“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.” — Nelson Mandela
Many words are being written about the life and the death of this great man. He lived a life of courage, living his convictions, and, in spite of overwhelming pain and suffering and obstacles, he did what was right. He focused on what was decent, and what was just, and moved others ahead, towards justice and compassion.
Each one of us can do the same. We may not be leaders of social movements, and we may not be able to speak to millions of people, become president of a country, or win the Nobel Prize. Yet, each of us, in our own ways, can lead lives of value, integrity, and advance those values and morals that we each hold dear.
I can do the right thing. Each one of us can. And, it starts with taking a step in that new, unfamiliar, often awkward direction.
Often, doing the right thing is profound, and astonishing to others. And, in that action, and in the act of others witnessing the doing of right, and the demonstration of living morally and righteously, changes their lives as well.
Nelson Mandela was all about change. And, he did that, one person at a time. His speeches, his writings, his one on one encounters, profoundly changed others, one person at a time.
His life was a way of giving all of us permission to encounter hatred and bigotry, and to be consciously active in not living with those values, and to work towards a higher good. He gave an example for us to follow. He let us see that we all have choices, and we can decide to live differently.
Living this is hard work, but also simple. Change your attitude, change your intention, and move in a different direction. Embrace love, and not hatred. Be intentional in what you do. Live your values.
The great people in history have done that, people who are able to show us simple truths, and to move the direction of their lives in accordance with those simple truths. The examples are powerful, and stun us with their sheer simplicity and beauty.
Yet, we make that choice hard, finding lots of excuses, and resisting moving out of our old habits, our old ways of thinking, and being seduced by the status quo, old ways of thinking, being caught up in the thought patterns of hatred, distrust, and fear.
I see people all around me being brave and courageous, just as Nelson Mandela lived, people dealing with hatred, prejudice, ignorance; people dealing with addictions, injustice, and fear. They face their challenges, they speak their values and morals out loud, and they move into action. They take life head on, and forge ahead, against the headwinds of social pressure and old ways of thinking and living, rejecting hatred and fear.
In the coming days, we will read and hear many wise words, and hear many stories about Nelson Mandela and his life. We will see the famous and powerful gather at his funeral and offer heartfelt eulogies. We will be inspired and we will honor his great contributions and how he helped bring change to his country, and how he provoked the world to follow his lead.
Yet, if we really want to honor his life, and to give meaning and celebration for the life that he lived, and how he helped to transform a culture of racism, intolerance and fear, into a society taking on bigotry and hatred, then each of us has to take his message and his life into our hearts. His message is about changing ourselves and our lives from within, to love ourselves and the world unconditionally.
How am I going to make a difference? How am I going to move forward, embracing and living unconditional love? How am I going to change myself and my community and move towards a healthy, peace-loving view of life? How do I respond to the hatred, bigotry and fear that I find inside of myself? Am I brave enough to move on and move away from what I don’t want to be?
Nelson Mandela called each of us to action. He wrote inspiring books, and gave motivating speeches. He practiced forgiveness and reconciliation. Yet, his intention was to call upon his readers and his listeners to look deep into their hearts, and to move into action, to live our values and our morals, to live lives filled with love and hope, with compassion and forgiveness.
Today, I will look deep inside of myself, calling out my morals and my ethics, calling out my true intentions for my life, and for this world. I will call out my fears and my biases, and put them out on the table for me, and the world, to see, in all that reality, warts and all. I will dig deep and I will take a wobbly step or two, and move ahead, towards my true intentions and my higher purpose.
—Neal Lemery, 12/6/2013