Nelson Mandela (1918 – 2013)

“If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.”

When newly-elected President Nelson Mandela invited white South Africans to stay in government and serve under his administration, he sent a powerful message to his deeply divided country and to the world: mainly that the hate you feel for your enemies will persist unless you’re willing to conceive of the possibility that you could do more with them than hate them. It is a model applicable for any new government that has come to power after a period of prolonged strife.

Resolving conflict may require transforming one’s viewpoint. Often where there is violence, not everything about your enemy is wrong. And not everything about your opposition is right. Within most contexts, conceding one’s own role in the conflict continues to be a brave and even revolutionary step toward a more reasonable coexistence.

Mandela conceded for the purpose of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission that, under his leadership, the African National Conference, in its fight against the inhumanity of apartheid, committed human rights violations of its own. He even criticized members of his party, who wanted to cover it up. When has a politician on the international stage ever been so self-effacing, so honest?

The perseverance shown through his decades-long prison term, while leading the anti-apartheid movement, also provides a powerful example to both politicians and everyday folks that expediency may be a feeble route to success. Tried and lasting conviction, paying one’s dues, may lead to far greater results, for people will trust you. They will believe you.

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