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Mandela-- The World's Number One Hero-- Teaches Us Lessons On Being A Hero

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Originally Published on OpEdNews

From Nelson Mandela by Paul Don Smith
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Nelson Mandela is gone. He was a hero to me and probably you too. Over the last few decades I've asked a lot of people who their hero is and more than any other person, outside of parents, the number one hero people have named has been Nelson Mandela. 
He was a true hero in the archetypal,  monomyth or hero's journey mythical sense, as Joseph Campbell described in his landmark book, Hero With a Thousand Faces.  Mandela was a man who left his comfort zone, became a new person and struck out in a new world, re-defining who he was. Perhaps it is because there are so many ways that Mandela fit the mythic hero's journey archetype. 
He was a hero because, as he walked the road of the hero's journey he learned he needed new tools-- such as violent rebellion-- and he embraced them. 
He was a hero because he faced death with courage and determination. 
He was a hero because even in the darkest times he held hope and continued to inspire. 
He was a hero because he emerged reborn after 27 years in jail. 
He was a hero because he experienced an apotheosis, facing his higher self and envisioning his nation's higher self, making the decision to forgive, to build unity and to face the truth. 
Mandela was a hero because he returned home. Heroes must not bask in the glamorous world of the hero. They must return home to their ordinary world. Mandela refused to stay president. He knew that it was important that others get involved so that his huge personality did not get in the way of the growth and progress of South Africa. 
It is rare that we get such a close up, in depth view of a real hero. 
Adam Serwer writes, in his article, The radical histories of Mandela and MLK,
"...remember that sometimes the radicals are correct, that in the heat of the moment, movements for justice can be easily caricatured by those with authority as threats to public safety, and those seeking basic rights and dignity as monstrous villains. And then after the radicals win, we try to make them safe and useless to future radicals by pretending our beloved secular saints were never radical at all.
This negative characterization of radicals is, perhaps, a part of the hero's journey that Campbell missed. The true hero stands up to injustice, especially when it is the policy of the top-down controllers of power. The true hero challenges the status-quo, challenges the existing rules, assumptions and policies. He or she rallies the people, shows them hope, gives them a different vision, a vision that portrays a possible future WITH justice. When a person stands up and preaches radical ideas, when he acts radically, demonstrating that it can be done-- it is common, perhaps likely, perhaps, even, in the short run, DESIRABLE, for the powers in authority to characterize him as a bad guy, a criminal, a terrorist, a traitor. 
Once a person achieves hero status, we should go back and remember those who characterized him as criminal. Mandela would forgive them, perhaps engaging them in reconciliation. Perhaps that too should be an added element in the hero's journey-- engagement with the former authorities, the ones taken down by the hero, AND reconciliation. Yes. Mandela, the world's most beloved hero, has so much to teach us. Perhaps that even includes a revision, or amending of the full completion of the hero's journey. 
I've dabbled with that the idea of tweaking the monomyth myself, looking at the idea of a bottom-up, Occupy heroic journey. Most blockbuster movies portray a single person as the one who saves the world or the "people." It's been done. In Oz The Great and Powerful, the main character saves the day by waking up, inspiring and empowering the people. Even in that way, Mandela, as a prisoner for 27 years, stood as an inspiration to the people who moved the anti-apartheid movement forward. 
We need more heroes like Nelson Mandela. They are very, very rare. We need to tell their full stories, particularly about their standing up to authority, their being characterized as criminals and terrorists, so that possible future heroes will recognize and understand the pattern. 
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Rob Kall is executive editor, publisher and website architect of, Host of the Rob Kall Bottom Up Radio Show (WNJC 1360 AM), and publisher of, President of Futurehealth, Inc, and an inventor . He is also published regularly on the

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