When someone of true greatness dies, people invested in their own personal development are compelled to reflect on every aspect of the deceased’s life and infuse any positive attributes they discover into their own. There’s no doubt that Nelson Mandela’s passing will illicit such deep introspection for many years to come.
By now everyone is familiar with the key details of Mandela’s life: prisoner for 27 years, South Africa’s first black president, global leader and icon. But what are the defining characteristics that set Mandela apart from the rest of humanity?
Whether sporting a three-piece suit while performing presidential duties or a colorful Indonesian-style batik shirt (which only a few people can pull off) at an international event, Mandela always looked dignified and classy. Any student of human personality would quickly realize that Mandela was comfortable in his own skin – a trait most likely developed during his long prison sentence. For Mandela, prison provided an opportunity to learn about himself – motivations, biases, and fears. On several occasions, he admitted that prison matured him. He definitely emerged from prison with increased self-confidence, and a resolve to effect positive change in South Africa.
More than anything, people are attracted to Mandela’s strong inner core – the part of him that shines so bright, but most people lack. He was by no means perfect, but he made an honest attempt to be the best human being he could be. Ultimately, that is the essence of greatness – the ability to successfully set your own path amidst the noise and confusion of a world eager to place you in the category of the ordinary.
Gerald Hagan is an African Analyst living and working in Arlington, Virginia