Flexibility and Progress - why can't our leaders be more like Mandela?

December 8, 2013. In 2003, Dr. Gilla Family noted in the Creativity Research Journal, "Plenty of evidence exists for goodwill, honest effort, and dedication by individuals, groups, and nations...South Africa broke the back of apartheid and is on the road to reconciliation ...
Plenty of good reasons exist for realistic optimism that catastrophes can be avoided." 1

While the context of Family's article was environmental reform, her mention of South Africa's change of political direction was significant. As people the world over remember and draw inspiration from Mandela's conciliatory leadership, the rarity of such peacemaking accounts for much of the admiration.

There are many reasons why compromise was desirable in ending apartheid. Just as Kennedy and Khrushchev both new —at the time of the Cuban missile crisis— that inflexibility could cost more than it would possibly gain, Mandela and the apartheid leaders surely knew that they had more to lose by standing their ground. But South Africa wasn't faced with nuclear Armageddon; something in the society must have allowed for their willingness to come to terms and end apartheid.

We know about the African idea of "Ubuntu" (humanity, human-ness). But was there something equivalent in the white society that allowed them to meet Mandela halfway? There must have been, since most colonial societies in Africa and elsewhere have ended with the overthrow of the colonizers. It could have gone that way in South Africa.

From whatever source their spirit of conciliation arose, there is a growing need to be inspired by the late Nelson Mandela and his partners in true progress. Meeting halfway is a fact of life in politics, and conflict over responsibility for fossil fuel pollution and climate change is increasingly political.

As the world's leaders gather to pay respects to the great man, one hopes they ask themselves "can we be more like Mandela?" and answer "Yes we can."

1. Gilla Family (2003): Collective Creativity: A Complex Solution for the Complex Problem of the State of Our Planet, Creativity Research Journal, 15:1, 83-90

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"The Progress Trap - and how to avoid it" Copyright Daniel O'Leary, registered at
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