3 Ways You Can Be More Like Nelson Mandela

Make a difference

How To Make A Difference In Someone's Life

Nelson Mandela, even after death, continues to inspire you to affect change.  His affable warm smile is like a wise grandfather with whom you want to sit close to, be a sponge and soak up every detail of his tales from rags to legend.

He is a leader by example. His humility endeared him to many.

How can you make a difference in this world? What have you done to change the lives of others? Do you ever stop and think about your purpose?

These are heavy questions, but ones that all of us should ask ourselves.

Rather big shoes to fill, huh?

Likely not because you and I are no lesser or greater than each other. You and I are equal.

Nelson Mandela believed this in his soul. So, confinement within an 8-foot x 7-foot cell for twenty-seven years in prison may have restricted his body; yet allowed his soul to expand beyond his vision for a free South Africa. His only demand is every man, woman, and child live free of racism and systemic discrimination so each can prosper.

Security and the human condition are intertwined and interdependent.

He saw his 8-foot x 7-foot cell as a door to his life’s mission. In his heart, his unshakable push for the civil rights movement meant acknowledgement of human dignity for all in South Africa.

As an astute peace advocate, he realized the fragility of peace and democracy must be actively sustained. As a result, he extended his hand to include both white and black South Africa with calls for a collective voice for innovative approaches to rise above the country’s struggles.

At some point, you wonder with today’s failing healthcare, financial, supply chain and political structures, can you really make a difference. You can.

Nelson Mandela Quote

Nelson Mandela, one of the greatest people of our time and a hero to many, possesses three attributes which can be emulated in anyone’s life. They are: (1) Your internal truths (2) Spiritual leadership and (3) Self-empowerment.

1. Look Inward: Your Truth is Your Heart

Your internal truth requires you to self-reflect, find where aspects of control and fear trigger you.

Self-reflection.  The hardest part is to pause and ask, ‘who am I’?

What was it like for Nelson Mandela to ask himself this question for endless hours in an 8-foot x 7-foot cell?

Current statistics shows the adult attention span is 8.25 seconds.

“The humble goldfish has a 9 second attention span, which is higher than what the average human has.”

Yikes! Goldfish has a jump on you. If you can only focus for 8.5 seconds, what can Nelson Mandela focus on in isolation?

His tenacity exemplifies that you can find time (15, 20, 30 minutes) to pause either by a lake or river, on a rock, a closet…you get the idea.

Get quiet. Take a long deep inhale and breathe in love and breathe out compassion. Do this three times.

This is your time to get real with yourself and focus on what you can do to:

  • Restore your dignity
    • Did you say something you wish you can take back?
    • Are there lies you tell yourself?
    • Is there a bully who presses you into going along when you’d rather not?
  • Give yourself more self-love
    • When did you get a massage? Exercise?
    • Do you start your day with positive affirmation such as “I am love”?
    • Do you make time for naps when your body is tired?
  • Take stock of your self-esteem
    • Gratitude – how often do you show this to others and yourself?
    • Is there a new skill you want to build?
    • What ways do you show or not show appreciation to yourself?
Self reflection confusion

Mind you, this is only a few examples of questions to ask yourself. While your mind can easily send you down a rabbit hole, remember to be patient as this takes time. In the beginning, you experience a restless feeling.

This is ok. 

What you are really doing is getting your heart and mind in balance.

Control. Three common underlying triggers are greed, co-dependency and the opinion of others.

  • Greed. Imagine yourself with Nelson Mandela at the mercy of an apartheid system which dictates what you wear in prison, when to eat, sleep and work. A system that prevents you from seeing your children until they are sixteen. A system that censors your mail. A system written into its laws, businesses, housing and land policies designed to break you. At the root of this greed is to keep power.

    Can you identify your greed for things at the expense of someone else?
  • Co-dependency. This is defined as an emotional and behavioral condition that affects an individual’s ability to have a healthy satisfying relationship. In a dysfunctional relationship, you may take on a martyr’s role to another person in need. When this becomes compulsive, the co-dependent gets satisfaction from ‘feeling needed’ and helpless (victimhood) to break the cycle.

    Racial segregation expresses a behavioral need to reject and project shame onto people of color. When basic needs of food and shelter are ignored, those subjected to such dehumanizing treatment disregard their own needs to keep peace. This is known as avoidant cultural attachment.

    Do you see yourself as a victim? 

  • Opinion of others.  What went through Nelson Mandela’s mind when subjected to derogative name calling like the “K” word?

    Your primal need to belong can cloud your judgement. What may seem like a harmless passive-aggressive statement directed at you, can subconsciously harm you. You may notice you speak up less, second guess your decisions, miss out on opportunities because you believe the incessant voice ‘I can’t do this.” Your lack of confidence affects your ability to perform in various aspects of your life like a job.

    It becomes flawed when you let others control the path of your life.

    When the opinion of others matters more than your well-being, you must take a step back and ask why?

    Why do you not matter?

    Subtle criticisms like you’re a ‘perfectionist’, ‘too bossy’, ‘spoiled’ and overt microaggressions such as slurs, ‘go back to where you came from’, ‘stay in your lane’ or ‘you speak well’ are the insecurities and biases of other people being projected onto you. 

    You may laugh it off, however, deep down you feel the sting as you know it’s untrue.

    It’s a blow to your self-esteem and erodes your mental well-being.

    Do you have the tenacity to tolerate this for twenty-seven years, let alone your whole life?

Fear. Emotions of anger, anxiety and jealousy are rooted in fear. Fear is the threat of physical, emotional and psychological harm.

Mirror Image by rawpixel.com

Nelson Mandela faced death by those who saw him as a political threat. The inability to know when he will be released, see his family, live through another day of hard labor breaking rocks certainly interfered with his thoughts.

While this is external, fear stems from the self. I believe he came to terms with his fears and then transmuted it into a place of internal peace.

The path to internal truth requires seeing yourself from a perspective described by the Dalai Lama.

“From the viewpoint of absolute truth, what we feel and experience in our ordinary daily life is all delusion. Of all the various delusions, the sense of discrimination between oneself and others is the worst form, as it creates nothing but unpleasantness for both sides. If we can realize and meditate on ultimate truth, it will cleanse our impurities of mind and thus eradicate the sense of discrimination. This will help to create true love for one another. The search for ultimate truth is, therefore, vitally important.” (Dalai Lama)

Find a new truth to your existence – you are light. 

2. Spiritual Leadership: Social Influence Begins with a Mindful Foundation

It’s important to be grounded and self-aware to step into spiritual leadership. Your ability to encourage people to work together in a meaningful way is based on taking responsibility for your role as a guide.

Self empowerment

Spiritual leadership is the collective power of individuals as agents of change. With a focus on  compassion, forgiveness, empathy, development of self and service to others, much can be healed.

You can draw inspiration just as Nelson Mandela did from William Ernest Henley’s poem “Invictus” – “I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.”

According to Nietzsche, once the spirit has gone through the stages of the camel, the lion, and finally becomes a child, and is able to create new values and behave by them, the leader also needs to learn to speak his/her wisdom and pass it on.

3. Self- Empowerment: A Personal Sense of Change

To be an effective leader, Nelson Mandela learned to be flexible and open-minded. His personal sense of calling for change meant being present with his thoughts and feelings to alter the ingrained beliefs of racism.

To build a sphere of influence with others starts by taking a deep look at what you truly value.

What do you want for you?

Spiritual development and change are a never-ending process, a continuous rejecting of one single truth, and an incessant progression towards your higher self.

Self empowerment

For Nelson Mandela, forgiveness empowered him to see a larger vision. You can forgive yourself and release others with forgiveness.

With this understanding, in what ways do you bring others along?

Your Positive Energy Attracts Love

By keeping a positive perspective, Nelson Mandela allowed himself the freedom to be his true self. You can as well. It begins with trust in yourself. You can build this trust with simple things such as:

  • Do things you love to do. Whether it’s baking, rock climbing, canoeing you name it, you allow yourself time to recharge. This let’s you be still within yourself to find what is truly best for you.
  • Reach out to a friend, a family member or a co-worker who needs a smile and show them your smile. Smiling opens you up to receive the goodness in you.
  • Listen without speaking. Each of us wants to be heard. When you look your friend or relative in the eyes, it signals you’re present and focused in the now.
  • Practice sympathetic joy.
  • Be aware of judgments with yourself and others. Give encouragement to yourself and others each and every day.
  • Show up. Whether it’s for you or a group, even when your heart may not be in it, give of your time wisely as this gives you the chance to make incremental differences with a person you meet each day. You’ll feel it in your heart, mind and soul.
Self empowerment

Agents of Change are the Advocates of Tolerance and Diversity

Nelson Mandela made the conscious choice to not internalize racism. He became an enabler simply by seeing the world through a door not through a keyhole. He stepped through the door to his dream of a free people not only in Africa but in the world.

If his view had smoldered within a ‘keyhole’, then hate will beget hate.

Gracefully, he embraced his spiritual leadership.  He let himself move to common ground so mutual dialogue, though difficult, can happen. He leaned towards reconciliation to mend fractures from the forces of hurt. He triumphed in a place of healing to make way for peace.

Like Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa, and Gandhi, he led with consciousness unity for change. His actions show a clear wisdom that you and I are inextricably connected to one another and the world. 

Image by foreignpolicyjournal.com

Spiritual leadership is the foundation that drives your decisions. 

Researchers and some scholarly articles focus spiritual leadership on its application in the workplace. I feel this is a misnomer. Today’s workplace drives well-intentioned employees into anxiety, anger, competitiveness, etc. even quit their dream job because outdated systems dismiss creative expression.

The patriarchal structure of work doesn’t cut it anymore. HR departments can only do so much with limited budgets to build programs to satisfy employees.

Spiritual leadership requires a collective focus to do away with ‘fitting in’, passive aggressive opinions and others bullying your voice into submission. A safe workplace community needs less holistic talking and greater inclusive action.

Your spiritual self-fulfillment does not live in your workplace despite societal schooling which tells you it does.

It is within you. Your destiny resides in your hands. What you create, build, live exists in your journey of self-acceptance and primarily love.

Change: Be A Mirror, Not A Judge

As you gain more personal awareness that universal values of justice, respect for each other and compassion helps us live in balance, you’ll also see as Nelson Mandela did:

Your acts of kindness towards others regardless of their ethnicity creates opportunities and a just world. You help others celebrate their renewal and liberation from not only racism but slavery, marginalization, and the degradation of human dignity.

The next time you hear a person of color share their dream of being a teacher, doctor, scientist, technologist, it’s not for you to deny them their dream because of the color of their skin, it’s for you to pay it forward with acceptance and love. You rejuvenate hope.

Spiritual Tenacity and Human Understanding

Image by United Nations

Nelson Mandela perceived non-violence and diplomacy as the most skillful path to end apartheid. His example shows justice and compassion can end conflict. His call for peace, social justice, equality requires courage, humility and wisdom.

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion,” Mandela wrote in his book Long Walk to Freedom. “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 its opposite.”

Good Trouble

Nelson Mandela got into ‘good trouble’ (famously coined by deceased Congressman John Lewis) because his spiritual leadership focused on care, healing and forgiveness, dignity and empathy, service, growth of himself and others.

It’s all too easy to focus on what separates us.  

Let’s face it, change itself unsettles you. Stepping into the unknown may cause you bouts of anxiety. Yet, it is inevitable. Change is constant.

You can pivot at any time on your personal journey, the key is to be gentle with yourself. What may seem confusing is actually you assessing your readiness to lean into a stronger, better you.

To make a difference, you must take small steps. Little by little, over time, you will see the change you want to be so you can affect change around you.

Her story: You and I are one. When we laugh, share and care for each other, it ripples across the universe.