Nelson Mandela has always been a very inspirational person to me. He was able to do something that I honestly do not know I would be able to; to forgive and let go of the wrongs committed against him and to look at what was needed for the good of the whole. Isn’t that the sign of a true leader? A person who is able to look beyond his or her own personal filters and see what is needed to be done to help the entire organization or the entire community.
Yesterday we had two amazing speakers, Charlie McMenamin and James Greer. Before we started the session I saw James get Charlie some coffee, he asked him how many lumps of sugar he wanted. I thought this to be normal friend behavior and did not think much of it. Until they each told their story and it became very apparent that they were not of the same beliefs. James was a Loyalist and Charlie a member of Sinn Féin, a Unionist. At the end of each of their powerful stories, James wanting to end on a high made the point of how far the peace process has come, that him and Charlie were able to sit in the same room together both educating us on the Troubles that had occurred here in Derry / Londonderry. James’ point hit me really hard because of my earlier observation of him getting Charlie coffee. They were not just tolerating each other; they truly have a mutual respect with one another. Not long ago these two men would have considered each other enemies, and even would have committed violent acts against the others’ party. Yet, now they were getting coffee for one another. This ability to find peace and to have mutual respect while sharing different political and religious views reminded me a lot of Nelson Mandela. The ability to forgive, maybe not forget, but to at least put feelings aside in order to contribute to the common good.
Reflecting on this experience I begin to ask myself, how many times have I held a grudge with someone for superficial reasons? How many times has this inability to let go of past wrongs decreased efficiency in my life or workplace? If these two men can find mutual respect, and the ability to agree to disagree in order to maintain peace then I think that it's time for me to put aside the “troubles” in my own life. These men are examples of a true leader; they have the ability to look beyond their own personal feelings to see what is needed for their community. This experience is giving me a new perspective, and showing me that even in the most tense and passionate of conflicts there is an opportunity to find common ground and maybe even peace.