In our culture, there are very few names that instantly sear an image of true liberty into one's soul: George Washington, Abraham Lincoln... and, for sure, Nelson Mandela.
Mandela, a political prisoner who was imprisoned for 27 years for opposing Apartheid, has died at the age of 95. He was also South Africa's first African President and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. In accepting that award, Mandela had this to say:
"In front of this distinguished audience, we commit the new South Africa to the relentless pursuit of the purposes defined in the World Declaration on the Survival, Protection and Development of Children.
The reward of which we have spoken will and must also be measured by the happiness and welfare of the mothers and fathers of these children, who must walk the earth without fear of being robbed, killed for political or material profit, or spat upon because they are beggars.
They too must be relieved of the heavy burden of despair which they carry in their hearts, born of hunger, homelessness and unemployment.
The value of that gift to all who have suffered will and must be measured by the happiness and welfare of all the people of our country, who will have torn down the inhuman walls that divide them.
These great masses will have turned their backs on the grave insult to human dignity which described some as masters and others as servants, and transformed each into a predator whose survival depended on the destruction of the other.
The value of our shared reward will and must be measured by the joyful peace which will triumph, because the common humanity that bonds both black and white into one human race, will have said to each one of us that we shall all live like the children of paradise.
Thus shall we live, because we will have created a society which recognizes that all people are born equal, with each entitled in equal measure to life, liberty, prosperity, human rights and good governance.
Such a society should never allow again that there should be prisoners of conscience nor that any person’s human rights should be violated.
Neither should it ever happen that once more the avenues to peaceful change are blocked by usurpers who seek to take power away from the people, in pursuit of their own, ignoble purposes...
We pray that those who have the power to do so will, without further delay, permit that she uses her talents and energies for the greater good of the people of her country and humanity as a whole."
Mandela was a man of firm ideals. So many of our leaders, past and present, have reneged on the issues once they feel the cushy comfort of their elected chair. Mandela, however, never wavered in his support of his own true self.
I, admittedly, have never truly studied the man that is Nelson Mandela. For some reason, I never embraced him while was alive, not because I opposed his ideas, but because I was ignorant to all he had accomplished. I am twenty-two however, so please forgive me.
But, over these past few hours since the announcement of his death, I have examined the life of this remarkable man.
Just look at the facts: First African President of South Africa, Nobel Peace Prize, Political prisoner of 27 years.
The horrors this man saw are beyond the limits of our imagination and the glories of his accomplishments have shone through the horrific past he suffered. Truly, he was a man of truth, passion and integrity.
I have written in the past about a person standing up for the courage of their own convictions. I state, above all, that to change the world, you must stay true to yourself. Mandela, despite deadly opposition, never wavered from his own ideals. He fought to eradicate Racism not only with passion, but with utter conviction.
We all hold our ideals close and lock into a system that allows us to choose our stance on the issues. Mandela had his own, unique moral code and decided he was willing to risk death for it.
I will now analyze a selection of quotes from Mandela:
"Difficulties break some men but make others. No axe is sharp enough to cut the soul of a sinner who keeps on trying, one armed with the hope that he will rise even in the end."
- I find Mandela's truth stirring. We all have had difficulties in our own lives, big or small, and we have all been broken in the end. But, we must arm ourselves with the knowledge that we can rise again, like a phoenix from the ashes, and live a our lives anew. I know, in my own life, that I will never stop trying, despite the protestation of others.
"Real leaders must be ready to sacrifice all for the freedom of their people."
- To lead, one must set a supreme example. Again, to lead, I believe you must be willing to die for your ideals. Not unlike religious martyrdom, you can become a martyr to your own ideals. You must be willing to sacrifice everything, if you want to lead. I have never been much of a leader, but Mandela certainly was. A leader, who was willing to be jailed and almost died to embrace his ideal that all men should be treated with kindness and equality.
"Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again."
- As I said in the examination of my last quote, you cannot be afraid to fail. We can embrace and love our success, yes, but we also must remember the times that we failed, which outnumber the successes exponentially. I have tried to write book after book after book, and I was never able to finish one. But, after at least twenty failed attempts over five or six years, I was able to produce a book I was proud of. Mandela, as President of South Africa, broke down the walls of racism and stood up against a great injustice. He deserved his success, but he also remained humble, remembering how he got to his success.
"A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination."
- A vague quote, yes, and a very subjective one. I included this quote in my commentary to show that even the greatest of minds fall into vagueness every now and then. I wish Mandela would have examined what makes a good head and a good heart. Again, we all speak things at times that are very subjective, but Mandela lived his life for these statements. His life has answered the vagueness of this statement a million times over.
"Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world."
- I can attest that Education, personal education and not the Public Education system in the US, can change one's life. Mandela is an example of this, educating himself in the plight of his brothers. Mandela collected his ideals through his own human education, as we all have.
I hope I have shown you, in my own sly way, that we are more connected to Mandela than we may thing. We have all failed, we have all succeeded. We have a been subject to injustice and we all wish to fight against inequality, whether we be black or white, gay or straight, intellectual or non: we all deserve to stand up for our ideals and to bathe in the water of pure abandon.
Mandela knew a plane of plight and persecution that we will never know. He was imprisoned for his ideals for 27 years. To think of the dark, dank places his mind wandered during that time is staggering. I feel that we all can learn from that fact alone. Persecution is certain, but festering in anger over it will lead to sorrow.
Mandela taught me, personally, to never be afraid to live and love your ideals to the point of martyrdom. I will embrace my ideals as firmly and fervently as Mandela did. He taught me that any person can be alive, truly alive, simply alive and forever alive.
I cannot believe that I am using the words of Barack Obama to close this blog, but the closing words of his statement regarding Mandela are succinct and powerful:
"And so long as I live, I will do what I can to learn from him."