Nelson Mandela’s Legacy of Civility

Nelson Mandela, Voting in 1994
Nelson Mandela voting in 1994, in South Africa’s first multi-racial election. Photo by Paul Weinberg, via Wikimedia Commons.

All too often we underestimate the power and virtue of civility. You just want us all to be nice, folks say – as if there is anything wrong with that. But civility is about so much more than manners or mood. It is about so much more than politeness or political correctness. Civility is about intentionality and hard work.

It takes intentionality and hard work to choose courses of action that are difficult and often unpopular. It takes intentionality and hard work to put the common good above personal agenda, anger, frustration, greed, or fatigue.

Civility’s payoff, however, is huge. And there is no better example than Nelson Mandela.

A hero in life, the choices Nelson Mandela made and the leadership he displayed helped achieve a peace and a future for South Africa that no one had ever even dared to dream, much less act upon. His example and legacy sets the standard for statesmanship and selflessness.

How tragic if we only admire him, and do not follow his example.

Among the Quotes of the Month the Institute has sent out to our members over the years are several from Nelson Mandela.

Go and speak to your enemies. (But know that) you cannot change someone else unless you first change yourself….

I am not a saint, unless you define a saint as (being) a sinner who keeps on trying.

Over and over Mandela encouraged the rest of us to believe that we can make the same kind of choices that he did, with results that would be just as magnificent. He never pretended that those choices would be easy – only that they are essential.

It always seems impossible, until it is done.

If we would honor the man with more than words, we will work for a culture of mutual respect and cooperative effort rather than one of polarization and personal gain. The stakes are high. The choice is ours. Join us.

— Tomas Spath and Cassandra Dahnke, Institute co-founders