th July 1918 as Rolihlahla Mandela in Qunu village, Transkei State to Gadla Macha Kanyisa and Nosekeni. His eventful life spans the entire dark apartheid period in South Africa and beyond into the current free nation that now enjoys what he fought so hard for.
Sadly, he passed on in December 5th 2013 at age 95, but not without leaving us with volumes of lessons we can learn from his life. It is not possible to outline each one of them so we will look at a few;
1. Avoid hatred, resentment and bitterness
Harboring these is similar to drinking poison and hoping your enemy will die. The colonial powers had done terrible things to Mandela and the people of South Africa. Yet when he was freed, he advocated for peace, forgiveness and reconciliation with those who had wronged them.
In a quote that beautifully captures this, he said, “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.” We can all follow his example and seek reconciliation with those who may have hurt us.
2. Never quit, never give up
Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years and he spent the prime of his life behind bars believing that one day his country would be free. He could have given up when he was offered freedom in exchange for being quiet and not agitating for the rights of his people. But he chose to give up his own freedom rather than give up the freedom of an entire nation and the generations that would follow.
Eventually he was released and South Africa became free. In the same way, we can ensure that we keep doing what is required of us without getting tired, for in the end we will reap the benefits.
3. Be brave and stand up for what is right
Mandela gave the whole a world a lesson on courage that will forever remain a pillar principle. He taught us that courage is not necessarily the absence of fear but the triumph over it. Even when circumstances and odds were all against him, Mandela would not back down from what he knew was the right thing. He faced fear in the eye and conquered it eventually.
We too can learn to face our fears; and when we feel afraid to do something, the encouragement is to ‘do it afraid’ rather than cower away in fright.
4. We are all in this together
Mandela advocated for peace and harmonious coexistence among all peoples, from every race, creed and nation, in spite of the skin color. He reiterated that cooperation from everyone to make the world a better place for all would only happen if we consciously looked beyond our differences.
He reminded us that we were all put in this world together so we need to live in harmony whatever our differences are, with this in mind – the concern for others in our individual and community lives.
5. Learn to fuel love rather than hate
Racism and the hatred it brought about in South Africa would have created a barrier for generations between the blacks and whites. However he noted that since the hearts of his people had learnt how to hate because of the cruel treatment, then they could also learn how to love, which he observed came more naturally to the human heart.
Do you need to unlearn hatred towards your enemy and instead love them? It is possible – Mandela showed us how.
These are just some of the few lessons among the many Mandela taught us. And if we will take heed to them and live them out daily, then we will all begin to see a difference within and around us – for the better.