The recent passing of Nelson Mandela caused me to reflect on my life, to wonder about my own convictions and personal character.

 The recent passing of Nelson Mandela caused me to reflect on my life, to wonder about my own convictions and personal character.

Here is a man who spent 27 years behind bars, refused early parole for the mere promise of not inciting violence if he were released and then rose to be president of his country. This was a remarkable man, a man true to his convictions and certainly a shining example of the audacity of individualism. Most remarkable to me is the fact that once Mandela rose to power he did not turn on the white minority which had oppressed the black majority of South Africa for so long. Instead he led a reunification of South Africa and strove to make the whites feel safe and secure in a new South Africa.

 This was no ordinary man, he is joined by a very small and exclusive group of individuals who have refused to accept what they felt was wrong, unfair or unjust.

He is as significant in world history as is Gandhi, Sadat, Martin Luther King, Lincoln, Rosa Parks, Rabin, Kennedy and other extraordinary. exceptional individuals. Mandela gives hope to those of us that believe when even one voice rises up against tyranny, injustice and intolerance it is a victory for all humanity. Nelson Mandela's life is an inspiration to those who still believe that one voice can make a difference, begin a movement and change the world.

 Every significant step towards progress has been achieved throughout history by individuals dissenting and moving people/nations forward.

In most cases the leaders of dissent have done so at great personal peril and at great personal sacrifice. Think of our forefathers and George Washington, had the British succeeded in putting down the American Revolution they would surely all been put to death as traitors. I wonder if I would have the personal courage to give up 27 years of my life or life itself over a cause or a belief?

 I missed the Vietnam War by two years and I would have served my country if called to service, but I would have believed I had a good chance of surviving in that conflict.

I don't know if I would have been an eager volunteer if I knew there was a 98 percent chance that I would die in combat.

I don't know if I could serve if I knew for a fact that I would be confined as a prisoner of war for 27 years. These folks knew the likely outcome for their protests and yet they proceeded without consideration for the grave consequences they faced.  

 Nelson Mandela had no realistic expectation that he would survive his imprisonment by the white South African government.

There were many South African blacks who simply disappeared or were murdered for speaking out against the all white minority government back then. Mandela is fortunate to have survived when so many of his contemporaries like Anwar Sadat, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln, Yitzhak Rabin died for their convictions. 

 I say there are many acts of individualism which occur each day and most are unrecognized acts of selfless courage or kindness. 

There are however very few individuals who are willing to put everything on the line to right a wrong, to project an idea, to further a belief or to start an entire movement.

These few individuals are exceptional human beings and warrant our attention, respect, admiration at their passing.