“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.” — Nelson Mandela
I’m not here to tell you who Nelson Mandela was, or what he did. I could tell you about his life. I could tell you about some of the many lessons there are to be learned from his actions: equality, freedom, peace. But this post is not only about Mandela; this post is about you.
Think for a moment about what it is you care about. For Mandela, this was breaking down the apartheid regime in South Africa and working to achieve equality and rights for all people. Think about what it is that you hope to see from the world, what you dream for humanity to become. Now do something. Never falter and always keep an image of the future you envision taped on your dashboard to remind you to let your hopes, rather than your fears, drive your choices and determine your destination.
Throw yourself into that for which you would be willing to die and humble yourself by understanding that yours is a cause whose survival is more vital than that of any one person. In his 1964 “Speech from the Dock” Mandela made it clear that democratic society in which all people “coexist harmoniously” was a cause for which he wanted to fight and live, but was also perfectly willing to die. If a traffic director attempts to dissuade you from your destination and direct you to another, blow through the barricade and know that there will be police sirens behind you. But know that you owe it to yourself and to your cause to stand behind your choices with immovable tenacity. While imprisoned for his incitement, Mandela refused conditional release on more than one occasion; conditions were not what he was fighting for.
“When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no choice but to become an outlaw.” – Nelson Mandela
Know that after accepting your willingness to do anything to see your cause through, you will see it through. There will be those who try to stop you. And there will be those who do not believe in you. There will be those who claim to care before abandoning you and your champion cause with little thought. Do not let the bitter thoughts of these people cloud your mind; your cause demands your attention.
Changing the world can be a daunting task, but know that individuals are the people who make the difference and the people who create both history and the future. Every movement and every revolution started because someone said “no” and decided that things were going to change. Then, they changed them.
“No person anywhere in the world should not dare to dream of wanting to change the world for a better place.” – Nelson Mandela
By his own measurement, Nelson Mandela was—and because of his legacy, still is—a significant character in the history of both South Africa and the world. Do not be sad about his death. He continued forward through inequality and oppression, prison and tuberculosis, to become the fist democratically elected South African President, a Noble Peace Prize Winner, and a great-grandfather. He died at 95; he died having made a difference. Do not dwell on the wonderful things that he did. Instead honor him by setting your mind and your energies to the things that you will do to continue Nelson Mandela’s legacy and pursue social justice and human rights in a way of which Mandela would be proud: relentlessly and unceasingly. Mandela’s work is not finished; fighting for a better and more humane world is your work. Do not give up on the world; change it.