12/09/2013 02:14 pm ET Updated Feb 08, 2014

Mandela or Obstructionist Politicians; Choosing the Best Legacy

Those of our political leaders and the people who fund them, who are obstructionists, pale in the shadow of Nelson Mandela. He was everything they are not, and their legacy will reflect the difference. Mandela lived by principle, and he also lived by steel-minded moral discipline to keep private his fury at the injustice of his 27-year incarceration. His driving force was to unify his explosively divided South Africa, and create a society based on the good of all; but in America the self-interest of our obstructionist politicians and their backers seem to drive them to keep America stagnantly divided. Our division is between the haves and have nots.

The good of our country is not on their radar; they lack the will to unify America and move us forward. While they also lack much of the integrity that results from principle-driven lives, they have plenty of the steel-willed determination to unbendingly serve their own interests. They are as different from Nelson Mandela as black is from white.

While Pres. Obama is striving to move America forward by exercising a number of Mandela's similar qualities, he seems to lack one key element that enabled Mandela to succeed despite his opposition. In addition to his public commitment to forgiveness and reconciliation, Mandela could listen -- deeply and interactively -- and thereby find points of agreement to build on.

And that brings us to you and me. We have two clearly defined models on which to base our legacy. Which will we choose for our next generations? Who will our children see as the heroes and role models of our generation? What values and skills will we pass on to them? They'll certainly make the judgment on who they should emulate, and who made the best world for them.

Of course, if you see you're not going to measure up, it's not too late to change. If you are of the obstructionist/winning at all costs frame of mind, are you man enough and woman enough to acknowledge that that approach hasn't worked, and to start living by principles of integrity, including accountability, and to demand that politicians you elect do the same? Are you up to learning to listen interactively, and start looking for points of agreement in your opposition's side? To lead by consensus, as Mandela did?

History will decide how well we've done. In the coming days, we'll see a number of world leaders flock to South Africa to pay tribute to the tall black man who brought his country socially into modern times by teaching his people to get along, despite his personal feelings. When America's political leaders and backers eventually pass on, who will flock to pay them tribute? That will be one measure of how tall they stood. And, when each of us passes on, what legacy will we leave to succeeding generations? It's in our hands to leave them the very best. Or not to.