Imagine being imprisoned for over a quarter of a century, unjustly. This is what happened to Nelson Mandela on August 5th, 1962 when police captured him. His life was taken away from him.
He was convicted of conspiracy to overthrow the state, and sentenced to life imprisonment in South Africa. He was verbally and physically harassed by white prison wardens, and spent his days breaking rocks into gravel, until being reassigned a few years later to work in a lime quarry.
It’s insane that such an incredible activist and human being was thrown into jail. He is someone who was capable of so much, and he had to spend his time breaking rocks. Can you imagine that happening to you?
Mandela was initially not allowed to wear sunglasses while working in the lime quarry, and the glare of the limes in the sun severely and permanently damaged his eyes. There’s no way I could have forgiven the people who did that to me, but Mandela said that resentment is like drinking poison, and then hoping you will kill your enemies with the poison. This is a guy who could hardly see, and yet he continued to study and use his time wisely while in prison. He remained an optimist.
While in prison, knowing that he was sentenced for the rest of his life, he was working on his autobiography and studying in hopes that he would have another opportunity. He prepared himself for an opportunity that he couldn’t even see.
His optimistic outlook is incredible, especially considering how alone he must have felt. He was hardly able to see any visitors when they came, and their visits were highly infrequent. He didn’t get to see his daughters for thirteen years, and yet he remained positive, even while imprisoned in the worst circumstances possible. Mandela focused on the beauty that was still available to him. He said that soccer made him feel alive and triumphant despite the horrible situation he was in.
He ended up developing severe tuberculosis, and was aggravated by the dark conditions in his solitary cell, lost part of his eyesight, missed his mother’s and firstborn son’s funeral, and spent twenty-seven years in prison. He was finally freed in 1990.
Yet, despite all of the horror that he had to endure, he forgave these people and stayed focused. He didn’t let the pain or anger eat away at him. He didn’t fuss with all the “would-haves,” “could-haves,” and “should-haves.” He didn’t live in the past, but triumphed forward toward the future in the present.
Let’s consider seeing him as an example. Let’s consider putting our pain into perspective. You may feel wronged, you may feel hurt, and you may feel taken advantage of, but by focusing on these things and accepting that as your story, you are allowing yourself to feel disempowered.
Mandela stayed focused the whole time he was in prison. He prepared himself, and as soon as he got out of jail he gave a speech to 100,000 people. I am blown away by the fact that he was able to stay positive and hopeful throughout that entire process. He said, “I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.”
This optimistic philosophy, which required a lot of forgiveness, led him to become one of the greatest activists and leaders in human history. It allowed him not only to let go of anger, and stay peaceful when he was released, but it allowed him to free an entire country and change the world. And because of that, he eventually won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.
Would you be able to do what he did? If you feel that you aren’t capable of this type of greatness, think again. Mandela is not a messiah. He feels that he is just an ordinary man who was in an extraordinary situation and rose up to the challenge. You too are being challenged in your life, and you too have the same capabilities to forgive whoever has wronged you, and to forgive yourself.
You must proceed forward even when you don’t know what’s promised because, like Nelson Mandela said, “There is no passion to be found in playing small, in settling for a life that’s less than the one you are capable of living.” So, if you feel someone is bringing resistance to your life, don’t fight against him or her. It’s only going to paralyze you.
Instead, look at it as an opportunity to practice kindness and forgiveness, because in the process you are going to inspire people, free yourself to make a bigger difference, and be happier and more fulfilled.
We have all faced pain. I am sure you have been hurt and wronged at some point, but now is the time to let all of that go, to gain something bigger. As soon as you can let that go, there’s something greater that life will present to you. So let it go.
And remember that forgiveness is the alchemy that can change your soul into gold. It’s going to return the possibilities to your spirit. So let the possibilities return, and forgive.