Thursday, December 5, 2013

Remembering Nelson Mandela: The Good and Bad

Today, Nelson Mandela, one of the most well-known and respected political figures of the late 20th century, passed away. In remembering Nelson Mandela, I think we must focus, above all else, on his path in life, and not just his life's destination.

Nelson Mandela was far from a perfect human being. While he rose to prominence through his peaceful protest of South African apartheid, around 1960 he began abandoning his non-violent principles that he is known for. Specifically, he encouraged and organized bombings of government buildings for political change (for the record, this is the verbatim definition of terrorism). In the 1980s, he was told he would be released from prison if he would ensure the African National Congress would no longer use violence. He refused this offer.

However, in my view, this blemished past makes what he did the rest of his life that much more important. When put into a position with a majority that could have sought revenge, Mandela called for and ensured peace in a nation that was on the verge of ethnic warfare. He then spent the rest of his life suing for peace in places where it seemed to be an unattainable goal.



Nelson Mandela is unfortunately proof that the desperate can and often will resort to violence if they are continually oppressed. However, and thankfully, he is proof that people can rise up above themselves and their own flaws to have a lasting positive impact on the world.

I realize some people are probably going to be mad at me for noting some of the evil that Mandela had a part in. They may argue that now is not the time to note those acts on the day of his death. However, I do so not to spite the dead, but to truly illuminate his transformation. Let us hope that our world, filled with oppression, violence, and hate, can undergo a similar transformation in our lifetimes.

Mandela came back to peace and forgiveness after long ago forsaking it as a lost cause. In doing so, he teaches us that no divide is too great that human kindness cannot bridge it; no soul so lost that a second chance cannot redeem it.

We cannot whitewash Mandela, because doing so only lessens his legacy. It does not teach us the truly meaningful lesson that Mandela has to teach us. And remembering that he did evil at a time does not destroy the peaceful man he became, nor lessen the great light of goodness that today was extinguished. We are the lesser for his death. But we would have even less if we ignored his life just to categorize him as a "good guy" without really knowing why.

Mandela's legacy is more than just giving people hope that peace can come. His legacy is that we don't have to wait for a better person to do it. We can become that better person that fights for the world we want to see.

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