The passing of Nelson Mandela leaves each of us poorer for his loss but stronger by his memory. There are many attributes that can praised, but the most lasting one is his belief and practice of reconciliation. I recall the days leading up to day that Mr. Mandela and the African National Congress were going to take over the government and many people were predicting a bloodbath based on the history of subjugation known as apartheid.
How do you reconcile with people who have devastated your people, taken your land and tried to destroy your very being? Mandela understood that only through reconciliation would there be a chance for South Africa to move on. How many of us would do the same? What would have been the consequences if there was a bloody period of retribution? When you look at the mourners in South Africa, you see a mix of blacks and whites honoring Mandela. In Cambodia I recently interviewed survivors of the Khmer Rouge who lost most family members and were now living side by side with those who perpetuated one of the world’s worst reigns of terror against their own people. They live together because to seek retribution would have led to societal suicide.
How can we use the lessons of reconciliation to close the wounds of past prejudice, discrimination and subjugation? We as leaders in the field of diversity and inclusion need to examine how we can use reconciliation to build a society which values respect and understanding of others. This is the very best way we can honor Nelson Mandela’s legacy.
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