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Editorial - Letting Go

Scrolling through some of my previous editorials, I came across one I wrote in January 2014 after the death of former President Nelson Mandela.

Like millions around the world, I felt a profound sense of loss. There is so much that made Mandela special, and it was no surprise that when the news of his passing was announced world leaders stopped their politics, UN Security Council members stopped their speeches, sportsmen stopped their playing and, however prepared we thought we were for the news, in those first moments our hearts stopped their beating.

Forgive or Forgo

Madiba’s life offers many lessons but, for me, the key message I take from his huge legacy was his ability to forgive.

Forgiveness is tough. Even when people suggest we should forgive, there’s often the warning caveat, ‘forgive, yes, but never forget!’ As humans, our immediate urge to strike back is a natural reflex in response to a perceived threat.

But once the immediate danger has passed, holding on to blame and bitterness is far tougher than forgiving. Continually seeking an opportunity to strike back or inflict revenge takes up a lot of time and energy and makes us sick – and usually without making a single dent on the consciousness of whoever is on our revenge radar.

I remember hearing Oprah Winfrey describe the moment she realised she had been harbouring a grudge for years against someone who had absolutely no idea she was out of favour. Oprah was incredulous that this person, whom she had brooded about for so long and thought she was punishing by excluding from her life, had been merrily living their own life during that time without a care in the world.

So when I read Mandela’s words that “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies,” I must admit he has a point. After all, how does holding on to grudges make any sense when we’re the only one suffering?

How does holding on to grudges make any sense when we’re the only one suffering?

Forgiveness - the Intelligent Choice

Nelson Mandela was the first to insist he was no saint. But the years spent in prison, he said, had afforded him the time to learn to know himself and to think, rather than simply react. “Thinking is one of the most important weapons in dealing with problems” he once said in an interview. When he decided to forgive his jailors and detractors, he did so because it was the intelligent thing to do in the circumstances.

Forgiveness is not an emotion; it’s a decision. While Madiba never forgot the feelings of being imprisoned for 27 years, he chose what to do with those feelings because he knew holding on to revenge and bitterness would have kept him imprisoned by his captors long after his physical release. Taking the decision to forgive them was making the decision to free himself.

“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom,” he said, “I knew if I didn't leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I'd still be in prison.”

Deciding to let go is an exercise in courage. Deciding not to play the blame game calls for the ability to play the long game and not indulge in short-term recriminations. It demands the discipline to focus on your objective, on what really matters, and not be distracted by your ego’s need for validation. It requires erasing that special piece of bitterness in your heart for someone or something which caused you pain.

A lot has been said about the legacy of the great Nelson Mandela and as we start a new year, what better way to live his legacy than to free ourselves by letting go of the anger, negativity and fear that is only hurting us; to make intelligent, reflective choices rather than unproductive, reflexive ones?

Holding on to old grudges taints the joy of new blessings. The start of a new year seems like an opportune time to let go of those tired old resentments and make a conscious decision to forgive. After all, if not now, when?


Founder & Managing Editor, ReConnect Africa

Author of Imperfect Arrangements,‘Imperfect Arrangements’ ‘From Pasta to Pigfoot’ and ‘From Pasta to Pigfoot: Second Helpings’ and the books I Want to Work in… Africa: How to Move Your Career to the World’s Most Exciting Continent’ and ‘Everyday Heroes – Learning from the Careers of Successful Black Professionals’

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