LEARNING FROM NELSON MANDELA
“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.” – Nelson Mandela
How many of us could endure 27 years of imprisonment, 18 of them hard labor? How many of us could become wiser, more compassionate from such a nightmare and then forgive the people whose hatred put us there in the first place, people who once lobbied for us to be executed? It’s a rhetorical question — we all know there aren’t many. The death of a great person is an invitation to study that person’s life, and study it well. Nelson Mandela was as fallible as anyone, as human as everyone…yet he chose with his heart and his soul to release himself from the chains of anger and resentment. He likened resentment to drinking poison in the hope that the other person will die.
We live in appallingly mean-spirited times. I suppose an argument could we made that cruelty hasn’t increased, we’re just more aware of it because of the Internet. But either way, there are a lot of people drinking the poison of anger these days. Most of us read Nelson Mandela’s words and know they are teachings we need to follow. We sit in our homes and discuss it, we pass the teachings along to our children. But then we go out into the world and feel bombarded by hostility and meanness. Even in the wake of Mandela’s death, I saw horrible comments on-line about him — the postings were racist, rabidly cruel, and anonymous. The latter is perhaps what we need to really look at. There is no anonymity; it’s an illusion. We are responsible for our thoughts, our words, our actions. All are encoded on our souls with indelible markings and the soul of a human being is never invisible.
Nelson Mandela walked out of prison one step at a time. Maybe that’s a lesson too — that with each day we take one more step toward freeing ourselves from the anger that holds us hostage. So that when we die, our souls will be free.