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On Leadership and Freedom: Happy Birthday Nelson Mandela


“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

– Nelson Mandela

Today is the birthday of a man who reminds me to be strong.

Today is the birthday of a man who reminds me to seek compassion.

Today is the birthday of a man who teaches us that justice can be a restorative act, a healing act, not a rending act of vengeance.

My heart needs these lessons, as does my life.

I want to continue to practice, to try, to live, as though your freedom is important. It is so easy to slip into self-centeredness. It is so easy to forget that we are connected, when all we can see is our own hurt, our own pain, our own needs. Restorative justice is not about subsuming my needs for yours. It is about saying “We are in this together. Can we remember that?”

My heart is also sure that there have been moments when Mandela himself has needed these very lessons he has so masterfully taught us. I’m sure there have been moments when he has felt tired and simply wanted things his way. I’m sure there have been moments where shouldering leadership has felt far more like a burden than a gift. What he has done in those moments, we will likely never know. What we can see, however, is that he took up the responsibility and joyousness of compassion, and stood strong another day.

We can do the same. We can continue to return to integrity, and in doing so, reweave the world. 

Thank you, brother, for reminding us that endless fighting harms our souls. Thank you for showing us there is a better way – even if it feels flawed sometimes – and that even while we are still learning, we can always do our best.

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