Friday, December 6, 2013

Nelson Mandela–Terrorist or Freedom Fighter

"I was made, by the law, a criminal, not because of what I had done, but because of what I stood for, because of what I thought, because of my conscience.” – Nelson Mandela - Statement during trial, 1962.

“Difficulties break some men but make others.” – Nelson Mandela - From a letter to wife, Winnie Mandela, from Robben Island, February 1975)

“When people are determined they can overcome anything.” – Nelson Mandela - Johannesburg, South Africa, Nov. 14, 2006

Accolades and tributes continue to flow as the world honors the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela, a man who spent 27 of his 95 years in prison for crimes against his government before throwing off the shackles of oppression and leading his nation into new directions of racial equality.

In his early years he was, at least in the eyes of his government, a terrorist for daring to stand up for what he believed in – that a better world could be created but which had to be seized and not merely requested.

And yet today he is remembered for his bold actions in demanding racial equality and becoming the epitome of what many believe to be the ideal freedom fighter – a person who dares to overcome all odds including savage physical and mental attacks to change something they believe is wrong.

He wasn’t perfect nor were his results,  crime-wise or economically, and he had many enemies right up to his death.

Anyone who stands up against injustice, indifference or incompetence is guaranteed to make enemies, as noted by Winston Churchill when he said:

You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.

In the poem Desiderata, there is a line that says:

Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story

While the dull and ignorant may have their story, Nelson Mandela knew that they didn’t define his story.

He also knew that sometimes the only way to overcome the dull and the ignorant is to speak one’s truth loudly and to demonstrate it with actions that speak louder than words.

And that is perhaps his greatest legacy that we need to learn from.

While we can quote him and other people who fought for freedom, they didn’t live (and die) so that we could merely quote them incessantly.

They did so in the hope that we would continue to follow in their footsteps.

Freedom, equality and a better life for all aren’t things that are won once and then go on forever without additional effort and sacrifice – a perpetually free gift that we should take for granted.

They have to be fought for daily.

And while many of us believe that we must wait for ourselves and our situations to become perfect before we can champion what is important to us, we must remember that many who have gone before us weren’t perfect.

In fact they were far from it.

But as Mandela, Gandhi and others knew, if we don’t follow where our hearts lead us, the story of the dull and ignorant will become our story.

Is that what you want?

I didn’t think so.

The world is waiting for you.

What are you waiting for?

In service and servanthood,


PS I remember a song that came out in the 1980’s during some challenging times in my Life.  The chorus struck me then and I have never forgotten the song or when I first heard it.

“And when the night is cold and dark
You can see, you can see light
No one can take away your right
To fight and to never surrender
To never surrender” – Corey Hart – Never Surrender

We each have a song, a story, a quote or an event that inspires us.  Inspiration when felt within doesn’t mean much unless that inspiration creates action that touches others.

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