Monday, October 25, 2010


I recently watched the movie Invictus. For those of you who have not seen it, I recommend it highly. In a nutshell, the story is based on the newly elected President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, and his use of the South African Rugby team to unite his country.

For this blog, I would like to touch on two of the main themes which I took away from the story.

First and foremost is the portrayal of Mandela's understanding that he must convince the black citizens of South Africa to forgive the white minority for its years of Apartheid. In one scene, he responds to his security staff's request for more men by assigning a number of white officers. When the chief of security rightly points out that these men were most likely active in the arrest and harassment (and possibly worse) of blacks, Mandela asks him to forgive them and that only through this most powerful weapon, forgiveness, can the country be united. Later in the movie, when Mandela hears of a decision to suspend the rugby team (the Springboks), its colors (green and gold) and its national anthem (an Apartheid inspired song), he pleads with the committee to reconsider their vote. He explains that the team is part of the identity of the whites and that by denying them that identity they are acting no better than those who promulgated the awful Apartheid system. He tells the committee members that they must be better than their enemies and that, in fact, the white minority are no longer the enemy but partners in the new South Africa.

Perhaps we should all consider this example when we next seek revenge against someone who wronged us. Whether it be on a personal level or country on country, the world would be such a better place if we acted to unite rather than fight.

The other main point is that when Mandela is reminded that he is risking his presidency because the very people who elected him want an end to the Springboks,
Mandela responds that the moment he worries about losing his elected position is the moment he loses the right to be the leader. He also says that sometimes the people are wrong and that it is his job as their leader to show them the correct way.

Of course, I know this was a Hollywood portrayal of Mandela and was certainly enhanced to make him appear bigger than life, but from what I have read the description of his capacity for forgiveness and for his great sense of responsibility to unite all of South Africa, I would bet it is not too far from the truth.

Is it at all possible for our current president to act this way? We know he has the capacity to discern right from wrong. His push for more equal access to health care, his attempts to reign in the powerful money makers of Wall Street, his forward looking policies of creating green jobs and preserving our environment, and his moral (yes I said moral) understanding that discrimination against gay Americans violates our great founding documents all indicate the possibility of greatness. But to be called a great leader, one must take the populace forward, sometimes by telling them that they are wrong. And not just by saying it, but by telling us why through the use of plain words and personal examples. My bet is that for those on the fence, those that sense there is a rightness to Obama's agenda, this approach will be enough to earn him their respect and support.

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