For to be free is not to merely cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others. — Nelson Mandela
I turned on the radio at about 5:15 this morning to hear the BBC coverage of the memorial service being held in the South African village where Mandela was born. I cannot let this day pass without personally paying tribute to Mandela.
Two of the greatest leaders of the 20th century emerged from a South Africa characterized by hate and injustice: Mandela and Gandhi. A third man of comparable stature emerged from the hate and injustice of the Jim Crow South: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. All were on the world stage in the early years of my life; all played a role in shaping my sense of right and wrong; all made hope tangible.
I have certainly wondered how I would behave if faced with decisions that put me at great risk. Would I have the moral fiber to choose to do “the right thing.” You know, would I jeopardize myself and my family to hide a Jew in Nazi Germany? Would I drive through the Mississippi night to help register black voters knowing that the Ku Klux Klan was on my trail? Would I resist in every way I could the power and viciousness of apartheid?
And, could I, faced with the pain and death and loss of an unjust society, come to believe that resistance is ultimately most powerful when it is non-violent and redemptive–pointed all along the way toward a goal of reconciliation and the embrace of one’s enemies?
No wonder the world is gathering in a remote South African village today. Nelson Mandela’s life carried this message for all of us–some people can behave with amazing ethical strength, and if some people can, there’s hope that any of us can.
Thank you, Nelson Mandela.