Brave Enough to Change

Barbara A. Bernard

To be brave is to act in spite of fear. If I remain rigid and dogmatic, if I cling to simple answers, if I live with ideas that have been passed down for generations without questioning them, then I avoid any potential conflict in my mind and the discomfort that comes with it. I avoid the fear that usually accompanies the uncertainty of change.

We hold tightly to beliefs and ideas for many reasons. We might have been raised by a bully (male or female) who makes it clear that there is only one right answer to give and it had better be given immediately. To hesitate or act uncertain in the presence of a bully is to be unsafe. For some, a personal belief is one that’s commonly held by “my people.” Everyone who belongs here thinks this way. If I grew up in a community where everybody was similar, anybody who was different, whose lifestyle or beliefs were new, could be suspect. If their customs or behaviors were labeled as bad and seen as “wrong,” I may fear them because they are not like what I know and understand.

Another reason to hold on to an idea might be the patterns of thinking promoted by institutions during childhood, namely, that there is always a clear right and wrong. Ideas and people must fit into distinct categories of one or the other. For any of these reasons we may have a deep pattern of habitual thinking that is our automatic default.

Because bravery is often associated with conflict, a quiet, unseen bravery can be found in those who are willing to experience the conflict within their mind that comes with looking at beliefs that have always been a part of who they are. The bravery that inspires me is the bravery I see when a person is willing to be uncertain, to allow new ideas and thoughts to enter their mind, and to question themselves or their thinking. That is why I admire Nelson Mandela. Mandiba, as he was called by his people, was brave enough to reexamine his beliefs, and ideas, change his mind, and then lead his fellow countrymen in changing theirs.

After spending 27 years in prison and later being elected the first black president of South Africa, Mandela was looking for ways to unite his war-ravaged country. As portrayed in the movie Invictus, an idea comes to him while he’s watching his country’s team, the Springboks, contend in a game of rugby. He sees how the blacks in attendance are rooting and cheering for the opposing team and against the mostly white home team. To them, the Springboks represent the prevailing prejudice and apartheid that are crushing their lives. Mandela himself used to renounce the team when he was imprisoned on Robben Island.

Now as president, he begins to realize that because he is asking whites to change their minds about apartheid, his fellow black countrymen will need to demonstrate the ability to change their minds as well. Blacks supporting the Springboks would send a strong message throughout South Africa and could serve as a powerful step toward bringing the people together post-apartheid. With this in mind, he invites the captain of the Springboks to tea and, during their conversation, offers him a copy of a poem.

The poem is “Invictus” by nineteenth-century poet William Earnest Henley, and the title means “unconquered.” Mandela explains that the poem inspired his vision throughout his imprisonment. It helped him stand up for what he believed and to stay standing when all he wanted to do was lie down. Through his accomplishments since that time, Mandela demonstrated to the world that indeed he had an unconquerable spirit and he that he, like each of us, was truly the captain of his own soul.

Prior to the 1995 rugby season, an interviewer posed the following to Mandela: “It has been said that you used to support any team that played against the Springboks.” To this Mandela replied, “Obviously that is no longer true. I am 100 per cent behind our boys. After all, if I cannot change when circumstances demand it, how can I expect others to?”

Adopting an attitude like this is basic to living in discovery. Holding a vision, regardless of the current reality, inspires us to continue exploring our minds and our world. In the broadest sense, being willing to examine our own thoughts and decide whether a change in thinking is needed is what living in discovery is all about!