Friday, June 21, 2013

Writings from 2011: "Invictus" and Nelson Mandela

I have a great appreciation for movies based on true stories. Most often these come in the form of inspiring athletics. Thus excited when I had a chance to watch Invictus, I was quite surprised to learn a dear friend had not enjoyed the show. Once I saw the movie for myself it was easy to recognize that her disappointment came from a much smaller focus on the rugby playing than had been expected.

Instead, I was fascinated by the brilliance of a new leader, himself oppressed for 27 years by the very nation he now led. Rather than letting the hatred continue in a power reversal (just consider how that went between the Hutus and the Tutsis in Rwanda), Nelson Mandela grasped the opportunity the Afrikaner's rugby team provided.

Now it must be understood that the native South Africans hated the Springboks, the national rugby team. Not only did they play terribly, they represented their oppressors during Apartheid. With their newly gained power, the people voted to remove this unpleasant reminder of their past. They reversed that decision after their respected President Mandela urged them to reconsider.

A leader worthy of the respect they are given can accomplish amazing things. His staff was often frustrated and confused by how much attention he paid to the rugby team when their nation was on the verge of economic collapse. They couldn't see what he could - that they would get nowhere if they couldn't cross the racial divide and become a unified country.

How did he do this? He used the national sports icon of the oppressors. Sounds crazy, huh? He sent, by Presidential Request, that team to give day camps all over the nation to the poor children. It is no surprise the children responded for the team was only seen as a symbol of the oppressors and not the oppressors themselves.

Now I ask you, how many of you can harbor and maintain dislike for a positive influence on your children? How many are so stubborn that they won't respond in kind when a child finds excitement and joy in a healthy opportunity? Indeed, there are some - usually those seeking control - but most people find delight in happy children.

This creation of good-will had its own softening effect upon boundaries within the rugby team. They began playing for not just their old patrons but for a united national pride. And they played well. Within one year they turned their game around and beat teams no one thought they'd ever beat.

The movie ends without saying how far they made it in the world standings that year. That wasn't the point. The point was that both sides of a long and bitter division came together to cheer on a common goal. And finding the ability to be so united once, in a non-threatening arena, they would be able to do so again. Their country had hope. Hurrah for the wisdom of their leader. Hurrah for Nelson Mandela.

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