By Chandler Hart-McGonigle, Digital Communications Intern
December 5, 2013, the day of Nelson Mandela’s death, was a heart-breaking day for people all around the world. Nelson Mandela was more than just a man, prisoner, protester, and leader; he became more than human when he became a symbol for peace and justice—not only among his fellow South Africans, but for all humans around the world. He showed the world that it was possible for bitter enemies to set aside their differences and compromise for the common good. For many years before his death, it was clear that Mandela was more to South Africa and the world than a former South African president. He became, even in life, a symbol of what one can achieve with true dedication to a cause, an authority whose name inevitably stood tall alongside other inspirational figures like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.
Being a larger-than-life figure, Madiba’s death was deeply felt, and it seemed at the time that it would also serve as a reminder for leaders and citizens around the world that it is possible to improve our global community. The countless tributes, biographies, and other commemorations for Mandela’s life indicated a cautious hope that things would get better—that such a loss would inspire people to be better and work harder towards creating a world we can all be proud to live in. But taking stock of the state of current crises around the world, it seems that progress has, instead, been devastatingly absent. People are still being murdered, displaced, and persecuted. Leaders are still failing their people, and justice seems farther and farther away.
Today would have been Nelson Mandela’s 96th birthday. Instead, we celebrate Mandela Day without his presence for the first time. We will all take a moment to remember the humanitarian giant and his endless list of achievements, feel the sadness of this great loss for humankind, perhaps even devote 67 minutes to helping others—and then Saturday will come and not much will be different. The feeling of the impossibility of solving the problems that we face around the world will resurface.
In the face of such persistent heartache, it is easy to feel like the work we do is meaningless, and that no matter how hard we try to facilitate change, we cannot heal the world’s wounds. But perhaps the most important lesson that we can take from Nelson Mandela’s legacy is this: you don’t have to be extraordinary to change the world. Instead, working to change the world will make you extraordinary. Nelson Mandela’s greatness was born of his principles and his desire to live by higher standards. His life exposed flaws just like any other human being, but he saw his country’s need for a leader, and he rose to the occasion. He was not perfect, but his legacy is one that has inspired millions around the world.
Mandela left South Africa a wholly changed country from 60 years ago. His role in shaping the nation and the impression he made on the world will never be forgotten, and rightly so. On this day, we should ask ourselves, “Why should Nelson Mandela be remembered?” I believe the answer is that we should remember him to celebrate his impressive legacy, but also—and most importantly—we should use his memory to remind ourselves that change is possible and that we are all capable of creating it.
Photo Credits: UN Photo/John Isaac; UN Photo/Pernaca Sudhakaran