I first learned of Nelson Mandela while in high school. I was captivated by his quiet and humble courage. To me he embodied the power of living one’s values so completely that those around him couldn’t help but change their own hearts through his example.
The quote above served me more than any other from Mandela’s timeless wisdom and serves as his greatest legacy to me.
As I endured cancer as a teenager I was bitter, angry and assigned blame for years and it brought me no peace.
Diagnosed with Asperger’s, ADHD and Dyslexia as an adult gave me new villains in the form of disabilities to be angry at and blame for my lot in life.
To this day I work with clients and peers who are perpetually at war with a villain they have assigned blame to for whatever experience in life they wish would go away.
I realized that this powerful lesson from Mandela had finally taken hold on a recent trip to Colombia where I had the privilege to speak on parenting children with autism.
My colleagues and I were interviewed for Colombian national television on the work we’d be doing there. My realization came from an in the moment response from the reporter who asked me, “What does being on the autism spectrum mean to you?” My response, “I see it as an opportunity to be resourceful in a way ordinary people may never have to be.”
I realized that I was better served by seeing my circumstances as an opportunity instead of as an oppressor.
Nelson Mandela turned a 27 year prison sentence into an opportunity to prepare himself and refine his character instead of a reason to blame those who’d put him there.
A significant part of my life philosophy has become to see myself in a world without villains. That is, to see myself not as someone who is being done unto, but as one in a position to do things that make a difference in the lives of others. I am routinely called upon to stand against something, to protest, to boycott. But that approach to life is simply not in my nature. Not anymore.
Instead I simply lead by example, I practice what I am for each day and when people, places or things seemingly stand in the way of that I see it as an opportunity to educate, to dialogue and learn from one another. Not as an opportunity to demonize, punish or blame.
As our leaders stand before the media and proclaim their respect for Mandela they do so with a forked tongue. They praise his legacy while reserving the right to villainize each other and often encourage us to resent each other as well. They are choosing to be blind to Mandela’s greatest legacy to them. Leadership through humility and the fundamental realization that leadership is about peaceful service toward supporting the dignity of every person you serve and not toward bolstering the ego and self-interest of a few.
There may never be another Nelson Mandela in our lifetime. Just as we have only known one sun that shines upon us each day. Like the sun we may not be able to generate a light so bright, but like the moon we can most certainly reflect it.
Thank you Mr. Mandela for shining so brightly upon me that I can reflect the lessons you taught me to others. I finish with this moment from the life of my 15 year old son Zach that he proudly shared with me yesterday.
“A guy who bullied me last year and has been bugging me constantly since then came up to me again today, and I said something to him that I’ve been wanting to say for awhile. I didn’t rip on him, or insult him, as that would imply he got to me. No, I THANKED him. I thanked him for humiliating me and shoving me into the ground mentally like he did. Because, from that, I rose back up stronger than before and more ready to spread positive energy to others. So thank you for doing that, sir.”
Zachary saw the opportunity to transform an experience with a villain into an opportunity to develop resilience. So much love and compassion is available to us when our villains are transformed into teachers.
Please share how Nelson Mandela or anyone else empowered you.
Thanks for being you.
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About Brian R. King
Brian R. King LCSW (ADHD & ASD Life Coach) is a #1 Best Selling Author, 25-year cancer survivor, adult with Dyslexia, ADHD, and Asperger’s. He’s also the father of three sons on the autism spectrum. He is known worldwide for his books and highly engaging presentations that teach the power of connection and collaboration. His strategies empower others to overcome their differences so they can build powerful and lasting partnerships. His motto is: We’re all in this together.