Unclehood and Nelson Mandela

Posted: December 7, 2013 by Matt Horan in Uncategorized

Nelson Mandela with a child - Size SmallBy Matt Horan

My nephew, Owen, was born this past Wednesday around 3pm.

Less than 24 hours after Owen stepped into this world, someone else stepped out of it, into eternity, and into history.  Thursday morning, the world woke up to the news that Nelson Mandela was dead.

It might seem strange to link these two events.  They happened thousands of miles apart–Owen in the United States, Mandela in South Africa.  They surely had nothing to do with each other.  Yet all day Thursday, an awareness slowly crept over me–we now live in a world without Nelson Mandela.  Further, as news came in from my family about Owen, my awareness grew to include something else–Owen will live his whole life in a world without Nelson Mandela.

Mandela B&W

Will that matter to Owen?  Not really.  He’ll start t-ball in a couple years; have a role in a school play when he hits Kindergarten; learn to tie his shoes; learn to read; learn to add, subtract, multiply, and divide; learn to change an improper fraction into a mixed number; will learn writing skills; develop a crush on a girl; then develop another on someone else a week or two later; will finish high school; apply to college; find a career; get married; have kids… and all of that will happen regardless of whether or not we live in a world without Nelson Mandela.

Here’s what matters–the number of people that Owen could learn real leadership skills from is shrinking.  In America we have invented a new class of people.  In addition to the upper class, middle class, and lower class; we have now clearly created a “ruling class.”  Rather than making hard decisions that will have constructive, long-term impact; the ruling class rises to power by offering painless solutions to painful problems–having no intention whatsoever to do anything that will create long term, lasting, stabilizing solutions.  Long term results can’t be reported fast enough.  We need results of some kind every two years for either the presidential or mid-term elections.  Success to the ruling class is winning elections, long term results can’t be used to win elections, so they don’t really matter.

What the ruling class does not do is lead.  Leaders have a destination in mind that is so important to them that they’re willing to wait for it.  They’re willing to live with discipline over a long period of time, because that’s what success normally takes.  They’re willing to have hard conversations, learn hard lessons, own up when they make a mistake–whatever it takes to facilitate relationships that are characterized by love and reconciliation, and not by hate.

Consider his leadership while president of South Africa.  After being held in captivity for years by the white ruling party for trying to undermine the apartheid system, Mandela was freed.  He was instantly embraced by his people, and won the presidency.  He and his people now had a perfect opportunity to exact revenge from the murderous, racist regime that had brutally oppressed them.

nelson-mandela quoteRevenge never came.  Instead, Nelson Mandela led.  He and other leaders like Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Peter Storey started the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  Perpetrators of the innumerable “crimes against humanity” committed against South African blacks were invited to come forward and confess what they’d done, but when they did, it was not punishment or retribution they received, but forgiveness.  Mandela knew that his nation’s problem was their divided culture.  Revenge might have felt good in the moment for the victims of apartheid.  Vilifying their oppressors might have also gained Mandela some political points he could spend in the next election cycle.  However, real leadership called for actions that would actually solve the pressing problems of his nation.  The convenient, self-serving solution was available, but he chose a different road–a more difficult, painful road–that would get his nation closer and closer to the ultimate goal–divided people becoming one South Africa.

So will living in a world without Nelson Mandela keep my nephew Owen from realizing his dreams, enjoying his life, or accomplishing his goals?  Probably not.  Will it allow him the chance to become the kind of leader the world needs–one that is willing to make the tough decision that pays lasting dividends down the road over the quick fix designed for soundbites and cheap swings at his opponents?  Well, unless some leaders emerge soon to contend with this poisonous ruling class and provide an example for Owen to follow, it might not.

  1. A Dreamer says:

    Your brother pointed me this way – I do think that we will have other Mandela-level leaders in our lifetime that Owen will be able to look up to and emulate. I don’t think we can see them right now, but I am sure they are there and will eventually emerge from the fog of confusion provided by money-driven special interests. Despite my increasing cynicism of late, I do believe we will see a split (for the better) between the ruling/leading classes soon.


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