As I look back over Mandela’s life, one of his qualities that I especially want to remember is his compassion for those who are skeptical of change. That is, after all, all of us at times, depending on the circumstances and what we have heard before. As Mandela reminded us, the sweeping changes that seem simple and obvious in retrospect may appear impossible beforehand. It is our task, if we are to lead a change, to win over the skeptics as well as we can.
When I remember how South Africa fared, I must remember that there was a time when I was one of the skeptics. I remember hearing the musical line “I (I) — I (I) — I ain’t gonna play Sun City,” referring to one of the segregated institutions that might be particularly visible to a musician visiting South Africa, and agreeing with its sentiment of togetherness but not with its sense of hope. It was only when de Klerk ordered the beaches opened that I realized that there was no turning back — and though on that day I might have recognized what was taking place, there were still people around me who remained convinced that nothing was changing in South Africa.
There are those who are equally skeptical of the changes taking place today. It can be tempting to rail against the skeptics, but the better course of action, when we can manage it, is to find a way to win them over.