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Nelson Mandela: A Hero for the Human Race

18/07/2013 14:58 BST | Updated 17/09/2013 10:12 BST
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There was a resigned sincerity in President Obama's voice as he spoke about Nelson Madela during last month's visit to Senegal. Referring to Mandela by his traditional tribal name Madiba, the world's most powerful man called Mandela 'a personal hero' and two days later in South Africa would call him 'an inspiration to the world'. While I'm no linguistic expert, there appeared a sheepish unease in the comments of the President. Almost as if, despite his own extraordinary personal achievement in life, he felt his acquired legitimate power was secondary to the referent power of his personal hero. Perhaps it was that his country still had Mandela on their terrorist list until 2008, or perhaps it was something much more personal - that in a world where self-preservation is synonymous with success - Mandela, proved self-sacrifice doesn't just heal the soul, it changes the world and immortalises the mortal.

I am not competent enough to speak about the legacy that will survive Mandela. Nor am I versed in the study of politics to fully appreciate just how extraordinary Mandela's achievements have been. I am qualified to call Mandela one of the most iconic figures of our time and perhaps the 20th century's foremost actor for egalitarianism and liberation. His accomplishments notwithstanding, to what degree will Nelson Mandela inspire the next generation of global citizens when his definition of success seems even scarcer than his unique humility.

Yesterday's Freedom

Mandela was not born extraordinary; he became it through the actions he took in the circumstances he faced. He was exposed to a world he didn't agree with and he took a stand. Today, despite insidious institutional racism and personal predispositions, race is not an obstacle to liberty. If it were, Obama could not earn the title of the world's most powerful man. Obama got the high-score.

Our obsession with scores;

0.33 seconds is not a long time - it is actually less than the average blink of an eye. Yet 0.33 seconds is the difference between greatness and obscurity. Usain Bolt is a global superstar - the fastest man on the planet and a cash-cow to consumer pushing corporates the world over. Bolt is also a hero to many. He is charismatic, entertaining and seems to be in a state of constant ataraxia. Churandy Martina is pretty superhuman too. But he covers 100 meters in a blink of an eye slower than Bolt, which in the world of keeping score, makes him obsolete. If Facebook likes were currency, Bolt is a multi-millionaire and Martina is, well, on below minimum-wage.

There is nothing particularly wrong with keeping score. Indeed, I have my own superhuman hero - his name is Messi. Margins exist to differentiate the good from the great, the winners from the quitters and the doers from the talkers. The problem is we've sold our soul for the high score. Lance Armstrong is a superhuman hero example, but he is by no means alone. His story is a public one, but in private, we all chase the high score and we all run our inward 'Tour de France'.

We've cultivated a culture of keeping score to measure our success in a bid to find our own freedom. From test scores, to University rankings, to professional experience hours, to KPI's, to how many clients we've won or how many patients we've seen, to how many linked-in endorsements we've got and to how many blog likes we've attained - we're all keeping score! We're all being told to strive for more. The more we get, the more we want. It's perpetual insanity! It is self-preservation, which is a paradox of self-sacrifice.

Ah, what is this idealistic jibba-jabba - welcome the real world, man, I hear the sceptics cry! Well, we tried and we failed. Escape the City has over 110,000 high-scoring young professionals who tried the 'real world' but got tired of keeping score. They got tired of being a slave to the wage. They got tired of living a futile reality and created a new one. They traded score for meaning. They cultivated their own culture of personal satisfaction over corporate success. They became a slave to liberty, not security. They are living their passion, or in the case of my good friend, Patric, wearing it. They may not have been inspired by Mandela, but their actions are no less courageous. They are heretics of their time and circumstances. Any human being who stands up, with unbroken will, for their principles is no less extraordinary than Mandala - because really, that is all he ever did.

It is unlikely the world will see another Nelson Mandela, but then, do we want a world where a cry for equality means incarceration. We need to redefine success and we need a new score-card. The current one breeds outward evolution, but inward regression. We've forgotten that we're human beings, not titles. Mandela wasn't keeping score; he was too busy developing humans, not score-cards. Andrew Carnegie, was 33, when he wrote

"The Man Who Dies Rich Dies Disgraced."
Despite being one of the world's richest men through business success, it was Carnegie's unique understanding of human motivation and collective compassion that excites all those who take the trouble to learn his story and read his words.

As the Silicon Valley wizards in the US, or as it's sometimes humbly titled 'The Greatest Nation in the World' continue to dream-up new ways 'to make our world better' - perhaps we, including the 'world's most powerful man' need to remind ourselves of a dream another great man once had where he asked that his children be not judged by the colour of their skin. Well, that dream has now been realised - unfortunately, they are now judged by score-cards and titles. We need to redefine our world to judge 'the content of our character' rather than how much of our character we're willing to give up in pursuit of the high score.

Happy 95th Birthday, Nelson Mandela - A Hero to humanity.