Tuesday, 10 December 2013
My thoughts on Nelson Mandela (surely nobody else has thought to blog about him...)
Nelson Mandela, Great Man of History!
Let me be the first to offer this seasonal rejoinder: Bah, Humbug!
Now, before you start sending me nasty emails or search for my home on Google Maps, allow me to explain:
I've read the glowing obituaries and the tributes from leaders all over the world. I've seen the pictures of politicians sporting great big “Awesome Road Trip” grins as they jet their way to a continent they routinely ignore in an effort to be on the right side of history. I apologize for sounding so cynical, but it seems to me that for many of the visiting dignitaries, the best thing about Nelson Mandela’s funeral is that it means that he’s dead. It’s a great photo op (President Obama was even photographed taking a selfie at the gathering). It is so much nicer to be able to visit Nelson Mandela when he’s achieved “Obi Wan Kenobi” status in death; when he can no longer challenge or question your leadership or commitment to a better world for ALL people.
In death, Mr. Mandela doesn't get to look at us or our leaders and ask about our relationship to First Peoples in Canada, or about Economic, Ideological or Racial tension in America, China isn't questioned, Israel and Palestine, Syria and Egypt can be left out of discussion, while we bask in the sentimental glow of a great man… nobody has to engage with this great man of history and confront the realities of poverty and the Apartheid that it creates in our communities. It is much easier to celebrate “the last great liberator of the 20th century” (to quote Barak Obama), then to wonder about the liberty of our own people.
Praise for Nelson Mandela has been unanimous and he has been called a “Great Man of History”. I never met the man, I can’t pretend to know his mind, but I suspect that Nelson Mandela never wanted to be a “Great Man of History” – I believe that he wanted to change the world, whether people credited him or not; he wanted to help move his part of the world toward justice and compassion and away from Apartheid, both racial and economic.
American President Barak Obama commented that Nelson Mandela “… makes me want to be a better man.” (quoting Jack Nicholson from As Good as It Gets, perhaps?). Respectfully, Mr. President, I don’t think that he gives a damn what kind of man you decide to be, I think that he was much more concerned about the quality of life of the people that you serve, and what you are doing to improve their lives. . Mr. Mandela was, in so many things a gracious man, so he would have likely received the adulation of the world with a wide smile… but deep inside, I think that he would have been saying “Bah, Humbug”. (except for the Barak Obama shaking hands with Raul Castro - he would have loved that. But, I'll bet that many American pundits will be griping about the "grip")
What this “Great Man of History” would have desired is that we put history in a book and instead focus our energies on the present. Rather than honouring Mandela’s death, perhaps we might make the world a better place by emulating his life: Enduring injustice with strength and grace, never letting go of hope, embracing power with humility and letting go of the need for vengeance, working alongside former enemies with compassion while maintaining integrity and sense of purpose, desiring to make the world a better place for those who are always last in line, last to be called and first to be taxed. Items not prominently on the agenda of many of the world leaders who made their way to Soweto.
A fitting tribute for this man who changed the world would be for all of us to work toward justice, even when it costs us; to live more compassionately, even with those we call "enemies" and to dare to hope, even when the world tells us to give up.