Life Lessons from Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela is an inspirational figure and we can all learn a lot from his life. The most intriguing thing about Mandela is his ability to forgive everyone despite being in prison for 27 long years. He has shown the world what compassion truly means and has set an example in forgiveness.
I am especially impressed by the optimism of Nelson Mandela even when he was in prison and didn't even know whether he will ever see the freedom he desired. This is in his words when he was in prison "I always knew that one day I would feel once again the grass under my feet and walk in the sunshine as a free man."
I like the book Mandela’s way by Richard Stengel who was the editor of Time Magazine. He did nearly 70 hours of interviews with him and worked with him closely for three years to produce this nicely crafted book.
Here are the lessons I liked which can serve as a guide for our lives.
Courage is not the absence of fear: Mandela sees courage as the way we choose to be. He said courage is pretending to be brave. Courage is not absence of fear it is triumph over it. This is Mandela’s favorite passage from Julius Caesar
Cowards die many times before their deaths. The valiant never taste of death but once. Of all the wonders that I yet have heard, it seems to me most strange that men should fear, Seeing that death, a necessary end, Will come when it will come.
Be Measured: In the midst of turbulent situations Mandela is calm and sees the calm in others. He radiates calm in difficult situations. He says Don’t Hurry; think, analyze, then act. When Chris Hani was shot and killed it was Mandela who addressed the nation. This passage is really worth reading
“This is a watershed moment for all of us. Our decisions and actions will determine whether we use our pain, our grief, and our outrage to move forward to what is the only lasting solution for our country – an elected government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
Lead from the front: Mandela’s view is the leaders must not only lead, they must be seen to be leading – that is part of the job description. If there is something bothering you, if you feel you have been treated unfairly, you must say so. Fellow prisoner Eddie Daniels said “This was the beauty of Nelson. Just the way he walked and the way he carried himself. It lifted other prisoners. It lifted me up just to see him walk confidently.” Below is an awesome quote from Mandela
“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
Lead from the back: Mandela knew he had to share the limelight. He realized that his own goal could die unless he empowered others to lead. He genuinely believed in the virtues of the team, and he knew that to get the best out of his own people, he had to make sure that they partook of the glory and that they felt they were influencing his decisions. A good leader listens, summarizes, and then he seeks to mold opinion and steer people towards an action.
Look the part: Mandela understood that appearances do count and you get only one chance to make a first impression. His view is that you want to play the part, you have to wear the right costume. Mandela even when he was in prison took care of himself pretty well by running in place for forty-five minutes, followed by two hundred sit-ups and one hundred fingertip pushups. He also makes sure to get eight hours of sleep each night. I guess that last point shows that irrespective of your responsibilities you can still take care of your health.
See the good in others: I think this is the greatest achievement of Mandela. Stengel writes “It is extraordinary that a man who was ill-treated for so much of his life sees the good in others always.” He believes seeing the good in others would eventually make them better.
Know when to say No: Mandela is not a man of maybes. He will not tell you what you want to hear just because you want to hear it. If you are delaying or avoiding saying no because it is unpleasant, better to do it right away and clearly. You will avoid a heap of trouble in the long run.
It’s a long game: I think this is the most important lesson to learn from Mandela. He was in it for the long haul and was prepared for delayed gratification. Just imagine if Mandela had given up after 10 years or even 20 years but he waited for 27 long years before he saw freedom. It requires enormous resilience and foresight to see the future and have belief that eventually things will work out for the good.