I look back at what went on in the 1990s and it seems like a completely different world. An impossible world. The changes that Nelson Mandela helped to leverage into place sound like things that should have happened decades earlier. We were heading toward the end of the 20th century and apartheid still existed? Indeed it did. Mandela changed all of that, and I’m not alone in thinking that a major aspect of his greatness was his ability to deal with his opposition with grace. He wasted not a single moment on negative energy, letting the past go and focusing solely on the future.
It’s really a shame that his positive outlook still remains such a rarity in much of the modern world. We like to think we’ve come such a long way, but then you look at Mandela and what he did — and how he did it — and it’s hard to escape the feeling that in some ways, not much has changed.
The temptation here is to indict our political systems, but the problems are much deeper than that. People outside of the political realm are just as divided in their opinions and attitudes. Was that caused by politics or is it the other way around? Maybe the distinction is irrelevant. It doesn’t change the fact that ill will has become more common than either hydrogen or stupidity. It’s everywhere, from television to newspaper editorial boards, to discussion forums on the Internet. We’re soaking in it. The issues themselves have become nearly irrelevant as so much time is spent in the futile attempt to blame the “other,” the “other” being the “person or group who is not like me.” We like to have enemies. It comforts us. It gives our hate and mistrust meaning.
We’ve already plunged headlong into the holiday season, when empty platitudes are hard to avoid. When politicians aren’t foul-mouthing their opponents, they’re making sure to say all the right things about the season. Their cynicism and hypocrisy is deep and wide, because this year they will surely chime in with their own platitudes about Mandela. Sadly, after all of the accolades die down, they’ll be right back at it…and so will we. Yeah, joy to the world. Whatever.
Rest in peace, Mr. Mandela. And thank you.
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