What can we learn from Nelson Mandela?

There is a new film out on Nelson Mandela who was an amazing man. Much written about him, but is there anything that we can learn from him about going through a relationship breakdown?

From South Africa’s perspective the relationship between black and whites had completely broken down, so much so that there were rules to keep them separate. Nelson Mandela experienced that separation some of the consequences of trying to change some of these rules and was put in jail for 27 years. He experienced the pain of friends being killed and tortured next to him. In this situation people normally breed hatred and mistrust expressed through anger, bitterness and violence.

Somehow in the midst of all this he choose the route of forgiveness, and from this he created a spirit of reconciliation in the country. This was not just at his own, person to person level, where he built relationships with people such as Willem de Klerk the previous President, or his jailor from Robin Island, but at a national level. He instigated programs to bring people together to hear their pain and hurt and deal with them in a different way. His ability to recognise many, many wrongful acts and not decree justice through more punishment (like an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth) but enact forgiveness on a corporate scale is remarkable. He knew that the country needed healing more than it needed justice and that fact saved many, many lives of black and white people. He actually gave South Africa a future for both races together.

In one way nothing can compare with these events. But in another way it reminds me of a desperate divorce. The couple have really hurt each other and the pain is severe. They continue to get each other back with more painful actions which keeps the cycle of hatred going. It’s so severe that a judge has to actively force the couple apart through legal injunctions that force the couple not to see, talk or connect with each other – it’s complete separation. Can anything be done?

What South Africa shows is that something can be done. We too can choose forgiveness even in the worst of situations to create something better for us. There are always difficult choices to make in our relationship breakdowns but forgiveness gives us the ability to move on and gives those around us a future as well. If you have children together this can be critical, however it is something for us all whatever our situation.

Thank you Nelson for being brave enough to do this on a huge scale and showing us the fruit of your work.