Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Optimism, Mandela, and the gift of positive thinking.

There can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way in which it treats its children. - Nelson Mandela.
In September 2011, I visited Robben Island and among the things etched in my mind from that visit are: the pit in which prisoners broke stone on a daily basis; and the inclusion of both the stories of those white prisoners who were part of the struggle for freedom and the former white guards as tour guides. It so behooves us to appreciate the fullness of all stories.
The late professor Rex Nettleford had a unique way of turning phrases but his constant reminder that "the jailer and the jailed are both in jail" (think Rousseau)  ring home every time I think about Mandela before apartheid, Mandela under apartheid, and even more so, Mandela post apartheid. "As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn't leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I'd still be in prison", Mandela said of that glorious morning that changed the arc of South African history forever. That was the consequence of positive thinking.
Lest we forget, Mandela was 95 years old when he passed. He spent the last 23 years as an extraordinary transformational world leader whose embrace, commitment and promotion of reconciliation gave him stratospheric status. Before that he was imprisoned as a saboteur and branded a terrorist for 27 years, eighteen of which he served on an isolated island surrounded by shark-infested waters mostly chipping rocks in a quarry or behind bars in an 8x8 cell.
Those years of imprisonment with hard-labour would have made mere mortals bitter, revengeful, and hungry for blood. And yet, as the years rolled by thousands of days turned into nights and into days again; light faded to darkness and into light over and over; and freedom became oppression and oppression the platform for reconciliation and emancipation!
One tenet of the Optimist Creed (originally written by Christian D. Larson) says: Promise yourself... To forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future. Many Optimists use this tenet as an excuse for side-stepping serious reflection on their failures; but I insist, while history is not meant to be a shackle it can only serve as a genuine guidepost to a better future if we understand how from whence we came can shape the future we envision.
In other words, the future does not have to be mere coincidence but the consequence of planned action.
Motivation is always rooted in circumstance. The past is the shoulder upon which we stand to see the future. Marley immortalized the words of Garvey in song: Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery - and foreshadowed the very essence of Mandela's long walk to freedom.
Acknowledging the despair, the adversities, the wounds, the pain, the struggle and translating the lessons learned from being down into a new sense of spirit, awakening, enlightenment, and freedom take positive thinking.
Envisioning the world as a better place and doing what it takes to make it so for all humanity to enjoy a quality of life that is uplifting and productive, meaningful and fulfilling, purposeful and edifying is positive thinking.
So while we celebrate the life of Mandela, I implore us as Optimists to take time out to reflect on the full story; and in that reflection I hope we can find motivation to do what is right and invest in the future - that world in which we all want to live.
A big part of investing in the future lies in the way we treat our children. As Optimists our investment and commitment must mean holding the hands of our children, partnering with them in uncovering their many gifts, and together planting seeds of hope and positive vision of a better world for all.
The best way to do that, in my humble opinion, is through education. After all, in the words of Nelson Mandela, "Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world".

Patrick Prendergast
Director and PGI Chair
Sunset Optimist Cub of Liguanea