Nelson Mandela:  The Power of Forgiveness

By Shlomo  Maital  


Mandela’s Robben Island prison cell

  If you yourself had been incarcerated for 27 years in the tiny cell shown above, and then released,  how willing and eager would you be to forgive your captors? 

   Nelson Mandela forgave.  Elected President of South Africa, his personal stature and charisma led fellow black South Africans to studiously avoid a campaign of vengeance and violence, that seemed almost inevitable, against the white community that had imposed apartheid on them.  And his campaign began with his own personal forgiveness. 

     Mandela kept South Africa from descending into rage and violence and allowed its citizens to build and rebuild. 

     We can all learn a simple powerful lesson.   Amnesia is a necessary condition for peacemaking.  France and Germany harbored bitter memories and in three terrible wars,  Franco-Prussian, WWI and WWII, sought vengeance.   Only by joining in the European Union and burying the hatchet, have such wars been ended.   China has bitter memories of Japan’s brutal occupation in WWII.  Those memories may keep Asia from building its own economic union and are leading Japan and China into a confrontation neither wants nor can afford.  Israelis and Palestinians each harbor deep grudges, going back 100 years.  But as an expert recently noted, the long memories in the Mideast are a huge obstacle to making peace.  We need to forget, to forgive and move on.  History is simply a sunk cost. And sunk costs are irrelevant in making rational decisions.

     We could all learn much from Mandela.  I hope all those who praise him, and eulogize him, pay close attention to what he taught us – forgive and forget.  There is no other way to live in peace.