Leadership, Role Models, and Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela – on Love

This week I, along with many other people, celebrate the life of Nelson Mandela who passed on from his earthly incarnation. My heart was filled with emotions of gratitude for the change Nelson Mandela created, sadness for the loss of his embodied influence, and great joy at having been exposed to his wisdom, and knowing his life will be influential for a long time to come.

I purchased one of his books on kindle called Conversations with Myself, hungry for his inspiration knowing that his personal wisdom is now limited to whatever legacy exists here and now. The book is filled with musings, excerpts, communications that have been preserved and now shared with the world. If you are inspired and motivated by this man you may enjoy this book. I am taking my time and savouring the words like a deliciously nourishing feast, those tasty morsels which stand out for me before I move on to the next course/chapter.

Some of the “stand out” notes so far:

“I came to accept that I have no right whatsoever to judge others in terms of my own customs, however much I may be proud of such customs … that to despise others because they have not observed particular customs is a dangerous form of chauvinism… I shall neither impose my own customs on others nor follow any practice which will offend my comrades”. This insight occurred after Mandela noticed his own “revulsion” when a friend had not observed a particular custom. Self awareness allowed him to observe “prejudice of my youth and to accept all people as equals.”

On politics Mandela mused “Only arm chair politicians are immune from committing mistakes. Errors are inherent in political action. Those who are in the centre of political struggle who have to deal with practical and pressing problems, are afforded little time for reflection and no precedents to guide them and are bound to slip up many times. But in due course, and provided they are flexible and prepared to examine their work self critically, they will acquire the necessary experience and foresight that will enable them to avoid the ordinary pitfalls and pick their way ahead amidst the throb of events.” The ownership of fallibility in this passage is relevant to anyone in any situation. The ownership of responsibility and preparedness to accept, forgive, and move on, with a lessons’ seed firmly implanted in the mind and heart, growth and change can take root. How would life be different here on earth if people in powerful positions held the values and ethics that foster this view? This could be anyone from older siblings and parents to corporate, political and religious leaders.

Like it or not we are influenced by that which we place our attention on. Life is filled with role models and leaders and each one of us is a role model and leader to those in our personal world. How do you do life? Who influences your thoughts, emotions, and actions? I am aware of being influential and of many different influences on me. Some of them conditioned and not necessarily poised in the greatest of values or intentions. As my self-awareness grows and my intentions become firmly devoted in loving kindness and compassion, I become more conscious of when “less than helpful” thoughts, emotions, and actions arise. I become more aware as my judgments, prejudices, and unkindness pops up to show me I am not perfect. Then the challenge is to practice loving kindness and compassion to myself, to heal, and to see how I might choose to do life differently next time.

An observation noted in the pages of this book is that Nelson Mandela most often carried a note book with him throughout his adult life. He was often seen taking notes. Many of these notes have been introspective along with practical memos etc. Over the last week I have been motivated to write more of my thoughts down in my journal and take notes of my thoughts as I read, reinforcing something I already knew to be true. The practice of keeping a journal is a very powerful tool to expand self-awareness. Reading how Mandela was a note taker and then reading some of his musings reignited my enthusiasm for my journal practice. The act of writing thoughts down helps integrate self-awareness into our being, rather than a thought that rushes past on the whisper of a breeze felt gently, and gone again in an instant. There are many different ways to keep a journal: hand written, computer documents, artistic creations, voice recording, and ways I haven’t even thought of. Getting our thoughts out into a space where they can be explored and perhaps expanded upon facilitates our understanding and acceptance of what our personal traits really are. We can also discern how these traits have been beneficial as well as detrimental. A journal can be a private affair, a love affair with ourselves, an opportunity to communicate, argue, make up, and befriend every aspect of self. I have the distinct impression that Nelson Mandela learned much about himself along the way and his very public life demonstrated evolution and growth. As I read Conversations with Myself, I imagine his note taking was highly influential.

I choose role models, and leaders who exemplify living a life I aspire to live. I model them as far as I am able and to the extent it feels relevant to me. I also recognise that I am unique and it is the values that I choose to emulate and so I will at times work at the methods and practices a leader uses to live out their values. Role models I choose could be dear friends, family, colleagues, and not limited to global personalities. The impact of unity, kindness, helpfulness, and goodness is the model I wish to have as my influence on my world.

Nelson Mandela was headed down a path of terrorism. Had he not been captured and jailed I wonder how far his acts of violence and terrorism would have continued. Thankfully his path changed and evolved into a process of freedom through peaceful influences, rather than retaliation and notoriety through attacking the enemy. We all live and hopefully learn. We all have the potential for terrorism; just as we all have the potential for peace and love. I am grateful for Nelson Mandela, his imperfections, his evolution, his words of wisdom and his legacy. May he rest in peace…

Love and light