Quiet Thoughts: How I Choose to Honor a Great Man

Photo: Another picture from the Old North Bridge. Quiet Thoughts often require quiet places, even in pictures. Also, The Husband took a picture of the new hole in the wall at the New House, but it’s super blurry… so… 


How can I make the teachings of peace, progress, and equality accessible to two little boys who will grow up in privilege? That’s what I’m thinking about this morning. My quiet thoughts are wrapped around the passing of President Nelson Mandela and his legacy. It is a fascinating thing to watch an entire world mourn for a single man. No person is “born” to do such profoundly amazing things—to be impactful on such a grand scale takes a courage, grace, and tenacity that come about once in a lifetime. I could never look at my sons and say “I expect you to do what Nelson Mandela did in his time.” But then again, I’d like to be able to pass them the torch, teach them about courage, give them a strong sense of justice, cultivate the strength of their voices, and send them out into the world with a compass that looks toward equality and progress.

Such a standard, once again, is impossibly high. I would really be satisfied if I could simply make this man, who we revere and elevate above so many others, accessible to my sons. I want to make his words available to them, his thoughts and deeds early and regular lessons in their educations. I want them to learn about him beyond the surface understanding of “he was the man who ended apartheid in South Africa.” I need my sons to gaze upon his picture and see him as more than a civil rights leader, but as a man, as a great thinker, as a person who started a movement, and whose ideas and words peacefully changed the world. It’s my responsibility to make him more than a picture on a page, a name to be remembered for a standardized test.

But for two sons who will grow up in privileged suburban Boston, how will I be able to make this happen? What is my obligation, as a mother of sons, to the legacy of Nelson Mandela?

I think that the best way that I can honor Mr. Mandela, his life and his work is to raise two boys with the strongest moral compass that I can cultivate. To create for them an unconditional true north that is always pointing them toward equality and justice. While I could never ask them to take up the leadership of nations, I can require them to, every day, commit good and peaceful acts that perpetuate the ideals of understanding and cooperation. As my sons’ first teacher, it’s my duty to put into their hands and minds the thoughtful words of great and peaceful men.

I feel an obligation to hold my boys to an impossibly high standard of empathy, pragmatism, and cooperation. I want to teach them to see people and be moved by the human story. I want them to understand that “justice” is beautiful, but elusive, and not always easily (or cleanly) found. Such lessons start early, with the basic building blocks of “please” and “thank you” and asking how a person’s day is and then sincerely waiting for the answer. My actions must the good examples that they can build and expand upon. But even now, as Ursa Major learns the concepts of sharing, conflict resolution, and decorum, I cannot let up on my demands of him simply because these lessons sometimes bring him frustration, anger, or tears. I have to understand that these lessons only get harder from here, as his world becomes more complex and the greater world becomes all the more complicated. My obligation to Mr. Mandela is to never let up, to keep a watchful eye, and to mindful that I’m always teaching.

As the world mourns and tributes spill from the great and common alike, we should be mindful that the greatness of this man should not be measured by pouring of emotion that we’re experiencing now, nor the wall-to-wall recap of his life and his story. His greatness will be measured decades from now when the young men and women who we are now raising and mentoring ascend to leadership roles and take on the responsibility of steering us toward the future. Will they know the words of Mr. Mandela? Will his words echo in offices great and small? Will his philosophy and deeds whisper in their actions and decisions? As I write this, I must wonder: Will the future successes and failures of these young people reflect on Mr. Mandela and his life, or will they reflect on how well we are able to teach his words and deeds? May we be unwavering in our responsibilities.

I am so tired today and yes, I’m still in pain. Meredith’s wonderful suggestion of seeking help from the LDS reminds me that The Husband and I never took the time to seek a church community out here. Indeed, we’ve been out here since August and I don’t feel like we’ve fully found our place yet. While I’m not so sure that attending church these last weeks would have alleviated the current stress that I feel at this moment, I am reminded that community is something that you have to find and then actively participate in. It’s work, just like any relationship. I’ve got to commit myself to a 2014 of building better relationships here in our new home. The stronger relationships that we can build here in town, the safer and better off our sons are.

On this December Friday, I wish you a warm coat, safe driving, and good weather. Many of you are likely hunkered down as this crazy snow storm comes across the country—I hope that you stay safe, stay warm, keep your power and your roads stay safe. If you are still shopping for the holidays, I wish you happy hunting and awesome deals. I wish you a moment of reflection over a Mandela quote and possibly an appreciation for something in your life that is just a little more just because of him. I wish you a morning to sleep in and a very good cup of dark-roast coffee when you wake up.  I wish you muffins and maybe chicken pot pie. I wish you the opportunity to give good advice, preferably to a young person. And maybe the bravery to take up a mentoring role if you are so able. I wish you a little time in a community of your choosing, where you feel the warmth of belonging. I wish you joy on this December weekend.

See you Monday.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. zeudytigre says:

    I am reading the many eulogies to Nelson Mandela with some disquiet. Too many are trying to grasp at his legacy for their own political gain. I did not know him. I was not his mother, sister, wife, child or friend; I do not know if he was a good man. He undoubtedly achieved great things which improved his country and may inspire us to try harder to do the same in our own small way. He often spoke profoundly, putting into words thoughts and ideas that can move and encourage us to lead better lives. He was a figurehead in a movement that changed a country for the better; he did not do it alone but he was a vital cog in the wheel of progress.

    Like you, I often think about how I may raise my children to be good citizens as well as good people. If I can send them into the world as strong advocates for peaceful but steadfast improvement, acceptance and tolerance then I feel that I will have made a small contribution.

    We cannot all be great but we can try harder to be good. Mandela fought for so many freedoms that our current leaders are trying to control and suppress. I will teach my children to keep asking for equal rights and tolerance for all. I will also think about the points you raise about privilege. That is a hard one to get children, who have no other experience, to understand.

    1. K.C. Wise says:

      I think that when it comes to having my sons think about their privilege, I’ll be focused more on their opportunity and responsibility to give back rather than admonish them for their privileged position. I think that sometimes the conversation goes somewhere along the lines of “you should be ashamed that you have what you have”–I’m certainly guilty of steering conversation that way and though sometimes I think there is a little bit of justification, when it comes to children who are born into opportunity, such points are misplaced.

      What I can do for my sons is instill in them a great sense of empathy–The important skill of seeing people as whole and human rather than just means to an end or a provider of a wanted service. I want my sons to ask the benign question of “how are you” and sincerely care about the answer. To say “please” and “thank you” to whoever wherever and mean it. I want my sons to either serve or give generously. I just want them to use their privilege as a tool to uplift others rather than to simply buttress their own needs and wants.

      As to your point about Mr. Mandela, you are right. A lot of people are simply saying the right things in order to make themselves look good. Though I feel like the general sense of “this is a man who sacrificed greatly so that his country could be a better place” is a theme that is true, no matter what. I’ve been interesting commentary, as the internet is full of dark corners and crazy people, but I know that I feel a sense of loss knowing that the world lost a powerful soul. When history goes back to splice up the nitty gritty, the good and the bad, I think that the overarching theme will hold up: This was a man who gave himself in his fullness to his nation. In so doing, he gave the world a profound example of forgiveness, pragmatism, commitment and empathy. Those are my takeaways…

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