The Greater Good. There are countless lessons to be learned from the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela. As with most great men, saying he was a “complex person” is an understatement. What strikes me, and always has since he was released from prison and ultimately was elected President of South Africa, is how he truly was a leader for all people. His leadership was alway focused on the Greater Good.
It is a story well-known to even the most casual observer of world history – the prisoner of the apartheid regime is released after 27 years, becomes the first elected president of a post apartheid South Africa. In what could have been, and at the time was widely feared to be a potential disastrous transition of power, Mandela was the right man, at the right place, at the right time. His leadership ensured a smooth transition and truly positioned South Africa for its ongoing success well into the 21st Century.
It is sadly ironic that whenever I reflect on Mandela and all that he did for South Africa, and the entire world, I also find myself thinking of the Palestinians and of course Yasser Arafat. Again, there is way too much to the story, but they are both of a certain era and were forged in a crucible of struggle. As great as Mandela was, it is generous to say Arafat was certainly less so. If Mandela never missed an opportunity, it is safe to say Arafat never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
Mandela led for the Greater Good for all the people of South Africa, black and white. He was very aware of his country, its history, its people, its place in the region and the world. He realized revenge and bitterness were the enemies of progress. He believed in truth AND reconciliation. He forgave and moved forward. He held himself to a very high ethical standard. He truly set the example. Arafat’s record speaks volumes…we can just leave it at that. When Mandela walked out of prison, he left behind the prisoners mindset. He became a true leader and statesman. It was not about him, it was about the Greater Good.
Thankfully most of us will never have to face a fraction of the challenges Nelson Mandela faced. What we can all do is remember what he learned and ultimately taught us, both in how to lead and how to be a person. Our mind is our own. We control how we respond. And above all, in leadership, keeping an eye on the Greater Good will never steer us wrong.
On a personal note…I was a Stephen Biko guy myself. One of the best live songs ever.