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This last week has been a renewed reminder of what a remarkable and exceptional man Nelson Mandela was – not that we need to be reminded. But in living our everyday lives and in going about our daily tasks, it is easy to slip into an unconscious existence where the enormity of this person and his contribution slips into the background of our consciousness – may this never happen.

There are two reasons why we have to keep Madiba in the forefront of our minds: firstly he saved South Africa for all of us, and secondly he taught us what it means to forgive.

Forgiveness does not mean forgetting, disregarding or overlooking what a person or group has done to us. Rather it is a “conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed us, regardless of whether they actually deserve our forgiveness.”

How does forgiveness work? When something bad is done to us, our focus is usually on ourselves – on how much it hurts, and how bad and angry it makes us feel. It accesses our fears and feelings of inadequacy, as well as feelings of revenge and hatred toward the person/s that harmed us. We often allow what happened to define who we are.

When we forgive our thinking (it is a deliberate decision) is focused on the other person. We do not gloss over what happened or condone it, but we attempt to understand why they behaved in a certain manner, we try and see their behaviour in a larger context, and we try to see the person behind the behaviour – who may be fearful, angry or troubled.

Forgiveness is liberating, it releases us from a host of negative feelings and emotions. It gives us peace of mind and frees us from being defined by past wrongs or by others.

We all laud Nelson Mandela’s unwavering spirit of forgiveness, and are able to cite many examples of how he implemented this principle. But are we able to put into practice, what we so easily hail as rousing and inspirational. Are we able to forgive (not condone) our leaders for struggling to find their way in our fledgling democracy? For behaving in a self-serving manner? For making mistakes? If we truly want to keep his legacy alive, we still have a long way to go.

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