Masi Noor, a psychologist researching forgiveness, considers the nature of Nelson Mandela’s main achievement and argues that it is something to which we can all aspire.
|Love your enemy? Easier said than done.|
Photo: World Economic Forum
Death unites people. Mandela’s departure has certainly done so. In the wake of the storm of the public messages, obituaries, tweets and blogs I wonder though, if something profound may be missing and potentially trivialising of Mandela’s character and legacy.
The dominant theme is one of veneration. This is unsurprising given Mandela’s achievements. But to canonise him as a super-human is to close the door to him as a source of inspiration to us and in the realm of the small and the ordinary. History is full of such deified Mandelas. Sometimes they are called Buddha, Jesus, Einstein, Mary, Mohammed or Maslow. Whatever the name, they remain inaccessible to most of us, so that their lifetime achievements eventually dissolve into mystery. The possibility of emulation becomes extinct. This would be tragically counter-Mandelan.
By his own admission, Mandela never had an epiphany moment. Instead, he was ordinary, struggled to sustain romantic love and to find ways to remain human within Apartheid’s dehumanising context (and almost 30 years in prison). At times he was angry, stubborn, fragile and unsuccessful in his pursuits of his academic studies. At other times, he was a shrewd strategist who knew when to boycott, when to use threat of militancy and when to offer personal forgiveness. And sometimes he got all of them wrong. I’d suggest that this not only made him the Mandela we idolise, but more importantly someone we can emulate.