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Nelson Mandela: Someone with the Balance of Power, Heart and Mindfulness

July 18th was Mandela Day: A perfect time to look at how Nelson Mandela exemplified someone who found the balance of power, heart, and mindfulness in his great life. 

As one of the most respected and beloved world leaders of the 20th century, Mandela instigated the peaceful transition of power in South Africa that many had thought impossible. And he accomplished this remarkable feat within the backdrop of his own personal and protracted sacrifice and suffering. Mandela received over 200 awards including the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize and the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom. He is held in deep respect within South Africa, where he is often referred to as Tata (“Father”).

By way of a brief history, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was born on July 18, 1918, and died on December 5, 2013. He was a South African anti-apartheid revolutionary, politician and philanthropist who served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999. He was the country’s first Black president, and the first elected executive in a fully democratic election. His administration focused on dismantling the legacy of apartheid through collaring institutionalized racism and fostering reconciliation between disenfranchised parties.

The roots of Mandela’s strength went back to his upbringing in the rural Transkei, the homeland of the Xhosas in the Eastern Cape province. He was related to the paramount chief of the Thembu people, to whom his father was chief councilor, and he was brought up with a strong sense of responsibility and tribal pride. His father died when he was nine, and he went to live at the paramount chief’s Great Place, where he would watch the chief dispensing justice. This gave him an early interest in the law, which he pursued when he attended Fort Hare University and the University of Witwatersrand.

While living in Johannesburg, he became involved in the ANC after the Afrikaner government established apartheid—a system of radical segregation that benefited the white minority. Mandela rose to prominence in the ANC’s 1952 anti-apartheid campaign of defiance. Although initially committed to non-violence, in 1961 he led a sabotage campaign against the government. In 1962, he was arrested, convicted of conspiracy to overthrow the state, and sentenced to life imprisonment.

After serving 27 years in three different prisons, an international campaign lobbied for his release, which was granted in 1990 amid escalating civil strife. Mandela joined negotiations with President F.W. de Klerk to abolish apartheid and establish unprecedented multiracial elections in 1994, an election in which he led the ANC to victory and became South Africa’s first black president.

Let’s take a look at how the 3 dimensions of emotionwere manifested in this emotionally intelligent leader:

Red (Power) Dimension: Mandela was a fighter. Mandela was a leader. Mandela was a leader who fought against all that was wrong in his society. He was known for being both stubborn and loyal and at times exhibited a quick temper. He was renowned for his mischievous sense of humor, and was a man of unflappable conviction. For 27 years in prison he refused to compromise his principles. In the face of criticism from apartheid leaders, from members of his own party and from international leaders, he stayed his course. Mandela was driven to accomplish his mission and never stopped moving towards the ultimate goal of liberating his country. Now that is, in terms of the 3 dimensions of emotion, high quality +Red! 

Blue (Heart) Dimension: Constantly polite and courteous, Mandela was attentive to all, irrespective of their status, and often talked to children and servants alike. He always looked for the best in people, even defending political opponents to his allies, who sometimes thought him too trusting of others. His reputation for +Blue was epitomized in his regard, kindness and forgiveness for his captors while in prison and after. After his release, when he had ample power to retaliate, he forgave and honored his captors instead. This attitude toward his “enemies” is something very few people could do. And because of this mindset he was able to negotiate and collaborate even with his archrival, President F.W. de Klerk, in order to abolish apartheid. (Once again something congress should pay attention to.)

Mandela was known for his humility. When meeting someone he frequently said: “It’s an honor to meet you.”  He never presented himself as being above or better than other people. He also famously wrote in his memoir, “I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.” His humility is reflected in his musings on leadership: “It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.”*13*

Mandela was not a perfect man, and in acknowledging his flaws, he becomes even greater. In his latter years, Mandela acknowledged his weaknesses, his turbulent youth and his tempestuous relationship with women. Mandela once said, “one of the most difficult things is not to change society—but to change yourself.”

Yellow (mindfulness) Dimension: Mandela had a notable Scarecrow, maintaining a mindful approach under great duress. How could someone endure so much and still keep going? Mandela had the capacity to transcend himself for the sake of higher causes. Regardless of his personal pain and unbearable frustration, he was never overwhelmed to the point of giving up his resolve to make things better.

He was a true Witness. “I went as an observer, not a participant. I wanted to understand the issues under discussion, evaluate the arguments, see the caliber of the men involved.” He admits that he was vulnerable to personal human temptations but on a grand scale, his resolve demonstrates a remarkable capacity in the Yellow (mindfulness) dimension.

Synergy. When you put all these things together you get a dynamic illustration of the synergy of courage, heart and mindfulness. His life is a true testimony to transcendence and a high level of human functioning.