67 Minutes to Compassion? Mandela’s Human Calculation

Robert V. Taylor

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.

Nelson Mandela

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.

Share your stories of 67 minutes or the human calculation here or post your blog comments below!

You might enjoy Robert’s YouTbue video on Being a Repairer of the World

Read the book that inspired the movie Invictus.  Discover Desmond Tutu’s Made for Goodness here

Read or post comments


  1. I appreciate your thoughts and what you’re doing to make a difference in the world. I saw “Invictus” and it touched me deeply.


  2. I love Mandela….can’t believe I haven’t seen the movie! I am ordering right now on Netflix. Since I just came across this post, I missed doing the 67 minutes on July 18. But who cares? I will just do it now! One story about the human calculation, however, is one from our 2005/06 journey across America to engage hearts and minds, create authentic connections and transcend differences that separate us. Here it is:

    We were filling up the gas tank at Mutrux during bone chilling December weather in Columbia, Missouri in 2005. A man pulled up behind the suburban. He noticed the signs on our purple suburban. They aren’t hard to miss with one on each door, and one on the back. The sign on the back tail gate was visible for a change since the car had been in the shop being repaired and the Scotty trailer was not hitched. 

He exploded out of his car before beginning to pump his gas, and approached Roby just inches from her face. “Excuse me…what is GayIntoStraightAmerica.com?” 

Roby sensed the urgency of leaning in and creating a common connection. “It’s a journey my spouse and I are taking around the country, speaking with people who are wrestling with their understanding of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. Our goal is to engage hearts & minds, create authentic connections with people, and transcend differences that separate us.”  
    The man continued, “Well, I’m Christian, and I really struggle with this. What do you have to say to me?” 

Roby quickly knew this was an opportunity and searched for a connection.
“Great, we are people of faith too, and we understand that many people struggle. That is why we are doing this journey.” 

Roby introduced herself and met Joe. Trusting her intuition, she put her arm through his as they continued their conversation and said, “Joe, would you come over and meet my spouse, Dotti?” He agreed.

    As we stood and talked for the next twenty minutes, Joe became “butta” (that is “butter” with Dotti’s southern drawl). Joe shared that he was brought up Catholic, saying, “I got disillusioned with that religion, and now I’m a Baptist.” He proceeded to say, “I have to tell you. You are sick, sinful and an abomination and you’re going to Hell.” Roby said, “Well, thanks for sharing Joe, but we don’t agree with you.” 
    Joe admitted that he is prejudiced and it bothers him that he “cops an attitude” (his words) when he encounters people with whom he doesn’t agree. He spoke of a person in his church (who he thinks is a cross-dresser, but is most likely a pre-op or post-op transsexual). He said that every time he sees them in church, he often has negative thoughts and feelings that lead him to ask himself, “Why should they be allowed in here?” We had an opportunity to teach (remember our definition) Joe about the wonderful transgender community, and also allowed him to sit with the obvious discrepancy of his “love for Jesus” and the diminishing words he expressed.
    Joe suddenly began to soften as he sat in the enormous gap in his words. He put his hand over his heart, admitting that some people midjudge him because of the color of his skin.  Joe is Latino.  “Joe, you are right,” Dotti said.  “Some people do judge you, and that’s not fair.  They haven’t even gotten to know what a great guy you are.” Joe softened more.  He became like buttah, definitely a southern pronunciation for butter. The understanding is the same.
    Being Latino and not a large guy sometimes causes people to have preconceived ideas about him. None of that mattered to us. What we saw was a human being, a child of God, who is probably more similar to us than different. Sady, some may see him and instantly judge, discriminate and even hate…just because of the color of his skin, and the way he looks.  

    His honesty and transparency of touching his heart and sharing his pain enabled us to see right through the hard external shell, which some might have found frightening. We acknowledged Joe for his honesty and awareness. We thanked him for being courageous enough to ask himself the hard questions, like, “Why do I feel such hatred for people who are different?” and approaching us with the question, “What is GayIntoStraightAmerica?” 
    Joe told us, “I am going to visit my pastor today.  We need to have a conversation. I want to talk to him about meeting with you all.” The Joe story always touched people throughout our journey. They couldn’t help but ask if we ever heard from him. We said, “no.” We reminded them that it didn’t matter whether or not we heard from him. A seed was planted and we may never know the fruit of it, but it germinated that day and will bloom somewhere at some time. That much we are certain.

Joe first approached Roby in an angry voice, saying “What do you have to say to me, because I am really struggling with this?” before later doing a 180 to the point of wondering about resources we might have. We granted his request and gave him our card, encouraging him to visit our website and check out the resources, particularly, “What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say About Homosexuality” by Rev. Dr. Lisa Davison.  

    Joe walked back across the parking lot to finally pump his gas.  He walked taller and with a happy gait. He was truly a more empowered person, as were we. It wasn’t about us. It was about all of us. Dotti and Roby could have been you. It is your choice to live authentically and to live your truth. 

We got back in the suburban, looked at one another, and with both thumbs up simultaneously said “YES!”  We suddenly knew why we were supposed to go by Charlie’s to deliver the bananas and spend some time visiting. It was all a part of the bigger picture, and being at the right place at the right time to meet Joe.   

Dotti said to Roby, “Think how different that encounter would have been if you had said to Joe, ‘Hey, buddy, get out of my face.’  Joe would have left thinking, ‘Those gay people.  They are just like I thought they were.’  We would have a story that supports what many people think about people who are anti-gay.  And none of it would have really been true. It would only have been the reality we perceive to be true, what we call our subjective reality.”  

We knew we had experienced spiritual magic. It happens when we refuse to confront fear with fear, and instead give love to fear.  Souls connect beyond differences through these authentic connections and conversations. Light overcomes darkness in that moment, and we are never again the same. Our experience with Joe will never be forgotten.

    We sometimes have to trust our intuition. I am glad Roby did.

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