I’m trying to decide how I feel about Nelson Mandela’s death. I’m sad, but I’m not sure why. I never met him, and I was too young to really comprehend what was going on in 1994. I’m clearly disconnected from the realities of what he did for South Africa. I’ve been given the abridged, high school lesson on why he’s such an important guy but I’m only now, 20 years later, starting to understand what it all meant, or means. What is becoming apparent though is that there is a lesson here.
Rolihlahla showed that you can’t change anything if you live by the rules. You can pretend and play inside the bounds of the rules but nothing life changing, let alone world challenging, happens there. Sometimes the rules are simple and of very little consequence, sometimes they’re a little more complex and dire. Sometimes you go to prison for 27 years for breaking the rules. When you’re a child, the NO comes from your parents. As you get older, it’s the teacher followed by the Principal. Somewhere along the road and surprisingly so, it’s your friends who begin dishing out the NO along with the rest of society and your particular brand of culture or religion. Then it’s your boss and your boss’ boss. The State. Then finally (and scarily) it’s you dishing out the NO, to yourself.
How do you swim upstream from all of this? How do you tell what is right from wrong, and not necessarily in the ethical sense but just in the terms of your choices. There’s no affirmation and at some point you must doubt yourself. How do you hold onto that ideal or conviction when everyone is saying NO. Everyone. How do you do it when even your god says NO.
Finding the courage to do it anyway is what I want to take out of the trouble maker’s life.