I am humbled by the challenge of saying anything about Nelson Mandela that won’t be said more eloquently by others. He was, quite simply, one of the great inspirational leaders in human history.
Perhaps you’ve heard someone described as “free from prejudices.” Letting go of prejudice and judgment is the ultimate freedom. While we carry these categorical judgments, we close ourselves to possibility, to learning, to connection, to a fuller picture of reality. When we let go of them, we become free.
So I, a white man born in the 1950s, have been liberated too. The world I live in now contains daily, routine, and hardly-noticed interactions with people of color, when in my youth these interactions were jarring and rare and troubling. I realize now, as these patterns of judgment dissipate in my own heart, and as a person’s black skin becomes nothing more to me than a different shade of color on a very broad spectrum that includes my own, that what great leaders really do best is to help us to see with new eyes.
And with this new sight I feel lighter, more hopeful, and more fully human. I can’t begin to understand the struggles of an oppressed minority. What I can say is that for my part, the liberation from racial prejudices that I’ve experienced in my life instills in me a sense of abundance in the universe. When Nelson Mandela walked out of jail, despite the monumental struggles that still faced the world in that moment, and in this moment, many of us walked out with him. And when he joined hands in public celebration with his white jailers, it wasn’t just a celebration for people of color, it was a celebration for all of humanity.
I look back on the world of my childhood and realize the stress and mean-spiritedness that surrounded me as the son of suburban white society. Thank God, maybe I’ll also be able to be free… at last.