Saturday, July 19, 2008

Happy 90th Birthday, Nelson Mandela (a day belated)

"I have cherished the idea of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunity... It is an ideal for which I hope to live for. But, my Lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."

These are the words Nelson Mandela spoke in his own defense at his trial for treason in 1964. As we all know, he was sentenced to life imprisonment...

I had never heard this speech before yesterday. I was listening to Talk of the Nation, a show titled "Nelson Mandela's Lessons of Leadership". True to form, my ears perked up at the word "leadership" (yes, I've been duly brainwashed by my program but, I swear, it's a good thing.) I heard different people who have known Mandela at different points in his life attest to his incredible leadership; I heard the perfect model of integrity (a la Stephen Carter.) I've come to acknowledge that true integrity, as defined by Carter, is not so easy:
"Integrity, as I will use the term, requires three steps: (1) discerning what is right and what is wrong; (2) acting on what you have discerned, even at personal cost; and (3) saying openly that you are acting on your understanding of right from wrong." (from Integrity, p. 7)
Many folks think they have integrity, but I believe it really is difficult to attain. Step 1 seems easy enough, but only in some situations. Consider the multitude of difficulties involved with step 2. True integrity requires action. And not covert action (see step 3.)

Mandela definitely has all three. Read the quote above. Right there, in 53 words, he embodied true integrity.

Happy 90th, Mr. Mandela. Thank you for teaching us so much with not just your words, but your actions as well. 

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