So Mandela Day seems to have become Mother Theresa Day. International do-good, feel good day. A day of mass benevolence and virtuosity. A day when we convince ourselves that charity is world changing.
But it’s not.
Don’t get me wrong, charity is both necessary and laudible as a means of alleviating suffering, but I question whether it’s the best way – the most authentic way – to honour Mandela’s memory.
After all, Mandela wasn’t a humanitarian. He was a Boxer. A Litigator. Madiba was a Revolutionary. A Militant. A Political Prisoner. A Terrorist. Yes, remember when Mandela was labeled a terrorist, long before the word “terrorist” held the meaning it does today?
Long before Nelson Mandela became the world’s grey haired, nattily dressed archangel, he was a controversial, world-class Disruptor.
Indeed, for most of Madiba’s life, there was absolutely nothing feel-good about him.
Because Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was a Troublemaker. “Rolihlahla” means “Troublemaker” in isiXhosa, yet we all seem to forget that’s essentially what he was. Of course, recent history has begun to judge Mandela more harshly, to question whether he should have, in fact, made more Trouble in order to truly transform South African society. But few can doubt that he embodied moral courage, that he spoke his Truth, took deep risks in pursuit of his vision, challenged power holders, built powerful coalitions for change, and lead with a potent blend of empathy and outrage.
Few can doubt that apartheid wouldn’t have ended if Nelson Mandela hadn’t made some Trouble.
So what if there was nothing feel-good about Mandela Day? What if, instead, it was about taking risks in the name courageous change? About courting controversy in the name of principles? About convening uncomfortable conversations. About marrying outrage and sympathy with radical empathy? What if on this Mandela Day, we recognized that we cannot change our worlds without making some Trouble?
Here’s a thought, how about this Mandela Day we all make a commitment to Find our Inner Troublemakers?
Watch this space and I’ll talk about how.