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Close to Home: Learning Nelson Mandela's lesson of forgiveness

  • (CLAY BENNETT / Chatanooga Times Free Press)

Nelson Mandela said he was not a saint but a sinner who kept trying to be better, yet his life gave us insights into the best traits of humanity that we can all aspire to.

When Mandela was released from prison after 27 years of solitary confinement and hard labor, bitterness was not part of his aura; forgiveness was, and it was forgiveness and reconciliation that helped prevent a civil war and heal a nation.

Perhaps Sonoma County can learn from this historical awakening in South Africa. Mandela himself said that forgiveness shall set our hearts and minds free, as it did his.

Through the celebration of his life, the death of Mandela has allowed us to learn more about a brutal apartheid country he helped to change. Such knowledge can inspire us, giving us an opportunity to reflect on the growing violence that is increasingly apparent at our doorstep.

It was not just one man who killed Andy Lopez, ending a young life full of hope and promise; it is the violent society in which we all allow injustice in its many forms to proliferate. We live in a violent culture, and whether conscious of it or not, we all are culpable to some degree.

Sadly, we do not use all the skills and tools at our disposal to quell disputes before they become out of control and violent. We help sew the seeds of violence when we make minorities scapegoats for crime generated from societal problems. We have become numb to violence, not realizing how much it pervades our lives, causing hate and constant divisiveness.

We choose violence when we do not concern ourselves with poverty and the lack of health care. We choose violence when we turn a blind eye to the violence in movies, video games, sports, TV shows and advertisements. We choose violence when we ignore bullying, teasing and insensitive remarks in schools and the work place. We choose violence when we ignore those with psychiatric and addiction challenges, inflicting punishment through incarceration rather than rehabilitation and appropriate treatments.

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