Friday, 19 July 2013

Nelson Mandela day - a day late

I started writing this post yesterday but got distracted by the weather and TV and sleep, so it's now a day late, but hopefully relevant just the same...
On Nelson Mandela's 95th birthday, I decided it was time to finally find out about all the amazing things this great man has done throughout his life. At a time when Mandela's health is poor, we are all reminded just how human each and every person is; no one is exempt from the powers of nature, but each of us have health for a certain period of our lives and numbered days to make a difference. It's difficult to find positives in the very negative situation that is Mandela's ill-health. However, it does emphasise the fact that we are all human, no matter who we are or what we do, and someone like Mandela is a fantastic reminder of all that ANY human can do if we only put our minds to something and put ourselves out there. Taking a risk for the slight possibility that we might make a difference to somebody's life, no matter how small and apparently insignificant that difference may be. 
Knowing pretty much nothing about Mandela other than the fact that he was in prison for a while, I decided to start easy first and look at the BBC primary history website. From this I've found that he was in prison for 27 years after fighting through the organisation of rebel groups to overthrow the pro-apartheid government of South Africa (I'll admit I didn't know what that meant, but google tells me apartheid is a policy of segregation/ discrimination on racial grounds). While in prison, Mandela was hailed as a great man and was well respected, even by many prison guards. On release in 1990, he soon became the first black president of South Africa (1994), confirming his title as a hero in the eyes of many. I'm guessing most people know this information already so I'm going to add in some fun facts I found in the side bar: there is a spider named after Mandela; apparently while in prison and after his release Mandela rose early every morning and began exercising at 4:30am (I wish I had his level of motivation); and finally, Mandela's famous brightly coloured shirts are called 'Madiba' shirts, linking back to his nickname. 

It's probably a fair comment that most prestigious people have come out with a few pretty good quotes in their time, and Mandela certainly didn't let down. My favourite of his quotes include: "A winner is a dreamer who never gives up", "No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than it's opposite", and "it always seems impossible until it's done". While looking at these quotes I began to find it difficult to imagine how any mind can put together words and sentences so beautiful as to encapsulate all that any human can want and feel throughout their lives. I've certainly always found quotes a very humbling thing. However, to continue the train that Mandela is just a normal person, his quotes are interesting because, as I said before, all he is doing is putting the thoughts that are deep within each human heart into words, words which all can understand and hopefully begin to put into practice. And that's a fantastic thing to be able to do. But it also defines Mandela again as no different from all the rest of us; to put together speeches the words used must strike a cord with not only the audience but also the speaker, allowing all listeners to come together and unify in one single thought or emotion, each wanting the same thing. So just because Mandela is the speaker reaching out to his audience doesn't make him any different from the rest of us, of course he might be able to string a sentence together better, or have the bravery to put himself out there, but at his core is the exact same substance that is rooted in all of us. As long as we can all remember that, anything can be possible, just as Mandela has proved.
I'm not saying that all of us will be the next Nelson Mandela, or even could be (we all have our own strengths). But we do all have the skills to be the best version of ourselves that we can be, achieving all we are able and making any small differences possible - be it conducting a charity cake sale, or even just smiling at a stranger in the street. We should never underestimate our ability to make a difference and Mandela is a perfect example of that (even if his difference was on a much larger scale than the majority of us will achieve). And actually what has taken me a whole post to try and write about can be summed up in a couple of simple lines from the great man himself: "There is no passion to be found in playing small - in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living".

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