Now that I have your attention let me start by saying that when Nelson Mandela passed away we truly lost one of the great men of our time. I find that on occasion people speak of or celebrate an individual because they get swept up in the popular moment. Sometimes speaking of someone’s greatness is just a fad that comes along with a bandwagon of people who don’t genuinely care about that particular individual. Although I am sure there are those who fall into this category where Nelson Mandela is concerned, part of what made him great and part of why there should be all this fuss about him, is that in his greatness he impacted millions upon millions of people way beyond the borders of his homeland of South Africa.
In general I believe the human race looks for greatness. If we can’t find it in ourselves we look to others to show it to us. Nelson Mandela’s greatness was out there for all of us to see. His battles against racial hatred, not only towards him but towards every person of color in South Africa’s former regime, were battles he clearly fought to cause a great change in a society where bigotry was a government sanctioned policy. The sacrifice he made, 27 years in prison, was almost as great of a sacrifice as anyone could make. When he stepped out of that prison on February 11, 1990, it gave millions of people hope that any fight can be won when willing to do whatever it takes. Although so many of us may not be willing to or able to go as far as we need to, in Nelson Mandela we witnessed a man who was willing to and had the intestinal fortitude to go the distance.
However, as great as that was, it was only then that Nelson Mandela’s greatness truly would come shining through. As people we are flawed. In our flaws we are constantly asking God and sometimes our fellow human being for forgiveness and mercy. We all do wrong and when we do, we hope for a second chance or sympathy. Do we always give others the same? I know that I don’t. Does that make me a bad person? Not necessarily. Does that mean that someone who has witnessed terror and evil firsthand and does not bring themselves to forgive someone is of lesser character as a result? No. However, the ability to forgive, at least on some levels, will always make us better than we are. Nelson Mandela once said: “The first lesson is forgiveness. You must not allow hate to fester in your brain. You can never allow racism, hatred, and bitterness to rent space in your head.” Sounds easy, right? Try it some time. It’s not that easy. Stop and think about the people who you believe have wronged you and whether or not you can put hate and bitterness behind you. Now realize that in Nelson Mandela we saw this happen from a man whose very freedom was taken from him and who was a prisoner not because of what he did or even who he was, but because of what he was. Despite this he moved forward with a powerful hope and love for mankind that truly made him special. So yes, if only in the example he set he helped anyone who was watching, and although I do believe we should mourn his loss, it is more important that we celebrate his life, for in doing so we show understanding for his legacy, hopefully improve our own, and learn a valuable lesson. The lesson we learn is that the best way to live life is with hope, understanding, and love for others. Although it is difficult to do, we should never allow whether or not we attempt to do right and wrong be dictated by the behavior of others. Nelson Mandela did what he felt was right, even when exposed to those who clearly did wrong. That to me is the foundation of greatness.