Philosophy for everyday life from Nelson Mandela

Nelson-Mandela

Nelson Mandela. We all know that he is the epitome of strength and inspiration – and following his sad passing in and a subsequent film documenting his life there has been further recognition and an outpouring of praise for him from a younger generation, many of whom had no idea how instrumental and influential he was not only in changing the lives of many South Africans, but also for his infinite wisdom imparted on the world.

Whenever I feel despondent or negative I always look up his quotes, amongst others (they’ll be covered on the blog too!) This is a man of incredible strength and integrity who despite suffering the most unbelievable injustice, spending precious years of his life in prison for standing up for what he (rightly) believed in, showed no malice, spite or indignation towards his captors, enemies or towards life in general. Instead he had only forgiveness, kind words and wisdom learned from his time in prison to impart after his emancipation.

Whilst I’d never encourage comparison of experiences, this really does make me think: ‘Who am I to feel that my life is over or futile because of what has happened to me?’ We all have so much opportunity in life, yet it is often ourselves and our personal perspectives on it and what happens in it that hold us back.

Below are my favourite quotes from Nelson Mandela. They shift your perspective when you’re feeling down or hopeless – they’re filled with positivity and reason and encouragement.

Do you have any of your own that I have missed here? Please share them!

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‘Do not judge me by my successes. Judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.’

This is especially poignant because each one of our lives are full of ‘failures’, large and small. Except they are not really bad things at all – they are challenges which force us to grow and change. The important thing to focus on is not the fact that you fell down, but the fact that you got back up again, and how you did so. That in turn is a success in itself – in addition to the fact that more successes will come from each of your failures.

‘May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.’

This one scares me! It’s so true. It’s very much like the old adage ‘We only regret the chances we don’t take.’ If we constantly choose based on playing it safe and being risk-averse with our lives, we miss out on all the things we really want to do but just feel too frightened to take on.

We only get one life – we have to do the things we want to do, before it’s too late.

‘Your playing small does not serve the world. Who are you not to be great?’        

We all have the potential the right to be whoever and whatever we want to be. We just have to work hard and believe in ourselves! Not only do you short-change yourself by not reaching your full potential, you may also short-change others who you could have influenced for the better with your experience and wisdom!

‘As we let our light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same.’

Inspiring others by simply making your own positive life choices and having confidence in yourself is completely subconscious yet it can really help give other people the opportunity to shine. I have met several people in my life who have an incredible energy, yet they are also open and honest about their weaknesses which makes them so human and even more remarkable! Speaking candidly about what you can’t do, whilst recognising what you can do (and more importantly do well) is really inspiring to others.

‘Everyone can rise above their circumstances and achieve success if they are dedicated to and passionate about what they do.’

There were so many barriers in the way for Mandela. He didn’t come from a privileged background, yet he worked hard to become a lawyer despite being expelled from a good school at an early age for taking part in a protest. Of course after this he fought hard up against the powerful white domination movement and apartheid on his entry into politics, a dangerous and difficult struggle wrought with difficulty and anguish. He even encountered personal issues such as his divorce from his first wife.

Sat in that prison cell, year after year, unable to speak to his wife or his children, he must have felt as though his life was over. The battle had not been won – in fact everything indicated that he had lost the battle.

Yet still he found that courage and strength to continue. When he was released, despite having spent a large portion of his life in prison, he was not discouraged or disheartened and instead continued his fight for equality, becoming President of South Africa in 1994 at the age of 76.

This is because he was passionate, dedicated and determined in the extreme. Which leads nicely onto the next quote…

‘When people are determined they can overcome anything.’

I have a tattoo dedicated to my dogged determination. It has got me through every single struggle in my life. It’s absolutely true that if you want something bad enough, determination kicks in and you will achieve it no matter what. If that determination doesn’t kick in, it’s not important enough to you.

‘There is no passion to be found in playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.’

Very much like his quote on playing small, this encourages us to live the life we want, imagine, and are more than capable of.

‘As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.’

People often talk of ‘forgiveness’. Forgiveness is really difficult because it involves accepting and allowing the actions of others which have upset or injured us. We are conditioned not to let people ‘get away’ with things and to hold a grudge.

Whilst we shouldn’t forget what people have done to us, it is possible to forgive in a sense. Not for their benefit, but for yours. Holding on to that anger and resentment only serves to make you feel bad – it poisons your life going forward, not theirs. By not forgetting we can also learn from what has happened and protect ourselves in the future as we can hopefully deal with new situations using knowledge learned from the last.

Mandela realised that if he held on to all the bitterness and resentment (and he certainly had reason to feel that way) he could not move forward with his life, enjoy his freedom and continue his campaign for equality and freedom. Whilst many of us won’t experience anywhere near the level of injustice or condemnation that Mandela had to endure, we can at least apply his mentality to smaller issues of our own.

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