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Andrew Wilson: Say prayer for life’s Mandelas

A man holds a portrait of South African former president Nelson Mandela outside his home in Houghton, Johannesburg. Picture: Getty

A man holds a portrait of South African former president Nelson Mandela outside his home in Houghton, Johannesburg. Picture: Getty

  • by Andrew Wilson
 

INTERCESSIONS are probably the most current, moving and accessible part of any church service.

Even the non-believer can engage in reflections that call attention to the wants, needs and hopes of the world in front of us and around us, and call for all to care for them.

One of my favourites I deploy whenever asked to consider, is to pray “for all those to whom others look for leadership, that theirs may be the way of justice and peace”.

Leadership has always interested me. It is a rare, rare gift. You know it when you see it, and you certainly know when it is absent but masqueraded. Many aspire to it but very few can truly assume the mantle with appropriate skill and grace. It is, I often think, the hardest thing in the world.

And that world last week mourned the death of one of the greatest souls of the last century, and greatest leaders ever, when it celebrated the life of Nelson Mandela. May he rest in peace because, more than most, he deserves to.

He, of course, achieved a pinnacle with an experience forged in the fire of one of the hardest experiences possible, to which he responded with almost superhuman grace. He led not just a country, but the human condition itself. Rare are moments like his and leaders like him. Will we see his like again? Of course we will, because the good and positive in the human spirit always win out in the long run. That is the lesson of history.

Light engulfs darkness, hope conquers fear, and love will always envelop hate and win. It is written into the constitution of nature. Destruction is quick and alluringly simple. But like the first shoots of spring, construction perseveres, ensures and bears. And always, always wins in the end.

And of course leadership can be found in many places not just among the great people in momentous moments.

Wherever we find it we should celebrate it, thank it, understand the pressures of it, and, depending on our beliefs, pray for it.

Leadership comes in many guises. Too many occupy leadership roles from which they simply manage, or for which their sole goal is to stay in charge.

Every school has a headteacher, for example, but you know when you have a leader and you know when you don’t. 
My home village has a remarkable primary school with a remarkable leader. And the difference this makes to the children, parents and all of the people? Near ­priceless.

In your family and circle of friends you will know those to whom you turn for honest counsel in times of strife. Those who live in truth, and are prepared to tell you it when you need it. For whom the quiet life of non-challenge is not the instinct and for whom the betterment of others is all. I see it in my own family and friends and I simply adore the strength of it.

It can be as simple and daft in expression as the people who create the social schedule and make happiness happen. It can be those who intervene when a pal needs put right or on the straight and narrow way. And at its pinnacle, of course, it can be the shining light of forgiveness in adversity that defines how we all should live.

It is small and it is large. It lives where the stakes are huge and where the risks so small as to be near irrelevant.

In the classic Shakespearean quote from Twelfth Night: “In my stars I am above thee; but be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.”

Greatness, in my humble experience, is found in many places. Some mundane, some momentous. But wherever we meet it we should slap its back and say “thank you”.

Mandela’s life story holds a mirror up to the feuding classes of most political systems and calls on us to awaken. So does the leader of my local school. We should, I suggest, have a gentle eye for any one of our number with the bravery and wherewithal to step up and forward. Few of us ever do.

We live in completely remarkable times. Every institution we rely on requires ­reform and leadership. Like possibly ­never before, we need the great among us in small and large places to play their part.

In the future, I firmly believe, lies a time of renewed purpose, vigour and hope. Where the way we run our society and lives is founded on new institutions that perform well, transparently and with grace. Where the days of vested interest and controlled power are replaced by meritocracy and democracy in its purest form.

In my estimation it is the next step for the civilisation of the world and every bit as important as the industrial and political revolutions of our past. But it will take rare talent to lead us from B to A.

We deserve the best of leaders. But when they emerge, whether born, becoming or thrust, we should celebrate and support them. Because we need them, now more than ever. «

Twitter: @AndrewWilsonAJW

 

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