Lessons Nelson Mandela Taught Us

Whenever the name Nelson Mandela comes up, words like anti-apartheid revolutionary, South African nationalist, and an icon of democracy come up. And undoubtedly, all these titles are truly well deserved. 

But who is the man behind the legend? What has his incredible life taught us that we can emulate in our day to day existence? 

  1. Always be true to your principles even under the most difficult circumstances. Mandela spent 27 years of his life in prison for conspiring to overthrow the state. But despite the hardships he endured - loneliness,  poor food, back-breaking labor and rare visits from his wife and children - he willingly sacrificed his rights and freedom to uphold his ideals of equality, social justice, and service for the common good. He refused to make concessions or compromise his integrity even if it meant a shorter prison term for him.
  2. Learn from failure. Mandela was no saint, and his family life was far from perfect. And although he was prepared to give up domesticity for freedom - his family was not ready to make that same choice. This caused him to neglect his role as a husband and father.  Mandela was the first to admit his faults, and he wanted to be remembered for both his failures and triumphs. He said that in life, one must not judge another by his successes, but by how many times he fell down and got back up again. 
  3. It’s better to forgive.  Mandela had numerous reasons to be angry. Seeing how his countrymen were being treated unjustly. The deplorable conditions in prison. Corruption in politics.  But instead of exacting revenge, he chose reconciliation and nation building. He learned how to put his resentment aside for the greater good. He knew that anger could only succeed in tearing his country apart. So he opted for more inclusive solutions to the country’s problems. He chose the healing power of love over anger.
  4. A good leader listens. As Mandela was growing up in South Africa’s rural Eastern Cape province, he would watch the acting regent of his Thembu people hold court and allow everyone to attend and have a say. Mandela adopted this type of collective leadership which emphasized listening to everyone’s views then reaching a consensus. He also believed that good leadership led from behind and put others in front, especially in times of victory. Then when danger or uncertainty was present, a good leader should take the front line and take the fall for his supporters. 

Nelson Mandela was truly one of a kind. But, he liked to think of himself as an ordinary man who became a leader because of extraordinary circumstances. Although we can’t all be heroes like he was, the way Nelson Mandela led his life and fought the good fight should be enough inspiration for us all.