The world has lost one of our greatest iconic and inspirational leaders. As a South African liberator and central figure in the global movement for justice and freedom, Nelson Mandela’s influence will continue far beyond his lifetime.
His accomplishments and impact have been so significant that our natural tendency is to canonize him. Yet in his own words Mr. Mandela tells us “I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.” He gently reminds us that he is but a man, and in doing so challenges us to be a better mankind.
In the wake of his passing, I can’t help but wonder how we will respond. Will we answer his call to passionately address the compelling issues of our time? Or will we shrink back and wait for others to step up?
It can be intimidating wondering what we can do that is worthy of Mr. Mandela’s legacy. Yet one of his central messages to us is that we all have a role to play, realizing that “the time is always ripe to do the right.” So how do we get started on our own path to fulfilling our purpose?
I believe Mr. Mandela’s life teaches us some powerful lessons about love, leadership and life abundantly. The six I’ve highlighted below, while by no means exhaustive, speak to some of the ideals and actions that made him such a pivotal changemaker, while also serving as a beacon of hope for humanity.
- He accepted the call to the unconventional. Mr. Mandela was a trailblazer. He lived his values, and in doing so raised the bar for others. He understood to do what had always been done would only elicit more of the same. So he moved beyond his fears and headed onto the roads less traveled – challenging the status quo, fighting for justice, reconciling a people, and inspiring the world.
- He didn’t let public opinion define his perspective of himself. As a young man, he was branded a terrorist and enemy of the state. As he got older, he was revered as a freedom fighter, hero, and leader of a nation. And yet throughout the course of his life his core values were largely unchanged. Did his understanding of life evolve? Sure. But his true nature stayed the same, and his sense of self –worth was firmly rooted in the person he knew himself to be rather than what others called him.
- He chose his path even when he couldn’t immediately change his circumstances. Mr. Mandela always retained his power to be the person he was created to be, rather than the victim confinement would have him become. He was resolute in his commitment to transformation, and as such time and again resisted the lure of temporary change.
- He valued his position, but understood the bigger purpose. I once heard President John Mahama of Ghana say, “Good leaders know when it’s time to go. Great leaders leave when the applause is the loudest.” Mr. Mandela was a genius in this regard. He understood that in the role of President his job was to help transform a nation, but as a man his ultimate purpose in life was bigger than any one position.
- He waited and worked with expectancy for his vision to come to fruition. In 1944, Mr. Mandela began his work with the ANC. 20 years later he was thrown in jail by those who would see him fail. It would be another 30 years before he became President. 50 years, and he never gave up.
- He led with love, and executed with justice. His pursuit of freedom was never solely for him as a person, but always fueled by his love for the people. Eventually, that became all people. For he realized that unless freedom is for all there is justice for none.
Mr. Mandela inspires us to live fully and completely – with our hearts and heads engaged, and our hands outstretched to render aid. To be committed to freedom and justice while getting involved in the issues that matter most to us, and to continue our work until the deed is done. For to sit idly by on the sidelines of life is to be alive without ever really living.
One of my favorite quotes from Mr. Mandela says, “There is no passion to be found in playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” Let’s not let Mr. Mandela’s passing be merely a celebration of his life, but rather a collective call to greater living.
Dream Big. Love Generously. Serve Passionately. Live Abundantly! ❤