Like so many people,I have been awed by the life and impact of Nelson Mandela. And today, the anniversary of his birth in 1918, I continue to draw inspiration from this extraordinary man and hero of our times.
In a letter dated 1 February 1975, written from Kroonstad Prison, he wrote:
“In judging our progress as individuals we tend to concentrate on external factors such as one’s social position, influence and popularity, wealth and standard of education. These are, of course, important in measuring one’s success in material matters and it is perfectly understandable if many people exert themselves mainly to achieve all these.”
Hardly contentious, I would have thought, but he goes on to write:
“But internal factors may be even more crucial in assessing one’s development as a human being. Honesty, sincerity, simplicity, humility, pure generosity, absence of vanity, readiness to serve others – qualities that are within easy reach of every soul – are the foundation of one’s spiritual life.”
I might question that they are ‘within easy reach’, but I believe his words capture something inspiring as to personal motivation for public service. They reflect an observation made by President Barack Obama in 2010 in a forward to ‘Nelson Mandela, Conversations with Myself’ that: ‘Through his choices, Mandela made it clear that we did not have to accept the world as it is – that we could do our part to seek the world as it should be.’
What a gift this one life has turned out to be for so very many. And what a legacy for continuing inspiration his life will be.