Can 67 minutes make a difference? The organizers of Mandela Day believe that 67 minutes of compassionate action is one way to celebrate Nelson Mandela’s birthday on July 18th. It’s not about the minutes. It is about keeping the remarkable legacy of this iconic man alive. It is about the human connection.
Nelson Mandela turns 92 on July 18, 2010. He is increasingly frail. It is difficult to imagine the world without his towering moral presence among us. On his 90th birthday Mandela spoke about the cause of freedom for all that his life has been devoted to. “After 90 years of life, it is time for new hands to lift the burdens” he said. “It is in your hands now.” His legacy and moral authority live on when we share in his vision through what we do. There is nothing frail about this legacy.
His lifelong legacy about democracy, freedom, equality, respect, diversity, responsibility and reconciliation are unique. But it is his generosity of spirit and compassion that reverberate so powerfully. They are the markers of his spirit and the quest to be fully human, fully alive. He is iconic because his compassion and generosity of spirit are an invitation to cultivate those same qualities in our own lives and work.
In 1998 I participated with Mandela in a memorial service in New York City to celebrate the life of Trevor Huddleston. Huddleston was an English monk and priest whose book, Naught for Your Comfort, revealed to the world the brutality of apartheid. Against this deliberate crushing of the human sprit committed in the name of God, Huddleston pointed to a more inclusive, justice seeking and compassionate God.
The memorial service in New York was scheduled so that Mandela could be present to participate in honoring this humble man. The 5,000 people gathered that afternoon heard Mandela’s affection for Huddleston. They noticed that each man shared a profound joy in our oneness as people. They heard that the smallest actions we take in life add up. What we do matters.
The call to action of Mandela Day to give 67 minutes to make the world a better place embodies the idea that each small thing we do is important. Each of the suggested minutes represents one year that Mandela has given his life to in the cause of freedom for all.
Is this just a gimmick? The question is answered by how we think about using those minutes. I immediately imagine what it would mean to watch Invictus with a young person who is part of the orbit of my life. Some of those minutes would be used in talking about the movie. Not only to re-introduce young people to Mandela’s legacy but to engage the questions of how his example gets lived out on the playing field, in the classroom and in life.
In the film Invictus, Mandela’s senior aide expresses the frustration that many in his circle felt about his keen interest in the predominantly white national rugby team winning the World Cup. She tries to make sense of it by telling him it must be a “political calculation”. He responds by saying, “It is a human calculation.” It is a telling moment. It stands in stark contrast to the political calculations that we have come to accept as a norm from so many leaders in multiple fields. The human calculation is a mantra for leadership and everyday living.
The human calculation shifts the way we think of using the 67 minutes of service and tribute to Mandela. Mandela’s compassion reflects the compass of his life, that every human being has the capacity for goodness. His compassion reflects the passion with which he believes that together is always better than the forces which divide. The human calculation reflects a generosity of spirit forged in the most arduous of circumstances.
67 minutes may not seem like much. But it establishes a practice, a way of doing and a way of being. Nothing that we do is wasted! It’s a reminder that we each play a part in polishing the world. It is in our hands.
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You might enjoy Robert’s YouTbue video on Being a Repairer of the World