We had tea and cake (something that Shuters does very well – along with publishing fantastic books, of course) before a team went out to spend their 67 minutes visiting a retirement home.
During our tea, we stood around the room, and each person shared what they were grateful for in relation to Nelson Mandela – a ‘birthday circle’ for Madiba. Some were ‘rainbow babies’ born into the new South Africa, but most had experienced the horror of apartheid. It was a privilege and a delight to hear from such a diverse group how they felt about this icon of ours, our ‘Old Man’ as one person called him with much reverence.
Someone pointed out that, although most people are averse to public speaking, everyone had something to say. No one refused. There was one young lass from a local school doing work experience for a couple of days. Even she didn’t participated. Is there anyone else about whom, or in whose memory, every member of such a group would have something to say and would be willing to say it out loud in front of others? I can’t think of anyone.
Many referred to Madiba’s qualities of humility and forgiveness. His humility stands out as a beacon in a world of privilege and demand, where getting is treasured far more than giving. His forgiveness stands out because we are all so aware of how much there was to forgive, and how passionately we nurture our grudges and long for our enemies to fail.
If the legacy of Nelson Mandela means anything it must mean that we look beyond the failures of others – the politicians we despise, the corruption and violence we experience – and commit ourselves to live out our own values, however costly that may be as we watch others surge ahead on the coattails of evil.
Primi Chetty, the CEO of Shuters, said there are millions of good politicians and business people in this great country of ours. Their voice will be heard again. Evil will not reign forever.
The problem is that forgiveness and humility are most needed and have most impact when they are most difficult to express. We prefer to say, ‘Just let me put these proud and arrogant people in their place; then we can talk about humility. I mean, we can’t let such people get away with it.’
But that is precisely what humility does because there are much more important issues to fight for than my rights, my pride or my comfort.
And if we are going to forgive, we have to forgive those who need forgiveness; and that means those who have done bad things to us. Forgiveness is most powerful when it is offered to those who least deserve it, who have not asked for it and who don’t even know they need it – when we swallow our pride, walk into the lion’s den and shake hands with our enemy. That is more powerful than the evil we confront. Which is why Madiba’s actions at the 1995 Rugby World Cup have had such a lasting impact, far greater than their apparent importance when weighed against the bigger issues of his time.
Are you and I willing to express forgiveness and humility now, when it is so difficult; when anger and cynicism are the normal responses to the arrogance, greed and violence that infuriate us every day? Our values require us to be better than normal.
We are unlikely to produce another anywhere near the stature of Nelson Mandela, but others will take his mantle and lead. Will we have encouraged their growth, or will we have held them back?