Sometimes, one person’s courage can make all the difference and a few seconds can save a life. A quick reaction or a carefully chosen word can deflect a crisis. When a group of brave individuals who share the same goals and ideals form a movement, they can change the world.
Nelson Mandela did not bring down apartheid single-handedly. But he set an example to several generations of political activists. Incarcerated for twenty-seven years, eighteen of them on Robben Island, he was able to give hope to those who were fighting for their rights, who were being tortured, and who were becoming disheartened by the difficulties they faced. The victory against apartheid is one of the finest examples of how people can join forces to overturn an unjust system.
After the fall of apartheid, Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu set up a new legal system based on “Truth and Reconciliation”, which tried to find out the truth for the victims and their families and to identify those who were guilty. The object was not to forgive—a personal affair which does not concern the state—but to enable people to start all over again and to build a new society. Bloody reprisals between black and white were largely avoided. Not giving in to hatred was an important lesson in courage.
Today, as we face a global environmental crisis, we all need courage more than ever: the courage to think differently, to reject certain things in favor of fewer material possessions, the courage to come together with others, the courage to admit when we are wrong, the courage to reject injustice around the world, and the courage to stand up against ideologies which put us on a collision course with disaster.
The coming years will be crucial for humanity. We have reached a pivotal point at which society can veer in one way or another, and we can all influence the future outcome. This is both disturbing and exciting. Those who have already seized fate in their own hands are aware of the difficulties, but this makes us stronger. In this battle, which must be won without hatred or rancor, everyone has a role to play.