Conversations with Kids about Personal Heroes: Nelson Mandela

English: Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg, Gaute...

English: Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg, Gauteng, on 13 May 1998 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1989, I broke my curfew at home and ran off to New York City to join a march protesting Nelson Mandela’s imprisonment. I clearly remember the passion of the crowd as we chanted “Free Nelson Mandela” at the foot of the United Nations building.

Nelson Mandela was a personal hero for me. I deeply admire his commitment to the philosophies of reconciliation and nonviolence. His words have inspired me to walk my own smaller, simpler path. Mandela’s life is proof that love triumphs over hate; that peace crowds out violence; that seeing yourself in others is the truth of existence.

When I heard that he passed away, I felt sad. I am mourning that there won’t be any new words from him. I am mourning that there isn’t more.

And I see, now that I am older, that life is just as vibrant now as it was for me in 1989. Although, I am less attached to it now than I was then, the solace of a long life before death is a hollow comfort. The world feels a little less bright while I say goodbye.

Maybe the man was ready to go, but I wish he could have stayed with us a little while longer. Certainly he will inspire, but he was one of those special individuals that manage transcend the mundane. We need people like him with us for as long as possible.

Mandela’s legacy will never stop. The way in which he conducted his life will inspire more and more people. His words of peace will grow forever.

My little seed of inspiration from him is something I share with my children. My kids are familiar with my personal heroes: Martin Luther King Jr, Mahatma Gandhi, Waangari Maathai, among others.

We read books about our personal heroes and talk about the issues around non-violence often. Today, we talked about Nelson Mandela:

I said, “Today one of my personal heroes, Nelson Mandela died. When he was young, he was put in prison because he was organizing against a government of a group of people that were treating his people cruelly, unfairly, and violently.”

He was in prison a very long time. While he was there, instead of hating the people who put him in prison and treated him cruelly, unfairly, and violently, he gave them love and compassion.”

He inspired so many people with his words about love and compassion. That the almost the whole world wanted Mandela out of prison.”

Finally, after a long time, he was released from prison. But, do you know what he did when he got out? Instead of giving hate to the people who put him in prison, he treated them like friends. Soon, he became president of not only his people, but all of the people in South Africa, even the ones who put him in prison.”

So that is why he’s one of my personal heroes. Because he talked about peace even when there was violence around him. Does that make sense?”

The kids asked more questions and we talked more about the story I told them. We read some books and we talked about personal heroes and nonviolence at several times until bedtime.

My seven year old said, “I only have one thing in common with Nelson Mandela: I am a vegetarian because I don’t want to hurt animals. But that’s the only way I am like him. Every time one of my brothers tries to hurt me, I hurt him back. I am not good at nonviolence.”

I answered, “You’re right that you share nonviolence because you have chosen to be a vegetarian. I think what you said is like Mandela. You sound like you wish you didn’t want to hurt your brothers when they hurt you.”

“Yes, but I just get so angry. I can’t help it most of the time.”

“Most of the time you get angry.”

“Yes, but I don’t want to hurt them. But I do want to when I’m angry.”

“Do you remember in jujitsu when you couldn’t do the hogoshi throw? So you practiced. Sometimes you did it the way you wanted to and sometimes you didn’t? But, now it’s an easy throw for you?”

“Yes, now I can do it all the time.”

“Nonviolence is like that. You want to not hit back. So you practice. Sometimes you lose your temper and hurt someone and sometimes you are able to react the way you want to. You keep going. Later, it becomes easier.”

“Nelson Mandela practiced a lot, huh?”

“I think that you have a lot in common with Nelson Mandela.”

“I’m sorry he’s dead. I would’ve liked to talk to him about how hard it is not to hit my brothers.”

Here’s to inspiring another generation of curfew-breakers.

Books we recommend about Nelson Mandela and South Africa:

I love comments and try to reply to each one. I look forward to connecting with you. Namaste

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