“There is no passion to be found
in settling for a life that is less
than the one you are capable of living. “
I was in elementary school–fifth grade, I think–when I learned about apartheid and Nelson Mandela. I was in college during the movement to boycott companies that invested in South Africa, in an attempt to gain his release. I was well into my journalism career in Philadelphia–covering trials, as it happens–when he was released in 1990.
Looking back at that time span in my own life, I more fully appreciate the long stretch of Mandela’s imprisonment. And yet, that imprisonment was only the prelude to his true legacy, the transition of South Africa to racial equality and democracy.
He was a boxer, a lawyer, a descendent of African royalty and a statesman who not only won the freedom of black Africans, but insisted on a peaceful reconciliation between the oppressed and their oppressors. His final years were apparently serene, spent with his third wife, Graça Machel. I remember the photos after their wedding (on his 80th birthday), remarkable for the couple’s brilliant, joyous smiles.
Nelson Mandela lived his life with integrity, the quality that is the most essential among all true leaders. Coincidentally, I read an excellent definition, yesterday, of leadership and integrity:
“Leadership…isn’t really about popularity but about influence, integrity — using your ‘whole person,’ your skills, knowledge, your gut and heart instincts – to do the right thing.” Jone Bosworth, of IncourageLeading, was referring to the leadership qualities of Pope Francis but her words are easily applied to Mandela, as well.
Mandela first touched my life as a little girl in Kansas. He’s touching it again at his death, when I am well into middle age. As I listen to bits and pieces of his biography, recalled on the radio by people who knew him well, I resolve to redouble my efforts to live my life with integrity. (And joy. Mandela had a gift for joy.)
I don’t have Mandela’s grand goals and purpose. My ambitions are humble. Even so, I often doubt I can achieve them. When I have those doubts, I’ll try to remember Mandela’s example and his words:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”