“Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” — Nelson Mandela
I watched with detached interest as Mandela walked from prisoner to prime minister of S. Africa in 1990. One might think that growing up with parents active in the 1960’s civil right movement, that I would be captivated by the events but S. Africa was far away and I was busy with my graduate studies in social work.
It was several years later when I read Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, that I became enamored by the man whose broad beautiful and joyful smile belied a challenging life and brilliant mind. I counsel and write about overcoming obstacles and how challenges are vehicles that strength us and teach us. Nelson Mandela was one of those rare people who lived with grace, forgiveness, inner strength, and an incredible understanding of the human nature. He also struck me as a leader and hero who accepted his role ending apartheid but never let his ego get the better of him. Maybe this was partly due to the tragedies he endured throughout his long life. He just seemed so darn approachable and the interactions with people seen on television seemed more than just for the sake of a 10 second news byte.
I believe we can all learn from Mandela. He was a lawyer, civil rights activist, prisoner, world leader, peacemaker, and AIDS activist. He was a husband, father, and grandfather.
He did not wallow in self-pity nor did he try to capitalize on his suffering. Rather than looking back, he looked forward in his work in overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles with quiet charm and an engaging smile.
Nelson Mandela was an imperfect human with faults. His wife said he had a temper and when he was angry – look out. His daughter honestly shares her frustration and sorrow growing up without a father and while she visited him while in prison, she was sad that he was not home with her and frustrated that she could never be touched by her father on these visits and when released from prison, she still rarely saw her father as he led South Africa through the new anti-apartheid rule. I think this is what I admire most about the man.
“Man’s goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished.” — Nelson Mandela
I challenge myself and all readers to consider how we can live a bit more like Mandela in the coming year. Instead of allowing obstacles overcome us, let’s overcome obstacles with patience and creativity. Instead of blaming others, let’s find the good in others and forgive. And perhaps most importantly, let’s smile through it all.