I recently returned from South Africa where I had one of the most amazing weeks of my life. I was invited to speak in South Africa by the Mandela Rhodes Foundation for Leadership, which is an organization that was created a decade ago by Nelson Mandela, Tony Blair and Bill Clinton, in concert with the Rhodes Foundation (think Rhodes Scholars) to develop up and coming leaders for the African continent. This foundation finds the best and brightest minds from all over Africa, and has created a development program for them to train them in the most advanced and current skills of leadership available. Many of the young people being trained are Rhodes Scholars, all are working on their Phd’s, and collectively they represent the hope of Africa and the desire to create freedom through empowerment, equality and economic success.
I not only got to visit with the leaders of Mandela’s Foundation, but I was also invited to his personal residence and got to spend time with his staff and see the place where he has lived and worked for many years. And I was asked to lead a training workshop to the Mandela Rhodes scholars on the science and power of imagination. I spent a day with them sharing the work on imagination I have been doing over the past 15 years. It was a magical day, filled with insightful questions, curious explorations, and engaging dialogue. But what really caught me off guard was the level of happiness, enthusiasm, and acceptance of different ideas that each of these scholars brought to the table. Their love of learning, human experience, diversity, and community far exceeded anything that I have experienced working with executives, students and some of the best minds in North America over the last decade. And their acceptance, compassion and integration of a white culture that subjugated, marginalized and brutalized them for decades was an astounding display of the best of our human qualities.
It is clear where it came from. After spending over 25 years in a horrific prison, where he was often beaten, tortured, and humiliated, Nelson Mandela emerged from the depths of despicable treatment and taught a nation and the world, that freedom is not only removing the shackles placed upon us by governments, or others intent on our disengagement from power, but freedom is more importantly an internal journey, that requires us to abandon the constraints of vengeance, retaliation, a lack of forgiveness, and pain. It asks us to rise above the frailties of human experience and behavior to find reconciliation and promote unity and healing with all people. As Nelson Mandela himself stated, “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.