So I finally got around to reading Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, The Long Walk to Freedom. Great books seem to have a way of finding me when I am most ready for them, and it was certainly the case with this one. I read it voraciously.
Mandela is a great communicator, and he does an amazing job of telling the long and difficult story of how both he and South Africa got their freedom. There are so many things to admire about the man, too many to recount here, but I wanted to relate an overall feeling I got as I read the book.
The work of creating change is never easy, so to listen to a story of change that happened within one man’s lifetime, in my own lifetime, a mere 17 years ago, is nothing short of awe-inspiring. Mandela would be the first to say it was the cumulative efforts of hundreds of thousands of people and several organizations that abolished apartheid, not the work of one leader.
But one can’t help but hear his story and be moved by it; moved to act in the face of injustice certainly, but also moved to simply be a better person: to see the inherent goodness in others and accept nothing less than the highest character in yourself.
This is not just a warm and fuzzy aspiration; it’s a powerful and purposeful one as well. As this article so describes so well, “Mandela was the quintessential political animal: he did everything he did with a clear political purpose. Not to understand this—to insist only on his admirable ‘lack of bitterness’ and his spirit of forgiveness—is to miss the bigger point that Mandela’s widely applauded saintliness was the instrument he judged to be most effective in the achievement of his political goals.”
And so, with so much to be frustrated with in the world right now and so many reasons to be angry, Mandela has become, for me, a living, breathing reason to stay true to all that is good. If there were anything worth aspiring to, it would be this.