Head of School Blog

Nelson Mandela: A Man of True Conscience

Jill Singleton
Adapted from remarks delivered at Mid-Month Gathering, December 10, 2013

In a recent conversation with my father about his failing health, Dad summed up his position quite clearly: “It’s all in God’s hands.” My brother’s response, an expression I had never heard before, got my attention: “Well, you know, Dad…God gives us the shovel, but we need to do the digging.” I found myself musing over its meaning, and couldn’t help but see the connection with this week’s Community Time affirmation: “My conscience guides me and helps me make good decisions.” We have been talking about the role of our conscience in Community Time assemblies over the past two weeks, and I was struck with the notion that, like the shovel, our conscience is a tool that is of no use without our intentional interaction and active participation.

In last week’s Community Time assembly, First Grade West presented the following reflection about conscience:

• Our conscience helps us to make good choices. We know we are following our conscience when we feel comfortable with what we want to do without second guessing.
• Our conscience speaks to us through our bodies. If we feel our cheeks heat up, or our pulse race a bit, we are getting the sign that we should reconsider our actions. When an action is right for us, we do not hesitate, because our body remains relaxed.

Just like it’s our job to use the shovel that we are given, we have to actively listen to our conscience, paying attention to it speaking through us through mental or physical signs, and take care of it in order for it to guide us.

Over the past several days, people all over the world have been celebrating the amazing life of Nelson Mandela. Mandela is a wonderful example of someone who used all of his God-given “tools” for the benefit of all. He is deserving of recognition for so many gifts: courage, wisdom, perseverance and visionary leadership. To me, one of the most significant things that Mandela taught us through his life is the importance of love and forgiveness. I don’t know about you, but if I were imprisoned for 27 years, I fear my heart would harden as a result of the experience; I suspect that bitterness and resentment would eclipse any joy or optimism I might feel. But not Mandela. “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.”

I think Mandela used his conscience as a tool for maintaining a belief in humanity, and, as a result, developed a capacity for forgiveness that many of us cannot even imagine. And I certainly think his conscience walked with him along South Africa’s delicate reconciliation process, and helped him in his journey to become the first black president of South Africa at the age of 76.

Given the way Mandela lived his life, it’s no surprise that his death was peaceful. Clearly he was able to heed the physical signs of his conscience trying to get his attention. It’s my hope that our children can stay alert to these signs and that each will continue to allow their conscience to help them make decisions that are fair, forgiving, and just.

Comments? Questions? Ideas? I’d love to hear them! Email me: jsingleton@allsaintshoboken.com