Nelson Mandela and the Art of the Impossible

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

“If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.”

Nelson Mandela, who died yesterday at 95, was a lawyer. No one in his family before him had ever attended school, yet his intellect took him to law school and his courage led him to set up a law office when South Africa was dominated by apartheid. His rare gift was an unbreakable sense of justice combined with a formidable ability to negotiate. Nelson Mandela’s autobiography Long Walk to Freedom tells a life story involved with the rule of law at its worst and best…a legal system that sent him to jail from 1964-1990, followed by his negotiation of apartheid’s defeat. 

When today’s leaders say negotiation of disputes is impossible, how impossible is it that a man can survive 25 years in prison to negotiate with his lifelong enemies, without civil war, the end of a system like apartheid?

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