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Using Mandela's Inspiration to Find Truth and Reconciliation

February 26, 2014

Using Mandela's Inspiration to Find Truth and Reconciliation

“I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” Nelson Mandela’s famous ‘Speech from the Dock’ on 20 April 1964.

Several years ago, I visited Robben Island in South Africa. I was touched, awed and inspired by the indomitable spirit of the man who spent 27 years breaking rocks and working in the blinding light of the limestone quarries with other political prisoners. Forbidden to wear sunglasses, the glare in the quarries damaged his eye sight; he was taunted and physically abused by the white wardens; classed as
the lowest grade of prisoner, he was only permitted one visit and one letter every six months. I learned about his life in prison from our tour guide who was also arrested and imprisoned in his early teens and like Mandela was a political prisoner.

Our tour guide reported how Mandela could have easily let spite, revenge and hatred take over. In fact, many of his fellow prisoners tried to influence him to take revenge. Instead, he focused on learning and growth. He initiated the “University of Robben Island” where prisoners lectured on their own expertise. He studied Islam and learned Arikaans hoping to build respect with the wardens. He served as an incredible role model, encouraging his fellow prisoners to study, read and learn. He even inspired his white prison guards to do the same.

When he was released from prison, he stood firm in the negotiations to end apartheid, advocating for democracy and the right to vote, working to create a constitution and a bill of rights that included all South Africans. Mandela demonstrated to the world, the power of forgiveness and reconciliation as he led the country from apartheid and minority rule to a multicultural democracy. He served for all South Africans as a role model of personal forgiveness and guided the formation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

You may have been overdosed from the media coverage about the life and accomplishments of this incredible yet very human man. Some misguided souls in our country responded to the tributes of his inspiration by posting hateful, racist accusations and untruths. Mandela did not always make the best or correct decision. His critics accused him of terrorism, of being a communist which he once was.

He was imprisoned for treason. Yet, he inspired many and brought South Africa democracy.

Our current President has also been subject to similar denunciations, and hateful epitaphs demonstrating such disrespect not seen for many generations toward the office of the President. Many of us who voted for President Obama do not always agree or fully endorse his leadership. But I do not expect to agree with all the policies, legislation or strategies of Federal, State or local leaders. The current controversy over the Affordable Care Act suggests that there is a need for revisions and adjustments but it is law and inappropriate the try to throw it out.

We have electronic and social media that allow anyone to spout distorted opinions, false accusations and misleading allegations about simeone they don’t agree with. We have media that have strayed from the principles of objective reporting, offering distortions and false information. Our Congressional representatives have the lowest opinion rating that I have seen in my life time.

We do live in a democracy which gives us the right to voice our thoughts and opinions; but it also gives our fellow citizens the same right. I believe we can learn from the inspiration of Mandela to give respect to those with whom we disagree. Let’s also give our elected leaders respect as human beings and as our representatives even when we disagree with their positions and their votes. We also have the right to vote them out of office.

Let’s use Mandela as a role model and support our democratic opportunity for dialogue and discourse, to listen to others whose opinions differ from ours, to explore alternatives, find middle ground and avoid balkanization, stereotyping, name calling and derision. Let us find truth and reconciliation…truth in understanding all sides….and reconciliation in compromise.

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Bev is the founder and creator of The 3rd Act whose mission is to support positive aging.  She writes about the issues and challenges of the boomer and traditional generations.  She is currently focused on writing fiction based on the story of her paternal grandparents, her first novel.  She has served as an internal organization and management consultant for over 35 years, taught organizational psychology and established an external consulting and coaching practice.  She published the second edition of, Consulting on the Inside co-authored with Kim Barnes in 2011. Bev is now in what she considers Scene 3 of her own third act, and enjoys creating and writing the script. For more information go to or