Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole


DEAR READERS: By now, we all know that legendary hero Nelson Mandela has passed, at age 95. Mandela served his time on the planet fiercely, bearing a dignity that deserves celebration and personal reflection for all of us. There are many lessons for us as Nelson Mandela's life story is unpacked. Without question, he became a symbol of courage, perseverance, clarity of focus and sacrifice. Mandela was a man who stood up against apartheid in his South African homeland and was imprisoned as a result of it.

I was in college when the groundswell to "Free Nelson Mandela" was building. There were songs. There was organized protest. Aware, courageous Americans pushed to get multinational companies to divest from this African nation that was oppressing its darker-skinned people. The fight was difficult.

Learning about apartheid in South Africa opened my eyes to a modern reality that I naively thought had died with the vestiges of slavery so many years ago on these shores. In South Africa, the continued oppression that blacks experienced at the hands of their white brethren was reprehensible. And thanks to the dynamic work of many supporters around the world, as well as his own work behind bars, the imprisoned Nelson Mandela would ultimately be freed after 27 years of incarceration.

What he did after stepping out of prison is what will fill history books forevermore. Instead of leading a revolt against his oppressors, this warrior chose a strategic path to reconciliation. Mandela's evolved vision for his homeland was one where blacks and whites would work together to build a country where fairness could be enforced and black South Africans could assume their rightful place in their own country. Choosing peaceful strategy was refreshing for all to see. And in 1994, when Nelson Mandela became the first democratically elected president of South Africa, the world watched peace in action.

Indeed, Mandela received the Nobel Peace Prize for his visionary work, and during all of his years after captivity, he worked to ensure that peace would guide his footsteps and those of all he touched.

As I think about the imagination that this great leader must have had in order to even dare to dream of his country in such a bold new fashion, it makes me think about all of us right now. Some of us believe we are stuck in relationships, jobs, friendships or other situations that feel unbearable. Many people live with the false concept that they cannot change the circumstances of their lives -- at least not without some kind of violent twist. Taking pause, as Mandela did, allows you the space to see differently.

We can all remember and be inspired by Nelson Mandela for his ability to see the greater good beyond the oppression that was holding him and his people down. If you put yourself in his shoes for just a moment, it may help you to view your life differently. Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for a third of his life because he voiced his convictions and demanded social justice for his people. When he was miraculously freed, he continued his fight on behalf of those people using love as his sword. Let Mandela be our example for how to step out of whatever situation is hurting us and claim what we deserve with grace, integrity and conviction. Rest in Peace, Madiba!