“I believe that in the end it is kindness and generous accommodation that are the catalysts for real change” – Nelson Mandela at the launch of The Elders on July 18, 2007.
Key Point: Though Mandela’s health was failing for the past few years, his recent death was still met with an emotional response throughout the world. Tata, or “Father” as Mandela was also known, will be remembered as a true leader and human of incredible greatness and justice. “We have lost one of the most influential, courageous and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this Earth. He no longer belongs to us—he belongs to the ages,” said President Barack Obama in a speech following Mandela’s passing.
Over the last few days I have read and listened to what people who knew Mandela have been saying in tribute. So many adjectives apply, but the one word that seems to be at or near the top of every list is KINDNESS. It was unconditional love that allowed him to save and transform South Africa after it easily could have burned to the ground during the dangerous transition from apartheid.
Mandela teaches us that the truest freedoms and the greatest liberation are deeply connected to an endless love for humanity. In his own words, as seen in the above quote, “in the end it is kindness.”
There are so many examples of how Mandela lived kindness and how he lit up a room with it. The following story exemplifies this value in a very basic way:
“Eddie Daniels was a close friend of Mandela, and he served a 15-year prison sentence on Robben Island while Mandela was incarcerated there. Shortly after Daniels arrived at the prison, he was assigned a duty to empty the chamber pots, or “buckets” of other prisoners. Daniels, a man who was skilled at disabling electrical power grids and thus was considered a dangerous terrorist by the apartheid government, could not bring himself to accept toilet duty. Daniels was desperately struggling with his situation. That’s when Mandela, who did not know Daniels at the time, walked over to the newly arrived prisoner, put an arm around him and told him that he would help him perform the duty. Daniels said he could only marvel and stand in awe at the gesture. Mandela understood his angst and anger. But he also understood the valuable role that Daniels had played in the fight for freedom for black and colored South Africans. Mandela came to his rescue and in this basic act revealed KINDNESS, compassion – and love.” As Mandela notes, this is perhaps the most powerful form of LEADERSHIP.
- How about you and I just work a little more at acting with intentional kindness on a daily basis? We can get so caught up self-judging whether we are really getting the results of a life worth living, etc… We can forget that every day provides so much opportunity for our KIND behavior to contribute. As Marshall McLuhan so aptly said, “the medium is the message.”
- Rather than limit ourselves to thinking about acting kindly as a “cute and cuddly” discretionary approach for those attracted to mush headed soft skills, or for people who like websites and YouTube videos involving kittens, how about applying KIND behavior as a catalyst for REAL CHANGE? Kind does NOT mean weak or soft. It is a constructive weapon for change agents.
- Do you and I light up a room because people know that we are naturally kind and well intentioned? Do we behave with kindness because that is part of our life’s purpose rather than thinking about it as an “event?” Hey, our individual chances of impacting the world like Mandela are unlikely, but if we collectively breathe in his spirit? Well that is how sustainable change happens.
Mandela is The Triangle (and more),
P.S. On the notion of kindness and Respect, Mandela was affectionately known as Madiba by family, close friends, and dedicated South African supporters.