A Gift: Lessons Learned From Nelson Mandela

Dean C. Garfield photo

Even in his parting, Nelson Mandela has given us a gift.  The opportunity to look beyond today and towards the lessons learned from his life that may help all of us tomorrow.  That legacy is rich and potentially rewarding if we are willing to embrace it. 

Nelson Mandela was a patriot, pragmatist, and the rare leader who realized that what matters most are first principles rather than tactics.  For Mandela that meant staying true to his vision of a democratic and free society built on equality, freedom, and human dignity while remaining flexible on the means of achieving that vision.  This awareness enabled President Mandela to accept communism early in his life and capitalism when as President it was critical to his country’s success.  It allowed him to initially take a “by any means” necessary revolutionary approach and then to evolve into a leader who embraced peace and reconciliation. 

President Mandela’s evolution reminds us of our complexity as humans and our ability to grow and as well to achieve greatness.  Is Mandela a one of a kind leader or are we able to learn from and build on his legacy?  Can I, as well as our national leaders, affirm the first principles of our founders while remaining flexible on the tactics for achieving our national ideals?  Can we play to the base, but rise above it when the national interest demands as much?  

I am hopeful that we will embrace Nelson Mandela and his legacy beyond the current news cycle.  In so doing perhaps we will be inspired to take on some of the biggest challenges facing our nation with an emphasis on principles rather than partisanship. 


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