Monday, July 18, 2011

Happy Birthday Nelson Mandela!

Today is Nelson Mandela's 93rd birthday! Because he is such a remarkable man, I felt it was important to write a blog today dedicated to him.

You may have learned a little bit about Nelson Mandela's life if you watched the beautiful movie "INVICTUS" released in 2009.  Mandela became South Africa's first black president in 1994 after spending 27 years in prison for his fight against racist apartheid rule, and was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts. When he took over leadership of South Africa, it was his humility, love, and constant striving for peace and equality that helped unify and heal his country.

He is full of wisdom and has shared so much inspiring advice over the years. I am anxious to buy a copy of the new book "Nelson Mandela by Himself" - which was released by his foundation today.

Lately, I've been reflecting on this quote from Mandela:
"If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart."
I can think of nothing more true. This is why we work so hard when we are overseas to learn the local language. Whether it is Afrikaans, Xosa, or Telugu - I do my best to at least learn how to greet someone and to say Thank You. I will never forget the day I met an Indian man in Thailand, and mis-spoke to him in Thai. When he told me he was from India (not Thailand) I asked him what area. When he said Andhra Pradesh and I responded with "Thank You" in his native tongue, I thought he would pass out from shock! His eyes lit up, and he grabbed his chest as the biggest smile spread across his face. A few moments later we were sharing stories and laughing like old friends, and he was offering to buy myself and my husband drinks!

Of course, in the countries we work in regularly, we are trying to learn as much of the language as possible. We've learned enough Thai to get around town, and enough siSwati to have simple conversations, and I'm hoping I can learn more Hindi when we return to India this fall. It's a lot of work, but it is so worth it when we see the joy (and surprise!) in the faces of the locals we meet. There are so few westerners who have cared enough to even try to learn their language... so when we do, it is a sign of love and respect.

I heard an interview with a white typist who worked in the President's office when Mandela won the position in 1994. She talked about the day she met Mandela in the hall, and he began to speak to her in Afrikaans, which is considered the "white people's language" (and was the language of Mandela's prison guards). She shared that when he spoke her language to her, she was so surprised and overwhelmed that she began to cry. What a beautiful story of what humility, love, and hard work can do!

I hope today, you will celebrate the birthday of this incredible man by choosing to love and serve those around you, as he has for so many years. I'll leave you with a few more of his beautiful quotes. Happy Birthday Mr. Mandela!

"It is in your hands to make our world a better one for all, especially the poor, vulnerable and marginalized" - Nelson Mandela

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” - Nelson Mandela

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” - 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
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” - Nelson Mandela

“The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” - Nelson Mandela

“I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.” - Nelson Mandela

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” - Nelson Mandela

"There is no passion to be found playing small - in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living." - Nelson Mandela

"As I have said, the first thing is to be honest with yourself. You can never have an impact on society if you have not changed yourself... Great peacemakers are all people of integrity, of honesty, but humility."  - Nelson Mandela

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