Like many people I came home from work today, turned on the TV and learned that Nelson Mandela had died. This was not a surprise; Mr. Mandela was elderly and had not been in good health for many months. And while his passing saddened me, it wasn’t as much as I thought it would.
I thought about this as I scrolled through my Twitter and Facebook feeds. CNN’s Breaking News was running live streamed coverage from South Africa in the background. Almost everyone online has posted a statement or photo honouring the life of Nelson Mandela, myself included. President Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron immediately issued statements (as I’m sure many other world leaders did). And it struck me why I’m not sad: Nelson Mandela is not dead.
Yes, he’s passed away in the physical sense that we all will, one day in the hopefully distant future. But he is a man whose life has made an undeniable impact on the lives of not only South Africans, but on all of us whether we know it or not. We live in a difficult world, but one that is full of platitudes of hope, strength and perseverance. I for one love those fancied-up quotes that are easy to find with a quick Pinterest search. Politicians campaign on these ideas. Teachers put motivational posters up on their walls. Employers try to instill structured positivity programs into the workplace. We have ribbon campaigns and public awareness weeks about equality and acceptance. All of this to remind us to act with honour, dignity and compassion in our every day lives which for many of us, are pretty easy comparatively speaking.
Hope, strength and perseverance.
Nelson Mandela lived these ideas in a life that was anything but easy. He lived these characteristics in circumstances that would have broken many of us. He advocated forgiveness and compassion for all humans in the face of decades of abuse and inhumane treatment.
We need motivational platitudes to remind us not to flip off other drivers on our morning commutes (Keep Calm and Drive On comes to mind).
But despite how shallow I sometimes feel we are, I think deep down we all understand and appreciate the values that Mr. Mandela embodied. We all want to have those things in our lives. We all feel good when we react not with anger but with patience and forgiveness. We all have those moments, and the multitude of social media tributes and motivational quotes and power of positivity books out there tells me that we all want more of those moments.
The values that Nelson Mandela stood for are good and right, and we all know it. He brought so much of that positivity into the world that even with him gone some of it lingers. It’s infectious. Right now, somewhere out there a young person is steeling themselves to do the right thing in the face of adversity or opposition. Somewhere someone is dusting themselves off and getting back up after being knocked down by ignorance or hatred. Somewhere in the world, someone is offering forgiveness and friendship to an adversary. Trying to work together for the good of us all.
The positive stuff lingers. It’s really hard to snuff out. Twenty – seven years in prison couldn’t kill it in Mr. Mandela. And his passing certainly won’t eliminate it for the rest of us. So, I really don’t believe that Nelson Mandela is dead; he showed us the best of human nature and we can’t un-see it. We want more of it. We can all have it, there is more than enough to go around.
“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”