“Mandela did not carry bitterness.”
There were many ‘aha’ moments listening to Sello Hatang, the quietly measured, impressive speaker - CEO of the Nelson Mandela Foundation - at the opening of the Mandela, My Life exhibition at the Melbourne Museum. I had the privilege to meet and hear Sello speak again, the very next day, to a more intimate audience at the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission where I was working with the Mandela 365 organisation, the Commission and 20 young African Ambassadors seeking to become advocates for their communities.
Sello’s ‘ahas’ were coming thick and fast: stories of Mandela – his ability to remain humble in the face of potentially usurping adoration; his willingness to travel the journey that we should all be travelling; and that Mandela saw hope as a gift.
God knows how he held on to that hope, spending 27 long years in jail.
Yet this is the ‘aha’ that resonated with me that day and left me wanting to unpack it – to discover its secrets for education: “Mandela did not carry bitterness.”
In my leadership workshops with community groups, I call on Mandela as a role model. Only two weeks earlier, with this very same group, I had placed the name ‘Mandela’ on the whiteboard, circled it, and invited the group to explore the values that this man exhibited. They swiftly came up with a weighty list: courage, inclusiveness, empathy, the ability to self-reflect, forgiveness, tenacity – that ability to persevere in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges. And more.
Then came the real challenge: ‘You see, any one of us knows how to answer this question – to throw a list of impressive qualities up there that reflect really great leadership. Any one of our current world leaders could do this. Yet, the real questions are these – ‘Do I carry these qualities? Have I really learned how to be humble? To genuinely feel equal – with everyone? To treat everyone with respect? How am I going to learn to do these things? How am I going to work on not only my capacity to ‘get the job done’, but also on my character?’
But one of Sello’s observations had not been on our list. ‘Mandela did not carry bitterness.’
I guess you could argue that this is another way of saying Mandela had the ability to forgive. Not just say it; really do it. Forgive. Yet, for me, this statement was beginning to reveal to us clues we all need if we want to build a more forgiving world. Not carrying bitterness is one of the keys to learning how to forgive. It is the what comes before forgiveness. And forgiveness is paramount in a world that needs healing.
‘Mandela did not carry bitterness.’ Let’s unpack this a little. You will note the statement does not say Mandela never got angry; Mandela never got bitter / upset / frustrated. What it says is that he did not maintain it.
Was this innate for Mandela? Was he born like this? I am not sure and certainly he may have been somewhat wired that way. However, his early years and actions with the ANC would suggest otherwise. Or was it a learnt trait? And if so, if he could do this, then surely so can we all.
Thank you Sello Hatang for your insights into an incredible man. He told that small, attentive group, ‘We must find the Mandela within ourselves. We must be the legacy.’
What is the relevance of this to today’s world. Imagine the inter-generational / inter-racial / inter-communal / inter-cultural hatred that could literally be halted in its tracks, right here, right now, if we were all better able to not carry bitterness.
The CEO of the Mandela Foundation, Sello Hatang, has put it out there. Yet the mantle has passed to us. How do we teach ourselves and our young people not to carry bitterness?
I, for one, am going to keep exploring this. I believe it already exists in the lessons of my forum activity, The Best Forgiveness Role Play Ever, yet I will seek to emphasise it, draw out the learning so that we may all benefit. And I will keep you posted as to new ideas and tools that will come. And of course, the outcomes!
Cheery blessings to all,
Margaret Hepworth is the founder of The Gandhi Experiment. She travels widely, running forums in teaching non-violence as a conscious choice.
‘The Best Forgiveness Role Play Ever’ can be found in Margaret’s new book: The Gandhi Experiment - Teaching our teenagers how to become global citizens www.thegandhiexperiment.com Available at all amazon stores and bookstores worldwide
‘Fortitude’ - a compelling short story on Mandela, courage and expansive thought, can be found at https://thegandhiexperiment.teachable.com