Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

Leaders must learn lessons from unique man

Much has been written and said about the late Nelson Mandela, and all the praise is well deserved. He was a remarkable human being and outstanding statesman whose forgiveness helped to build a truly multi-racial society in South Africa.

He could so easily have chosen the path of revenge, but instead he rose above this temptation to take the more difficult, but ultimately more successful, path of inclusion. He also knew when to hold firm to cherished principles and when to move on, for the sake of the greater good.

However, one important element of his personality which has largely been overlooked was his ability to make himself a blank canvas by which he carefully neutralised himself and took away any of the toxicity of the past .

Nelson Mandela had a unique characteristic where everyone he met was able to take from him what they wanted .

He did not make them feel bad about who they were, where they came from or what part they had played in history.

He was also careful not to allow himself to indulge in bitterness, nor to be controversial, nor partial, nor revengeful.

It was a remarkable achievement for a man who had spent so long in prison, and who could so easily have found reasons to continue to stir the passions and the prejudices of the past.

In this respect especially, Nelson Mandela had much to teach other politicians and community leaders in other parts of the world, including our own.

It is our preoccupation with the past that stifles our present and threatens our future, and our politicians and their followers must learn to look to the higher ground mapped out by Mandela.

This policy was successful not only because it made political sense, but also because it was the right thing to do.

Until our own leaders fully grasp the significance of the example of Nelson Mandela, we will continue to be held ransom by the worst of the past and thereby we may sacrifice the best of our future.

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