Those of us who believe in the power of citizens to create change lost one of our greatest souls yesterday when Nelson Mandela -- a leader, a rebel, a Nobel Laurete and an inspiration -- died at 95 years old. Whether you know it or not, as a citizen of the world you will miss him.
After years of struggle, Mr. Mandela came to the realization that “[i]f you want to make peace with your enemy you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.” Through this philosophy he showed us how to make a difference under the most dire circumstances and in the most graceful way.
Everyone who seeks change can learn from him. In fact, given the comparative triviality of some of our concerns it shouldn’t be all that hard. Let’s be honest: despite all the hyperbole, most of us in the government relations community here in Washington, D.C. do not live in a world fraught with danger. The consequences of whether or not Congress extends a certain tax break or cuts a program by 15% bear no comparison to the consequences of the decisions the anti-apartheid movement sought to influence in South Africa.
With a grand vision for reform and a government openly hostile toward the people seeking change, Mr. Mandela and his colleagues faced unprecedented odds. Yet through perseverance he led the way to one of the most profound tectonic shifts in a political system that we’ll see in our lifetimes. He never said “it’s too hard” or “my opinion doesn’t matter” or “legislators never listen to me.” We hear this too often in the United States, and it frustrates even the Advocacy Guru sometimes. You think members of Congress don’t listen? Try being a black man in South Africa during the apartheid regime.
Did he always choose the high ground? No. Did he make mistakes? Certainly. But unlike so many leaders these days, he generally learned from those mistakes. He took them to heart, changed his tactics and moved on. How many of us can say we’ve done the same? I’m moved by the fact that after all he went through he was able to say that “resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.” Surely, surely, we can apply at least this lesson to our own relatively minor squabbles.
Never forget that Mr. Mandela fought for the same kinds of freedoms our own founding fathers fought for. If I’ve learned anything from him it’s that far better people than I have suffered far more to achieve far less than what we in the U.S. have right now. Please don’t take our right to self-govern lightly. Please don’t take our right to petition our government for granted. Hold these rights dearly.
Thank you, Mr. Mandela.
***This article was written by Stephanie Vance, The Advocacy Guru. Follow her on Twitter.