Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years as a terrorist.
And then he was released and became one of the greatest freedom fighters the world has ever known.
For me, the lesson is clear.
We cannot rely on others for a moral compass.
I am thinking of Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, Julian Assange, Tim DeChristopher and Lord knows how many others who have been exiled or imprisoned for “treason” in the United States.
I believe they will be exonerated in the long run, just as Mandela was, and shown to be on the side of justice.
We shake our heads incredulously when we hear that Nelson Mandela was in jail and at hard labor for 27 years.
Twenty-seven years! He was imprisoned just a few months before I was born, and released a few months before I married.
He came out to have a whole new life, like a butterfly breaking out of an unwanted cocoon.
The news media seems to be playing up the aspect of Nelson Mandela’s story that deals with forgiveness.
He forgave his captors. He was not vindictive. He believed in reconciliation.
But I do not forgive them. And the part of Mandela’s story I would like to focus on is his incredible perseverance in achieving his lifework of overcoming the evil of apartheid in South Africa.
It takes great self-awareness and rock-solid confidence to maintain one’s moral compass in the face of a whole state and social apparatus set up to prove one wrong.
For example, climate activists today, like the Greenpeace 30–locked up in Russia for daring to challenge Russian drilling rights in the Arctic–need to be incredibly resolute in their insistence that we must do what we can to stop the runaway warming of the planet.
Today we have many ways of expressing our solidarity—ways that were not available to sympathizers of Mandela back in the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s. We need to use these communication channels to send a solid wave of support back to those who dare to challenge today’s rulers—the fossil fuel industry, the National Security Agency, and the like.
Mandela fought the good fight and he won. Today, our fight is not for justice in one country, but for the very survival of the human race—and so many other species—on this planet.
We owe it to the memory of Nelson Mandela to stand firm and refuse to be bullied or intimidated. We who are fighting for a sustainable planetary future are on the side of justice and will be vindicated as such, just like Mandela, if we are not all washed away first.
Nelson Mandela was great because he never gave up. He remained true to his own moral compass and he lived his ideals.
We must do the same today, and then some, to keep Mandela’s flame alive and burning brightly for a new day on this sad beleaguered planet of ours.