As the father of modern South Africa, Nelson Mandela had to fight against the hardships of political domination before he could live his dream of democratic and free society. His life echoes the purpose of equal opportunity for his people, which he fought to achieve and was prepared to die for.
He navigated this victory by learning one of the most important virtues. Mandela was a master in patience. In the trial that sent him to prison for life, he knew he risked receiving the death penalty but did not shy away from speaking for hours about fighting for human rights and liberty.
It was a much longer walk to freedom before he became the icon who brought peace to the racially divided country. He would spend twenty seven years of his life as a political prisoner playing a long game before he was able to accomplish his dream by bringing an end to South Africa’s apartheid.
As a young man Mandela was impatient and he wanted change yesterday but prison taught him to slow down. It reinforced his sense that hasty decisions leads to error and misjudgment. Mandela would say:
“We should not let an illusion of urgency force us to make decisions before we are ready.”
He knew that history was not made overnight. He understood that racism and repression had been incubated over millennia, colonialism had developed over centuries, an apartheid that had been created over decades and none of it would be eradicated in a few months or even years. His whole life embodies patience as he learned how to postpone gratification to win in the long run.
“In the long run” was a phrase he would often use. It was the way he thought and at which his mind worked best by letting the ideas soak in. This made Mandela a long distance runner with prison being his marathon race of patience.
Today in a world where our culture rewards speed, have made impatience a virtue? Do we confuse instant gratification with expressing ourselves, when we seize every moment to respond to every tweet or post our thoughts on social media without stopping to think? It is true that we might miss an opportunity if we don’t act in the moment, but there are also times where we might make a better deal or do a better job if we act less quickly. Through patience we give ourselves the time to think and reflect on the bigger picture.
Before becoming a global advocate for human rights and winning the Nobel Peace Prize, Nelson Mandela’s patience and calm guided his thought process and decisions. He has shown us that through virtues like patience, we have the ability to change the world.