Time to create the Mandela Awards

Given all the unrest around the globe, including riots in Egypt and Thailand and war in Syria and Central Africa, it's natural to wonder if the world's gone mad.  Ditto for the upcoming Winter Olympics in Russia.  Because of increasing concerns about personal safety, many participating athletes are telling their friends and families to stay home.

Had he still been alive, I wonder what South Africa's Nelson Mandela would make of all this?  I'm guessing the experienced, aging Madiba would be scratching his head for an answer; but, knowing the nature of the man is reassuring.  With enough time, I'm sure he would have come up with a solution.  Here's mine:  The Mandela Awards.

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According to a Dec. 9 All Africa editorial, "Mandela was a leader long before he became the first post-Apartheid South African president; he always exhibited leadership traits even during the 18 years he was imprisoned in terrible conditions on Robben Island and later nine more on the mainland.

"He's everything you want to see in a leader.  It's sad that the world is in a serious deficit of personalities like Mandela, especially in leadership circles, at a time when humanity is faced with enormous challenges, ranging from diminishing resources and military confrontations, to global warming and failing health care systems.

"Great leaders start with small steps.  They start by fighting evil in their communities and working to unite and develop their people.  They care about the safety and wellbeing of neighbours and do everything within their means to help create a better world."

Yes, a better world.  Isn't that what we want in 2014?  The Mandela Awards will be the springboard for this vision.

In his Dec. 5 commentary, Samuel Gorovitz, a professor of Philosophy at Syracuse University, explains, "In seeing the humanity of his oppressors, Mandela displayed rare moral discernment.  He was more fully present in, and more fully connected with, his moral environment than what we typically think is possible.  He thus enlarges our own moral sensitivity, our sense of the possibilities of moral discernment.

"When we lose patience in the face of small disappointments, or lose grace in the face of real affronts, or lose hope in the face of seriously discouraging challenges, we might do well to recall this model of courage and moral leadership.  It reminds us of what we could be at our best.  We have lost Mandela, but we need never lose the lessons his life has taught us.  He will remain part of our own legacy, if we understand that enhanced noticing and empathetic reconciliation, rather than the demonization of others, are the best means to a peaceful future."

The Mandela Awards will be the embodiment of this reconciliation. 

Even a former apartheid politician mourned Mandela.  Pik Botha, who served as his country's foreign minister in the last few years of the apartheid regime, and helped negotiate Madiba's release from prison in 1990, paid tribute to the "incalculable" impact Mandela had on South Africa and the world.  Botha said he was grateful to have known and worked with Mandela, whom he later befriended.  He said the challenge for South Africa now is to sustain his legacy.

The Mandela Awards will sustain this ongoing challenge.

Nelson Mandela truly was a one of a kind world leader.  I'm not sure we will ever see someone with his courage, vision and compassion again any time soon.  That said, what about the untold thousands of idealistic people living out Mandela's values every day in every corner of the globe?  Shouldn't we recognize their contributions to the greater good?  Of course we should. Honorees could include teachers in Australia, farmers in The Americas, physicians in Asia, and criminal justice experts in Europe, Africa and North America for example. 

Despite his passing in December, I'm confident there will be celebrations in South Africa and around the world on what would have been Mandela's 96th birthday (July 18).  It is my hope that on that day Madiba's family will agree to formally announce the creation of the Mandela Awards, and then remain the driving force behind the selection and presentation of the first awards to be handed out a year to the day later.

Unlike the Olympic athletes urging their friends and families to stay home this year, there really is no way to stop good people from doing good works.  Asking them to stay home is not what Nelson Mandela's life work was about, was it?  No.  The Mandela Awards will forever serve as a reminder of the man who graced us with his humanity and his wisdom.

Freidenrich, a former congressional staff assistant on Capitol Hill, writes from Laguna Beach, California.