Nelson Mandela… what does the very name mean to you? Walking around earlier today, I was drawn into a conversation with this Aussie chap who was trying to explain to some of the Indians who Nelson Mandela was… and why he was so important.
It was interesting to see how none of them had an opinion on this generational icon… but how could they? And it got me thinking, what is my opinion on him?
I mean I know he was a great man… I certainly understand the Wikipedia version of his life with the incarceration and being the first black president in South Africa and the monumental change that he brought to his country. But do I really have my own opinion? I’m not so sure.
You see, he falls right into that fuzzy area where I remember his name being a big deal when I was young but really couldn’t tell you what he changed.
Once I grew older, of course, I learned quite a bit about him, and his amazing impact. That made him fall into a really weird little window, I feel as if I learned about him the way that I learned about Gandhi, Kennedy, Hitler or Stalin… but wait a minute, those were all historical figures. I could never be truly asked for my opinion on them because I wasn’t alive when they changed the world. I can read about them, watch documentaries on them, and even listen to what others say and become a history buff…
But if I never practiced diving under a desk during the cold war, or watched the men go off to fight for freedom in WWII or witnessed as one man stood up to his oppressors and lead his country to a peaceful revolution or weep with the nation after the ‘magic bullet’ in Dallas, how can I truly hold my own opinion?… I can’t. The best I can muster is to combine what I’ve read, watched and heard into some sort of logic that makes sense and try to learn from it.
But that’s why Mandela is such an enigma… because I did live through it. I feel as though I’m supposed to have my own opinion, not just one that I’ve read about. I feel as though I’m supposed to remember how he changed the world.
I feel as though… I’m supposed to feel… something… anything…
So what do I feel when I hear that you’ve passed away Nelson Mandela?
In many ways I feel happy. No, I don’t mean this in a sadistic ‘glad he’s dead, dance on his grave’ idea… I mean it with great humility and respect.
You see, you somehow reached the age of 95, that to me is amazing. Not only were you incarcerated for 26 years (hope that’s right?) in a tiny cell, but then you returned to lead your nation, and to change the very way in which black and white South Africans saw each other… But you didn’t stop there, you continued to live on and on and on and provide the world with a great icon to look to for wisdom, unconditional love and Pinterest quotes. You never really faded away. You did absolutely everything that you could to provide the spark that your generation needed. Your life has been complete, it’s been inspiring and it’s been long, you deserve that rest you’ve been talking about.
And now, my generation looks to take the reigns and deal with the problems in the world. It was certainly time for you to pass the torch, and you did so with grace.
The question is whether or not we’re ready to pick it up… and I believe we are. We definitely have our issues, with our sense of entitlement and materialism and corporations and unchecked capitalism going out of control… but our generation is just starting to engage sir. You may have seen the first traces of it, and there’s more to come. I see my generation beginning to get away from the T.V. to do more with their lives, I see them beginning to stand up for what they believe in, I see them willing to pay more for an ethical product, support their local growers and help out their neighbours. I see them looking to change themselves, and thus, change the world.
You see Mr Mandela, we’re just getting to a point where we are beginning to dream again. Sure many among us are jaded, but many others see that there’s a better way to live… that scarcity of resources isn’t always great for society, that money shouldn’t be the only motive, that rich don’t need to get richer and that trickle down economics don’t always work.
The sad fact of the matter is that we have our own apartheid, but it is not one determined by skin colour… it’s one determined by wealth. The loss of the middle class is terrifying and exciting all at the same time. Throughout history when no middle class exists, revolutions soon follow. And with role models like you in our early psyche, I dream of this revolution not as the riots of the 60’s or the killings in the French Revolution… but as a consolidation of two distinct classes, like two distinct races, coming together to form a stronger society. It will be difficult. People with power never want to give it away… But could this possibly be more difficult than what you were facing?
Well… it’s become common knowledge that today 99% of our society is at the mercy of the 1%… The very manner in which we live gives them power, and the ability to dictate our lives… but really, ‘Is it not obvious that someday, this will have to change?’
You see, I don’t feel very connected to you as an individual. and yet I DO feel very connected to the beliefs you stood your ground for. In many ways.
For me, I hear that Nelson Mandela has passed away and it feels me with a great amount of joy to think that I shared so much of my life with him, and it gives me the audacity and the strength to believe that our generation has what it takes in order to dream a little bigger to provide a brighter future.
How about you? How did the passing of Nelson Mandela affect you? And what does the life of such a man mean to you?