Nelson Mandela International Day: The greatest lessons.

Friday 18th July- the day that Nelson Mandela was born- marks Nelson Mandela International Day. In 2009, the UN General Assembly declared this day in honour of Mandela’s dedication to resolving conflict, promoting equality and striving for peace. His incredible courage, resilience and positivity is a lesson that continues to be taught throughout the world; he is a model for compassion and optimism and has taught us some of the greatest lessons for a happier healthier life.

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Stay positive, stay alive.

“I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed towards the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.”

–              Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom: Autobiography of Nelson Mandella.

Mandela’s optimism and positive mindset was what kept him moving forward rather than basking in his despair and misfortune. By looking up and keeping his head toward the sun, he ensured that he was always heading towards the light and moving away from the dark moments which often tested his resolve. His courage and conviction is inspiring and encourages us to always focus on the light in our lives and not dwell on the dark.

Model and teach positive emotions.

“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin or his background or his religion. People learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than it’s opposite.”

–              Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom: Autobiography of Nelson Mandela.

Educators, counsellors and communities all play a valuable role in educating and empowering young people through the modelling of positive behavior and emotions. Just as Mandela boldly states, we often teach our young people how to deal with emotions by example. But how can we effectively teach people to be positive and self aware if we are unable to identify and model it ourselves? In order to cultivate a culture that promotes self-awareness and confidence, we must become aware of our own ‘triggers’ that can ignite a negative emotion and learn to diffuse the feeling before it evolves into something corrosive that permeates the emotions of young people in our care.

In his publication ‘Why adults strike back: Learned behavior or genetic code? (1995)’, Nicholas Long reveals that ‘the number one reason for the increase in student violence in schools is staff counteraggression. While staff do not initiate student aggression, they react in ways that perpetuate it’. Take a pair of tuning forks for example; if one tuning fork is struck then the other fork will begin to vibrate, modelling the reaction of the first fork. People are no different: we mimic and absorb the negative emotions of others and often create more conflict as a result. Thus, in order to influence behavior, we must learn how to self-regulate our own counteraggressive actions. By training ourselves to be more self-aware and insightful about our own feelings, we can create more rewarding and purposeful relationships.

For further information concerning a student’s conflict cycle, see the full article at http://www.cyc-net.org.

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