Mon • Dec 9th, 2013 • by Tom Nees • Comments 7
In the mid-‘80’s I was in Washington, D.C., serving as director of the Community of Hope. The anti-apartheid movement was gaining momentum in the U.S. Mandela was still imprisoned. Everyday anti-apartheid protestors were being arrested in front of the South African embassy. I decided to take my turn. Along with the others that day I was arrested, handcuffed, transported by the police to the nearest precinct and there released without being charged or even identified.
It was a relatively timid thing to do, although more than a little unnerving. At the moment I was committed to the struggle, not only with the inner-city poor in Washington, D.C., but for freedom in South Africa for which Nelson Mandela had been imprisoned for over 20 years.
Mandela is often described as a moral leader bringing us along on his journey from prison to president with hope, healing, forgiveness, and reconciliation.
As the world joins with South Africans this week to celebrate his life and legacy it’s a good time to ask what it means to be a moral leader.
Moral leadership is more than ethical leadership.
Ethical leadership describes personal characteristics such as integrity and honesty. Doing things the right way, avoiding deception and deceit.
Moral leadership includes that and more.
And yet moral leaders are not perfect human beings. They acknowledge personal failings and frailties. Mandela made that clear in his various writings. He wrote about being embarrassed by all the attention.
Moral leaders are engaged in the struggle for good against evil, right over wrong.
For Mandela it was the struggle for freedom in a nonracial democracy over the oppression of apartheid. He knew this was possible only by a peaceful transition guided by forgiveness and reconciliation.
Moral leaders are followed for their ideas rather than force.
Mandela emerged as the leader of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa during his 27 years in prison. By the time he was released in 1990 he had already defeated his enemies in the court of public opinion. He gained the high ground and become a rare revolutionary – a moral leader followed for the force of his ideas. He had no position, power or authority from which to advance his vision.
Moral leaders are committed to causes greater than personal achievement.
He said he was willing to die in the struggle for the freedom of his people. While he lived a long enough to receive a Nobel Peace prize and win the veneration of the global community, that was not what he lived for.
Moral leaders cause us to examine our own values.
Mandela persuaded his followers as well as his foes to offer forgiveness and seek reconciliation rather than retaliate with revenge. What could have been a civil war became a peaceful transition to a nonracial democracy.
He inspired us to examine our own lives however far removed from South Africa. Do we offer forgiveness and seek reconciliation in our own personal interactions? Are we living for anything worth more than our own achievements?
This week of remembrance brings the struggle for racial and economic justice, peace and reconciliation, to the fore again.
What does it mean to be, and follow a moral leader in our times?
What causes are worth living for, being arrested for, even dying for?
And shall we pursue those causes with hope, healing, forgiveness, and reconciliation?