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An Out of Character Post For An Out of Character Man

December 6, 2013

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The problem with self publishing (which is what Blogging is) is the lack of an editor. Editors do things like double check spelling and often approve or even suggest topics.

The benefit of self publishing (which is what Blogging is) is the ability to occasionally post something completely out of character.

As we head toward the end of the year, I’m very grateful to all of you who have taken a few minutes out of your day each morning to read my digital scribbles. I am amazed and humbled that so many have found value or entertainment in what I write. It’s probably no surprise that the “theme” of my blog has been about business and personal development. I’ve wandered back and forth occasionally, but mostly I think I’ve stuck pretty well to that theme. In blogging, it’s important to have a theme. People crave some consistency. Today’s post has nothing to do with personal development or business. I’m not even going to try to tie this to a business theme. I’m not sure I could if I wanted to.

Nelson Mandela died yesterday.

The world will no doubt provide proper and fitting memorials for him. Today I want to talk about what Nelson Mandela meant to me, a middle aged white guy living in the Mountain West of America, literally half a world away. (9,900 miles)

Nelson Mandela was a prisoner at the time I started to get interested in politics and world events. He was sent to prison before I was born, July of 1964 and I would arrive in December of that year. While I was learning to walk and tie my shoes, he was serving hard time, much of it in isolation. While I learned to drive and discovered dating, he practiced long distance running. When I was getting married in 1987, he was living a long distance marriage. By the time he was released in 1990, I was an adult. I had a wife, a family a career. He walked out of prison 27 years after walking in.

What must that have been like?

He missed my entire life. Not that I mattered to him, but to lose 27 years like that.

When Mandela walked out of prison and saw the crowds, he raised his fist and they roared. Again, what must that have been like? Many men spend their whole lives striving for that kind of power. What would this man who had been wronged for a generation do with it?

We would hope that in that situation a person would forgive and work for reconciliation. We would hope that he would call for calm and peace. That he would strive to use political power rather than mob power to bring about change. Most of all, we would hope that he would not retaliate against the racism that imprisoned him.

The amazing thing was that he did all of that. He managed to work with the South African president, with whom he shared the Nobel Peace prize.

Could you do that? I think I’m a pretty kind person, I don’t know if I could do that.

George Washington had the opportunity to become king of America. In fact, some people pushed him in that direction. He, of course declined and that one decision set America on a course of over 200 years of peaceful transitions of power. Mandela of course, won election as president of South Africa. And yet, he worked to make ALL people equal. That one decision to pursue peace and peacefully transfer power at the end of his five year term has had as significant an impact on South Africa as Washington had on the United States. History will tell if his decision has as lasting an impact as Washington’s. Interestingly, neither man had any children. Their countries became their children.

My neighbors are South African. I have 7 black children, although none from South Africa. While a world away, I’ve had occasion to think on South Africa and the ugly style of racism that was Apartheid. Racism isn’t dead and sadly will probably always be with us. However, it is inspiring that we have people like Nelson Mandela to show us that even the worst racism and abuse does not have to turn us into monsters. Even the most egregious offenses to not have to be met with violence and anger. We can rise above our circumstances and embrace the brotherhood of man.

As a white parent of black children, I strive to make sure my children are comfortable with who they are and are proud of their ethnicity. One way to do that is to find inspiring examples for them, of black people who were great people. Not just great black people, but great people period. Nelson Mandela certainly fits that category.

Rest in peace, Nelson Mandela. The world is truly a better place for you having been in it and we are better for having seen your example.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife and thirteen children.

Follow him on
Twitter (@rodneymbliss)
Facebook (www.facebook.com/rbliss)
LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss)
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

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