NEW YORK, December 9, 2013 — Nelson Mandela has died. His contributions to South Africa are enormous, but also important are his contributions to the world. Nelson Mandela will be remembered forever.
Mandiba, as he was known outside of political spotlights, reached 95 years. Advent reminds us of our own ending and beginning: “Sic transit gloria mundi.”
Robert F. Kennedy’s words apply fully to Mandela:
“Few men are willing to brave the disapproval of their peers, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of their society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality for those who seek to change a world that yields most painfully to change.”
Mandela was a great-hearted man, he gave a lot, and his life was meaningful both for his own country and for the world. There are not so many huge spirits that galvanize and inspire us in our own lifetimes. But there are some.
Yet no human being is perfect, and we don’t have the right to demand perfection — God’s attribute — of any creature. We all bring to the table our own different talents and weaknesses.
The late South African president grew and developed in wisdom as he aged; he was not stuck in a time warp. He was large on forgiveness, in politics and in personal life, for both pragmatic and deeply humanitarian reasons. He sought reconciliation after apartheid, not bitterness or revenge.
He had every right to be angry and bitter for the injustice that put him in prison for 27 years. He might have come out an angry revolutionary, a man of violence, yet he knew that reconcilitation was the better path for himself and for South Africa.
While not a perfect man, Mandela left a legacy that few men could ever hope to match. Like so many men of principle before him, he was a complicated man living in complicated times.
Human reality is messy, rarely marked off in clear and logical moral lines. Compromises often have to be made. And that’s where one’s prudential and moral judgment, one’s wisdom and character all come into play.
But we need to be humble, recognize our own failings, and not be too rigid or harsh in how we judge others, especially when we have not walked in their shoes. Mandela taught the world to be fearless despite the odds, to stand for justice despite the consequences and to forgive, even when forgiveness is undeserved.
This is what he will be remembered for, and rightly so.
Richard Ivory is a New York City-based political and social media consultant with a passion for tech, politics and music.
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