Much is being written about the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela, the former president of South Africa, who died Thursday. Though most of those writing have much more knowledge than I, I was moved to write something anyway.
Having been touched by Mandela’s story and his vision, I asked myself: How do you spend 27 years in prison and come out anything but embittered? How does someone focus on forgiveness and healing—not just of yourself but of an entire nation? Who among us could do that?
Mandela himself answered that question: “People may say to spend 27 years in prison you have wasted your life. But the greatest thing for a politician is whether the ideas to which you’ve committed your life are still alive, whether these ideas are likely to triumph in the end, and everything that happened showed that we have not sacrificed in vain.”
Mandela’s ideas — that apartheid should be overturned and that his fellow countrymen and women deserved a voice — did triumph in the end. He did not get stuck in bitterness and dreams of retribution. His unselfish sacrifice teaches us there’s overwhelming power in forgiveness; it liberates the forgiver and those who are forgiven. By putting bitterness aside, Mandela’s forgiveness became the engine for change that allowed his nation to accomplish the seemingly impossible.
In 1994, when Mandela participated in the first open election in South African history and was inaugurated as the country’s first post-apartheid president, the world acknowledged his sacrifice and celebrated his triumph.
Mandela is being remembered as a moral giant. Have you been inspired by his life and legend?
I recently heard a quote from a colleague—she said it came from Oprah Winfrey—that if you’re thankful for what you have, you’ll end up getting more, whereas if you concentrate on what you don’t have, you’ll never have enough. This really resonated with me, particularly with Thanksgiving upon us, as I sat down to put into words what I’m thankful for this year.
Whenever I’m feeling a bit down, I have a specific train of thought that I return to, again and again, that puts things into perspective. I think about how my loved ones and I have our health, which is automatically a key indicator of good fortune. Then I think about my wife—the best person I know—and how lucky I am to be married to her. I think about my wonderful family, including my dog, Wally, who, at one year, has finally settled down and become a good dog. (We weren’t quite sure there for a while.) I think about how I live in the United States and how I get to make a good living at what I believe to be the greatest place in the world. Pretty soon, all of those negative feelings are gone and I’m the most fortunate guy in the world.
This year I continue to be grateful for all of those things. I’m also grateful for the firm’s management team and its great leaders and staff. I’m thankful that we’re all on the same page, have the same core values, and that the difficult decisions we sometimes have to make aren’t morally difficult—that they’re governed by the overarching principles by which we operate. I’m grateful for our firm’s reputation. I was recently at a professional event, and one of the speakers was discussing iconic firms. He cited Plante Moran, saying he admired our effervescence and charismatic culture. It’s always gratifying—and humbling—to receive such praise.
Last but not least, I’m grateful to those of you who take precious time out of your day to read this blog. I’m always amazed to run into someone who references one of my posts.
What about you? What are you grateful for this Thanksgiving?