In losing a great man, a human rights activist, a disturber of the peace to some, Nelson Mandela is remembered across the globe as a leader who endured twenty seven years in prison for the sake of his people, a man who fought against injustice and stood for what he believed to be a better way. He became the first black South African to hold the office of President, focusing on the dismantling of apartheid through tackling racism, poverty and inequality. I am reminded, as I read more of his life and his influence and words, that words hold great power in people’s minds and lives, words have the power to influence, to change and to move barriers in our society, our political systems and in our hearts. Words both written and spoken have the power to create change.
In losing Mandela yesterday, I can’t help thinking of a recent loss of a man remembered for a similar struggle, a man whose integrity and perseverance won the hearts of many in a country also affected by great political change and a turbulent history. I am reminded also of the power of his words and his influence. Vaclav Havel died on 18 December 2011: Playwright, essayist, poet, dissident and politician, his prominence as a participant in the liberal reforms of Czechoslovakia in 1968 were followed by his plays being banned during the totalitarian regime. His words continued to hold power through that time and he became president of Czechoslovakia in 1989, becoming the country’s first non-communist leader since 1948.
Both men spent time as political prisoners, incarcerated for standing up against powers that threatened to crush their countries. They believed in justice and equality and had the strength of character and tenacity to keep going in the face of great opposition because they believed in a better future. Both men spoke words that hold great power today, words which helped to shape their society, culture and politics. Their influence in the world and their contribution to their countries cannot be underplayed. In sharing these two incredible lives I want to remind us that the words we read and the words we write can have the power to shape, to heal, and to influence lives, to change the way people think and see the world. With this in mind I want to leave you with some of the great words that have become the legacies of these men.
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
“The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”
“I like friends who have independent minds because they tend to make you see problems from all angles.”
“A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.”
“A fundamental concern for others in our individual and community lives would go a long way in making the world the better place we so passionately dreamt of.”