I never had the privilege of meeting Nelson Mandela. Yet, like so many others, I feel like I knew him.
As we grieve the loss of an extraordinary leader, we should also pay heed to the legacy of a life well lived. I'll remember Mandela in three key regards.
Few of us would have the courage to withstand 27 years in prison. Even then, how many of us would have the courage to forgive our captors? Throughout his life, Mandela embraced that rarest and most honorable of political qualities -- seeking the common interest in preference to his own. From the days of his military resistance, to the years in his tiny prison cell, to the moment of his election, Mandela embodied a pure understanding of courage. The courage to know that without the realistic pursuit of a moral objective, unleashed anger would simply bring further bloodshed and continued pain. In his earnest negotiations with a racist regime, Mandela laid the surest course towards a lasting justice. But there was also a deep personal courage to Mandela. As president, recognizing that his ambitions for a new South Africa would have to be seen in order to take root, Mandela declared a 'rainbow nation.' A nation where rugby would be a sport for blacks as much as for whites, and soccer a sport for whites as much as for blacks. The movie Invictus gives a hint to the tensions that followed. Still, the adoration of his former bodyguards tell the real story. For Mandela, life was about service. He was, quite literally, willing to risk everything for the cause he believed in. For the cause he achieved.
Although Mandela was never afraid to give voice to his cause, he defined the value of silent reflection. In forging deep, personal friendships with individuals ranging from Queen Elizabeth II to the poorest of South Africans, Mandela proved that different personalities need not preclude meaningful relationships. This is a lesson from which we can all take note. Today, it's all too rare for us to look for the best rather than the worst in others. All too often, we value confrontation and political purity over dialogue and compromise. Instead, Mandela proved that humility can be the great ally to an extraordinary life. In our age of cynicism, Mandela's life gives proof to the virtue of honesty and idealism.
The global reaction says it all. From capitalists to communists, from the White House to the Soweto Township, Mandela's passing has been met with an almost universal grief. Yet this grief is unique. Sustaining the personal reflections of millions across the world, we're witnessing a remembrance that is both collective but also deeply personal. Whatever our individual beliefs and even if only for a brief moment, our celebration of Mandela's life is uniting humanity in common cause. In the manner of his life and in the things that he achieved, Mandela reminds us that even in the worst of circumstances, humanity's propensity for good has no obvious limit.
In life; through pain and sacrifice, Mandela forged a path for the freedom of South Africa. In death, Mandela's legacy will find eternal meaning in the hearts of those empowered by his story.
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