Rarely have I discarded as many drafts as I have with regard to this one.
I have struggled to decide what I wanted to say about Nelson Mandela. I tend to believe the struggle resided in the fact there were so many things one could elect to say about Mandela.
And then I, a self-admitted work in progress seeking to change for the better guy, decided that is what I wanted to share some thoughts on.
Attitudes. Behavior. Change.
And we are all, always, a work in progress.
Mandela spent something like 27 years in jail.
He went in one man … with certain attitudes … and jailed for certain behavior.
He came out another man … with different attitudes and different behavior.
His vision remained the same.
But he changed. Changed his attitudes & behavior.
And ultimately he contributed to attitudinal shifts not only in South Africa but across the globe. He made people think differently. Look at things differently. And because he did this we began to behave differently.
We … well … we changed.
Did he change us?
Or did he simply see the change that already existed within us?
And does it matter?
We changed. And we changed for the better.
I also say this because there will inevitably be numerous leaders, speaking out today and in the near future on behalf of Mandela, who had significantly different attitudes with regard to Mandela and his beliefs all those years ago.
Are they being hypocritical? Nope.
In fact they are paying the ultimate tribute, respect and compliment to Mandela.
Their attitudes have changed since then.
If we call them hypocritical then we are suggesting that people cannot change. That people’s attitudes cannot change. And that is wrong.
If that is Mandela’s legacy that is a darn good one … we can change our attitudes and behavior.
And we can do so in big ways.
Do ‘early adopter’ attitude shift people deserve more credit than ‘late adopters’?
Not in my eyes.
Change is change.
Some people are slower to accept attitude change than others. Letting go of what you think is difficult.
Is this ‘slow to change’ aggravating, frustrating and disappointing <on occasion>? Sure.
But attitude shifts and behavior change isn’t about the journey. It’s the destination. If we all get there, who cares who was slow and who was fast.
Nelson Mandela reminded me of all of this.
He embodied change. He embodied a lot of other things <grace, integrity, character, charisma, etc.> but he embodied attitude & behavior change.
He reminds us that we can change what we believe, we can change our attitudes … and we can better our behavior. And be able to do so no matter how difficult it is or how steeped we are in our current attitudes.
He reminded me of this quote <which I use over and over again>: “Up to a point a man’s life is shaped by environment, heredity, and movements and changes in the world about him. Then there comes a time when it lies within his grasp to shape the clay of his life into the sort of thing he wishes to be. Only the weak blame parents, their race, their times, lack of good fortune, or the quirks of fate. Everyone has it within his power to say, ‘This I am today; that I will be tomorrow.’” – Louis L’Amour
His legacy to me … me personally.
I am a white guy … already admitting I am a continuous work in progress.
Many African American leaders’ lips move … and I don’t hear, or understand, a word they are saying.
I hear nothing.
When Mandela spoke … I heard, and understood, every word … every thought.
He spoke in a way which talked to us as human beings in words & thoughts that anyone could hear and understand.
Not only is that a legacy … but good learning.
Because we cannot create the change we desire if we cannot get people to listen.
As I believe it was Muhammad Ali that just said “he is now free forever.”
Who will speak and be heard now to help us ‘work-in-progress’ people? Those of us who believe ‘This I am today; that I will be tomorrow.’”
That will be the burden of someone else now.