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At the ripe old age of 95, Nelson Mandela has accomplished feats that not only make him a humanitarian, but a world icon too.
These feats of a long walk to freedom and his struggle against the unjust system of Apartheid have rightly given him this iconic status, alongside many freedom fighters such as Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Desmond Tutu, and Abraham Lincoln. Mandela became South Africa’s first black president in 1994, instituting a new constitution of 1996 and a Truth and Reconciliation Commission on the basis of providing a forum of acceptance and forgiveness for those who committed heinous acts during the turbulent apartheid years.
Jailed for 27 years by the racist regime, he was released from prison in 1990 and rose to become leader of the African National Congress, steering the country toward a democratic future. A future that was probably not even foreseeable prior to the years of his release, as civil war beckoned, a collapse of a once prosperous economy, and the question arises: how has Mandela left his legacy on South Africa today, and what do we consider to be a hero by our own understanding?
Mandela was not born extraordinary; he became it through the actions he took in the challenges he had faced. He was exposed to a world he didn’t agree with and he took a stand against that world which he deemed as unjust. Today, despite the institutional racism, race is not an obstacle to liberty. If it were, Obama could not earn the title of the world’s most powerful man. Therefore, it can be argued that Obama got the high-score, by obtaining a hero status to many African Americans in a society which is similarly wrought with racial tensions, seen most recently in the ruling of the Trayvon Martin case and the acquittal of George Zimmerman.
This leads me to our obsession with scores that determine a man’s greatness, which can be clearly seen with our world athletes who have obtained the stardom that many merely gaze on in awe at. Usain Bolt, the world’s fastest runner is charismatic and entertaining, evident in press conferences before major events. He has gained the hero status, by which many look up to him. But, then, what about an athlete such as Asafa Powell? He may be a slower runner to a slight degree, which in essence makes him a degree closer to being obsolete in this competitive and rapidly changing world. If social networks such as Facebook or Twitter were a currency, Usain Bolt would be a multi-millionaire and Powell, well, would probably be on the below minimum wage threshold.
This is not to say that there is something wrong when keeping score of our modern day heroes, with my hero being Frank Lampard. These margins exist to differentiate the good from the great. The problem is, however, we have sold our soul for the high score. Lance Armstrong was a hero, for example, but he is by no means alone when it comes to his fall from grace. His story is a public one, but in private, we all chase the high score and we all run our inward ‘Tour de France’. With each leg of the ‘Tour de France’ possessing its own ups and downs, synonymous with our own struggles. We have cultivated a culture of keeping score to measure our success in a bid to find our own freedom. Whether it is in test scores, university rankings or our professional experience hours – we are all keeping score.
It is probably unlikely that we will see another Nelson Mandela, but then, would we want a world where a cry for equality means incarceration? We, as humanity, need to redefine success and we need a new score-card. The current one breeds outward evolution, but inward regression. We have forgotten we are human beings, not titles. Mandela was not keeping score; he was too busy developing humans, not score-cards. When Andrew Carnegie was 33, he wrote “The man who dies rich dies disgraced.” Despite Carnegie being one of the world’s richest men through business success, it was his unique understanding of human motivation and collective compassion that excites those who take the time to learn his story and read his words – something largely similar to Mandela’s compassion and empathy that makes him a true hero of our time.
As our current world reality is constantly shifting and changing, there are individuals and nations such as the United States, that humbly call themselves “The Greatest Nation in the World” who continue to dream-up new ways to make our world better. Perhaps we, including the world’s most powerful man – Barack Obama – need to remind ourselves of a dream another great man once had, where he asked that his children not be judged by the colour of their skin, and their background. Now that the dream has been realised, unfortunately, they are now being judged by score-cards and titles. We need to redefine our world to judge the content of our character, instead of how much of our character we are willing to give up in the pursuit of a high score.
Nelson Mandela, a father of a nation reborn – a hero to humanity.